patients exercising

On the move again Stroke patients and others find exercise to be a mighty force, thanks to Chapman's DPT students

Ronnie Vaughn of Huntington Beach usually folds her towels into thirds after they’ve been laundered. But the Chapman University students staffing a specialized exercise class upped that challenge for Vaughn, diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease six years ago. Make it four folds, they said.

“It was a little hard but it was a great thing to do. It takes movement, coordination and exercise,” Vaughn said.


Ronnie Vaughn happily displays her folded towels, while Elysse Curreri, a doctor of physical therapy student at Chapman University, records her time.

But she joked that she had her limits to this domestic business.

“If they ask me to go grocery shopping I’m going to stop the buck right there,” she said with a laugh.

Such good humor was typical among the clients enrolled in the class, a summer program offered by the
Department of Physical Therapy
in the Crean College of Health and Behavioral Sciences. From tasks like towel folding to “rowing” with colorful swimming pool noodles for oars, the weekly therapy sessions are always run with a dash of whimsy.

But the business at hand is serious. The Friday exercise clinics held at the Rinker Health Science Campus in Irvine provide doctor of physical therapy students one-on-one experience with stroke victims, as well as clients diagnosed with neurological disorders. And for clients it’s often the only therapy available to them after insurance-covered treatment has been tapped out.

The program previously operated on a daily schedule in a two-week boot-camp regimen, but faculty redesigned it into a summer schedule to give students a longer view of patient progress and more hands-on time in a clinical setting, said Dorcas Tominaga, director of clinical education in the Department of Physical Therapy. The boot camps will be offered again in the future, she said.

Another advantage of this on campus clinical opportunity is that students are surrounded by faculty familiar with the students’ skills. At community clinics, students are sometimes relegated to observing until physical therapists become acquainted with students’ skills, Tominaga said.


Chapman’s doctor of physical therapy students guide clients through a series of ring-lift exercises.

The jump to direct work with clients can be a bit daunting at first, but it’s one of the strengths of Chapman’s experiential learning.

“The students write a reflection after each session. A lot of them were initially very nervous, but now they are starting to see that they are accomplishing their goals for themselves and their clients,” Tominaga said.

First year student Becky Paulson of Yakima, Wash., says this was the sort of experience she was looking for when she chose Chapman.

“I worked with a physical therapist that graduated from here and she was a brand new physical therapist when I was her aide. And she blew everyone away with what a good physical therapist she was right out of school,” Paulson said.

As for the clients, they say the progress they make is invaluable.

Mavis Bishop of Lake Forest credits the weekly class and the exercises she’s learning there with helping her make continued strides in her recovery from a stroke she suffered six months ago.

“It’s helping my balance and strength. I can swing my arm, where before I couldn’t,” Bishop says. “It just helps me be normal again.”

To learn more about Chapman’s physical therapy programs, visit the Department of Physical Therapy webpage.

Dawn Bonker

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