Every day, students across the country use smart phones to listen to music, text each other, post updates to Facebook, and maybe even make a phone call or two. For students at two doctor of physical therapy programs, though, that ubiquitous device has a greater purpose.
Enrollees at Drexel University in Philadelphia are required to have a hand-held media device. For physical therapy students at Denver's Regis University, smart phones aren't mandated, but about half the students use them for academic purposes.
Big Educational Punch
In both the classroom and clinical setting, these little devices pack a big educational punch. The goal, says Tim Noteboom, PT, PhD, director of department of post-professional studies, Regis University School of Physical Therapy, is to "get students engaged with more than talking and texting."
Kevin Gard, DPT, OCS, director of the professional doctor of physical therapy program, Drexel University, says, "For the most part it ends up being a selling point for our program." Drexel second-year student of physical therapy student Miko Quisumbing says, "None of the other schools I applied to required a media device. . . Drexel really stood out from the rest in that aspect." Marc Miller, another second-year student of physical therapy, agrees. He says the hand-held device requirement increased his desire to attend that particular school. "Drexel is really on the cutting edge of technology."
Information changes daily in science; textbooks are obsolete the minute you buy them. Gard asks, "How can we make it easier for our students to access information?" In a busy clinic or hospital, there aren't always computers available. The software lets students look up what they need to know if they come across a case they haven't previously encountered. Vendors provide automatic software updates, keeping students in the know.
Future of Learning
Leland Rockstraw, PhD, RN, assistant dean, clinical and technical learning operations and facility oversight, Drexel College of Nursing and Health Professions, says his program is "educating students today for jobs that don't exist." Putting the latest technology in the palm of students' hands is one way to gear them up for the future. He adds, "We're teaching our students to be both high tech and high touch."
Regis takes tech a step beyond smart phones. Noteboom teaches a course on using technology in physical therapy education that explores smart phone applications, blogs, wikis, and other forms of web 2.0. The goal is "leveraging technology to improve collaboration and education."
"Students really see the value in having a device," says Gard. Quisumbing notes, "I never got a true appreciation of how useful the device would be until I started school." Christy Zabrodski, another second-year student of physical therapy at Drexel calls her device "my personal sidekick."
At Regis, Noteboom observes, "It's surprising how little they [students] view these devices as productivity tools." When students realize they can use their phones to synchronize schedules and download data, they get excited.
Myriad of Applications
In the classroom, there are a myriad of applications. Professors can look up information right alongside students, promoting critical thinking and interaction. Students use their devices creatively. They put class notes in drop boxes to access them offsite; use anatomy applications that serve as virtual flashcards; create decision-making algorithms; and watch videos that demonstrate physical therapy techniques.
Students aren't the only ones who benefit from these devices. According to Gard, some Drexel physical therapy faculty use them as assessment tools. Professors ask questions to gauge students' knowledge of a particular topic. The smart phones tabulate the results, giving real-time feedback as to whether the students "get it." In a clinical setting, practicing therapists turn to their students and ask them to look up data, creating a circle of teaching and learning.
Several Regis students commented on the effectiveness of their phones during their rotations, especially the dictation software to instantly capture patient notes. Denver Lancaster, a Regis physical therapy student from the class of 2012 found his smart phone especially helpful during his clinical rotation in rural Wyoming. He used it access the internet in places that weren't Wi-Fi enabled. At another rotation, Lancaster used an application on his phone to track how far a patients had walked, including average speed and incline.
A Technological Future
There's hope students will continue to use a device after graduation. Noteboom believes the profession could benefit from having more physical therapists embrace technology. Zabrodski says, "As a student I recognize that we're surrounded by technology everyday and if there's the opportunity to use this technology to benefit my patients in the future then I'm all for it."
A smart phone staves off uncertainty by letting therapists instantly research a novel condition or aliment because as Miller observes, "You never know what's going to walk through the door." For his part, Lancaster is enthusiastic about the possibility of using a video capable smart phone as a clinician. He says, "I can imagine using it to record patients performing exercises and making those videos available to the patients personally for home exercise programs."
Quisumbing predicts the shift towards electronic medical records will only encourage more health care providers to use a pocket media device. As Rockstraw notes, devices "allow practitioners to provide safe, effective, competent care." And after all, isn't that the ultimate goal of patient interaction?
Danielle Bullen is an assistant editor at ADVANCE