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Wheeling University Physical Therapy Department Lives the Mission on Annual Service Trip

Thursday, February 6, 2020 9:21 AM
WU News


Transforming lives is at the heart of Wheeling University’s physical therapy department’s service-learning program in Mexico.

For the past 20 years, the department’s service-learning program has been changing the lives of students and faculty, as well as the patients they serve. The experience provided valuable hands-on learning, as well as the opportunity to live out the University’s mission to be ‘men and women for others.’

“This service-learning trip is a transformational experience in our students’ lives. They not only get to fulfill the University’s mission to serve those in need, but also witness the lack of medical care and social services have in the regions that we visit,” said Dr. Mark Drnach, clinical professor of Physical Therapy at Wheeling University.

This year a group of 20 students and four faculty from Wheeling University spent a week treating the underserved residents of Merida and Izamal and provided educational instruction to the staffs at the sites they visited. Additionally, the students applied classroom instruction in real life situations by providing care to patients.

“The joy received from giving cannot be measured. I always say that the week we are there gives me a month of happy memories,” said Dr. Allen Marangoni, director of Physical Therapy at Wheeling University. “More importantly, our students benefit from the hands-on training they receive. Our students treat hundreds of needy patients during the week.”

Wheeling University Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy, Dr. Noelle Adams believes the trip is important for the students’ educational experience for various reasons.

“It serves as a confidence boost as they prepare to head out on their final clinical experiences before graduation. More importantly, it teaches the students the value of service and giving back to communities in need. It exposes the students to a different country, which is important to their development as clinicians. They learn to be culturally sensitive and understanding of those who are different or less fortunate,” she explained.

Dr. Bryan Raudenbush, professor of Physical Therapy at Wheeling University, added, “The faculty believe exposing the students from different countries gives them an appreciation for cultural differences that exist. Our students interacted with patients they would never see in the Ohio Valley, which make us better clinicians and educators by providing challenges we don’t encounter every day.” 

The students who participated found the experience to be educational, as well as life changing.

“On a professional level, this trip really opened my eyes to the need for healthcare services in neighboring countries. I believe every healthcare professional should be given the opportunity to make a trip similar to this one in order to experience what healthcare is like in different countries,” said Luke Senko, a student Broadview Heights, Ohio.

Student Caleb O’Neil of Fayetteville, West Virginia, said he learned a great deal from the trip.

“I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Drnach throughout the week and what I learned will follow me throughout my career. While I learned many professional skills, perhaps the most important thing I discovered was from a Mexican physical therapy student. On the last day at Ciudad Vicentina, the student spoke about the important responsibility that physical therapists have of finding the potential in each of patient – no matter how bleak the prognosis – because each patient truly does have potential, we just have to find it,” he explained.

Amanda King, a student from Strasburg, Ohio, had never been outside the United States. The trip is one she said will have an impact for the rest of her life.

“This trip has ignited a desire to travel internationally on service trips to provide physical therapy services to those in need. I believe this trip showed that using what we have learned in the classroom can change the lives of those around us – at home and around the world,” King said.

The Wheeling University’s Physical Therapy Program has a long history of providing services locally, regionally and internationally. It is one aspect of the program’s curriculum that makes it outstanding. The program’s work in service learning has been presented at national and international conferences, has been the subject of several book chapters, articles, and peer-reviewed research on the topic of service-learning in higher education.


Founded in 1954, Wheeling University is the only Catholic institution of higher learning in West Virginia. Its mission is to provide a high-quality Catholic education to the men and women of the Ohio Valley region and beyond. By integrating education, research, and economic development with classical knowledge and Christian revelation, Wheeling University seeks to equip its graduates with the critical, creative, and empathetic tools they need to pursue rewarding careers and enrich their local communities.