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Physical therapy students to work for military hospitals

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July 13, 2012

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Most phys­ical ther­a­pists who enlist in the mil­i­tary don't immed­i­tately have the nec­es­sary skills to suc­ceed, as they're untrained in tasks such as ordering X-​​rays and diag­nosing com­pli­cated injuries. Most have not gone through basic training — or even fired a rifle.

Katie Osterman, on the other hand, a sixth-​​year phys­ical therapy stu­dent who was com­mis­sioned in May as a second lieu­tenant after five years in Northeastern's ROTC pro­gram, will be pre­pared to tell a much dif­ferent story.

Through a new part­ner­ship between mil­i­tary hos­pi­tals and North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, Osterman will con­duct her clin­ical rota­tions at some of the nation's top facil­i­ties. At the Walter Reed National Mil­i­tary Med­ical Center, in Bethesda, Md., for example, she will teach sol­diers how to use new, high-​​tech pros­thetic limbs.

"After these clin­ical rota­tions, I'll be going into my career with all this back­ground and expe­ri­ence so many people won't have," said Osterman, whose par­ents served in the Marine Corps.

Though there's a waiting list for ther­a­pists who want to be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, there's also a shortage phys­ical ther­a­pists with mil­i­tary training who can hit the ground running.

"They almost have to be retrained when they get there," explained Christo­pher Cesario, a clin­ical instructor in the phys­ical therapy depart­ment who spent the last two years building the partnership.

Maura Iverson, chair of Northeastern's Depart­ment of Phys­ical Therapy in the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences, noted that stu­dents who com­plete the ROTC pro­gram — which requires gru­eling phys­ical training and lead­er­ship classes on top of a full aca­d­emic course load — are some of the university's strongest.

The chance to com­plete clin­ical rota­tions at mil­i­tary hos­pi­tals is also open to civilian stu­dents. Alan Cheng, a sixth-​​year phys­ical therapy stu­dent, for example, will work later this year at Marine Corps Base Quantico.

"When this oppor­tu­nity pre­sented itself, I thought 'What other chance will I have to do some­thing like this? Some­thing that could pre­pare me for any kind of phys­ical therapy work I might encounter?'" Cheng said. "I couldn't turn it down."

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