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PT Group Service Trip to Guatemala

December 16, 2014

Healthcare delivery often takes our students, alumni, faculty, and staff at the Drexel College of Nursing and Health Professions much farther than Philadelphia’s city limits, with opportunities extending to places all around the globe.

For the last five years, in partnership with the service organization Hearts In Motion, students, alumni, faculty, and staff from the Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences Department have traveled to Guatemala to provide care for hundreds of patients. This year, the group served over 180 native Guatemalans and even provided continuing education seminars for local physical therapists and students.

Guatemala tripAccording to Sarah Wenger, an assistant clinical professor in the Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences Department, “Watching the students helping and experiencing a new culture was grounding. It seemed that the students felt fortunate to be there.”

A country with a severe lack of access to healthcare resources and professionals, coupled with the lowest literacy rate in Central America, Physical Therapy students were exposed to the real health issues facing the world today. According to Kevin Gard, a clinical professor in the Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences Department, the local government-operated hospitals are crowded and have a different standard for cleanliness than most American hospitals. “It was jaw-dropping,” he said.

Drexel’s five year history of providing clinical physical therapy services in Guatemala has grown rapidly over the years. “The neat thing is that this trip has evolved,” explained Gard. “It used to be just a simple volunteering trip, but now we ask ourselves about how we can make a bigger impact and about what happens when we aren’t there.” For the faculty, alumni, and students, many of whom have attended several if not all of the trips to Guatemala, the experience is life-altering and affects their careers in the United States. 

For both Drs. Wenger and Gard, they noted that the native Guatemalans were so happy and thankful for the efforts of Drexel’s team. “We were providing people with care they didn’t have, and they were just really grateful,” said Gard.

This trip also opened up the opportunity for students and faculty to work together like they never have before. “When we go to Guatemala, the formalness of the faculty-student relationship kind of goes away when ultimately trying to help the patient. It was good for students to see faculty in this hands-on role, as opposed to the role of a lecturer,” elaborated Gard.

When asked why he returns to Guatemala year after year, alumnus Tony Greco, DPT ‘11, says that it’s a nice break from the norm. “I don’t have to justify care to an insurance carrier who may or may not care if the patient actually gets better,” Greco said. “I get to treat a diverse range of problems and work on my Spanish- all things I don’t get to do at home. The people are very gracious, very thankful for the help we give them. It’s a blast.”

For Greco, who has attended the trip every year since its inception, the service opportunity has had a significant impact on the way he treats patients in the United States. “It’s helped me cultivate a ‘do a lot with a little’ mentality when I’m in the clinic,” he said. “I’m prescribing exercise with minimal to no equipment, just as I would in Guatemala.” Greco has a “No Excuses” program, the core tenet of which being that “you can do your homework just about anywhere, without being weighed down by or tied to gimmicky equipment.”

For Wenger, this trip is only the beginning of what she and other faculty hope will be a lasting commitment by Drexel physical therapists. “We would love to keep relationships going strong with the physical therapists in Guatemala City. We are looking to extend our impact even more and are also looking to get more students to volunteer.” This is the first year during which several of the faculty members provided continuing education programming for practitioners in Guatemala City.

To access photos and additional accounts of this year’s trip to Guatemala, please visit