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PT Students Assess Work Areas

Erin Dougherty, Reporter

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Physical therapy students are critiquing the way both students and faculty approach studying and reading and how they situate themselves in their unique work spaces, or in other words, they’re investigating ergonomics, the way people move and work.

Students assess each person as he or she works at a desk for a 15 to 20 minute period. They look at how the work space is set up, watch the person as he or she works, and then gives suggestions to improve their workstations so they are less likely to have long-term injuries or side effects.

Stephan Pheasant and Maureen Pascal,  Professors of Physical Therapy, started a “Movement Science” class because they felt there was a gap in the field in terms of what students should know before they graduate.

We felt it was a great service that we could provide for those who volunteered on campus. It gives students practice in seeing and working with a real client and they get to use the skills that are learned in class,” Pascal said.

This is the fourth year that the class is offered for students, and it will be offered to future students. Currently, students perform assessments for only students and faculty, but Pascal and Pheasant hope to evaluate workers in the community, particularly in factories. 

Amy Koch,  first year of PT student, the work is exciting and she is happy be with real clients and get a peek at her future career.

I think it’s really smart to share the knowledge that we’re gaining with others on campus. Addressing work behaviors and workstations allows us to take a closer look at how we’re sitting, how we set up our desks, and how we type at the computer,”Koch said.

She added that the study of ergonomics is interesting and important for her well-being, too.

“One thing that struck me was that people tend to sit for long periods of time without moving, and it’s advised that people take frequent breaks to encourage movement and a change of positions. I never noticed until this assignment, that I can sit at my desk doing work for several hours without getting up. Now, I try to incorporate little breaks into my study sessions.”

Students’ notes and suggestions are passed along to Professor Pascal and third year PT students who then contribute further ideas or improvements.

Koch was assigned to evaluate a workstation on the Dean of the College of Health Sciences, Leamor Kahanov, with a classmate. Together, they took note of various parts of Kahanov’s work area, including her desk,  chair and computer station. The students then observed her in the natural setting performing typical work, which is primarily  writing emails and answering phone calls. After the initial evaluation, the students came up with a few ideas to improve the workstation.

“I think this program is very beneficial for everyone involved,” said Koch. “The people being evaluated gain insight into bettering their work environment and improving their work habits. I also think the PT students involved are gaining great experience in the field of ergonomics. This unique opportunity allows us to practice professional behaviors, business letter writing, and gives us the opportunity to practice an ergonomic evaluation prior to receiving our DPT degree.”

She said she learned the value of keeping needed supplies close by while working – having all your notes and books, pencils and bottles of water right near you. “Having to constantly reach out of your base of support to grab things stresses your body, and this stress can be avoided by keeping things close.”

The most commonly found mistake in people’s work areas are computer monitors that are positioned too low or keyboards set uncomfortably high. This problem occurs mostly for those who use laptops. The PT Department suggests setting the computer on top of a book or getting a wireless keyboard if typing at a desk for long periods of time.

Pascal said working uncomfortably, “makes your head really forward and your posture really slumped.”

He added that it is important that their suggested changes require little to no cost in order to be accessible to students.

Pascal hopes to compile all of the research and data students have collected  over the years and start to make small but beneficial improvements around campus. She plans to work with Humans Resources to satisfy the many requests for changes in people’s work areas.

Pascal said people need to be mindful of their bodies. “I have to say I hate when I see people in their 20’s that already have such terrible posture, because lifelong that causes so many other problems. You can end up with lifetime neck and back pain, and eventually have problem breathing. I’d love to get people sitting up straighter, not leaving college with worse posture than they started.”

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PT Students Assess Work Areas