First, five students gain invaluable hands-on experience in their chosen field of study by helping to treat GVH patients between the physical therapy clinic, cardiac rehabilitation program and Senior Care Center. For this work, they are paid a monthly stipend to offset the cost of tuition.
Secondly, the students conduct research and collect data to complement class work, including theses.
“This grant will support various research projects centered on community health in the areas of clinical exercise physiology, physical therapy and senior care rehabilitation,” said GVH Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine Administrator Todd Ward. “In addition to developing research, these graduate students are participating in a clinical setting. They are interacting with actual residents and patients and other healthcare providers allowing them to apply their scholastic training in a clinical environment.
“Most if not all of these students are thinking about careers in the medical or wellness fields. This experience will give them a big advantage whether applying for jobs or additional schooling.”
Inspired by the fine work of HAEP students in Western’s Wellness Elevated community health program, Ward approached HAEP Director Christina Buchanan, Ph.D., and Western Professor Lance Dalleck, Ph.D., in the spring of this year in hopes of collaborating. From those discussions, the GVH Research Assistantships program was born.
The program includes five students working in 4.5 positions. Four students work and perform research 20 hours per week with a $1,000 monthly tuition stipend. Two students work in the physical therapy clinic; the other two students work in the Senior Care Center. A fifth student works 10 hours per week—split between Wellness Elevated and GVH’s cardiac rehabilitation program—with a $500 monthly tuition stipend.
It’s early, yet from all accounts, the students are as pleased with the new program as the professors and administrators.
“The students are stoked. They really are,” Buchanan said. “It’s such a great experience. It’s not like they’re just being told, ‘Fold the towels.’ They’re getting really good training and good hands-on experience. And then they’re also getting the research experience. It’s cool.”
“The research piece comes in to play where the students are working in those programs in PT and Senior Care, but they’re also collecting data to provide information for treatments. For instance, one student—she’s a second year (HAEP graduate student)—she’s in the PT side of things. And she’s doing the data collection for her thesis. So she’ll write her thesis based on the data that she’s collecting there.”
Graduate students of Western’s HAEP program are eligible to apply for the GVH research assistantships before each academic year. Students are required to submit a resume as well as a letter indicating how the position aligns with previous work experience and career goals.
One of the five graduate students in the inaugural cohort is 23-year-old Morgan Berryman-Maciel of Walnut Creek, Calif. Berryman-Maciel would one day like to secure a job helping others improve, “in a warm location,” she joked.
“Working at the hospital has been a blast so far,” said Berryman-Maciel. “The therapists are so knowledgeable about a multitude of subjects and are excited to share that knowledge. Getting exposure to so many different types of injuries and patients is going to benefit me in whichever career path I choose, and I am so thankful for this opportunity for facilitating that.”
For their part, the students have apparently hit the ground sprinting.
“The students have been outstanding, a tribute to the type of professionals Western is helping to mold,” Ward said. “They showed up well trained, with great enthusiasm, professionalism and genuine desires to learn. They have spent the first month getting integrated and acclimated. We are now starting to look at very exciting potential research ideas.”
The GVH Research Assistantships program is a product of the most recent collaboration between Western Colorado University and Gunnison Valley Health. Also new this academic year is Western’s partnership with GVH, Alpine Orthopaedics and gO Orthopedics in injury treatment for the student-athletes of Western’s 13 Division II athletic programs. The collaboration widens the options for treatment and rehabilitation, ensuring that injured student-athletes are afforded the best possible care by a collective of three local orthopedic-care providers working in concert.
“We feel like this is the beginning of a long-term relationship where we are able to share resources and leverage strengths in order to continue to help Gunnison Valley and both institutions grow and thrive,” Ward said.
Story by Bryan Boyle, Marketing Communications. Photo by Randall Gee.