On a hot summer night in South Georgia, farm workers stand over the grass in the waiting area of ​​an outdoor clinic. Workers are waiting for a few minutes of individual attention from third year PhD Physiotherapy (DPT) students, possibly the only medical care these workers receive year-round.

The clinic is part of the interdisciplinary, cross-university Farm Worker Family Health Program organized by the Emory University School of Nursing and supported locally by the Ellenton Clinic.

For nearly two decades, Georgia state physical therapy (PT) students have been coming to Moultrie, Georgia to treat farm workers and their families. These workers make a living doing hard manual labor in the hot sun with little to no health benefits.

The PT students also assess the development of migrant workers’ children. More than 60 children go through stations at a local elementary school where PT students ask them to jump on one foot or do a few push-ups or other exercises to determine the child’s gross and fine motor skills.

“The children had a lot of fun [doing the evaluations], and most of them did at least average or better in motor skills, ”said Tiffany Greenwood, a third year DPT student.

During her PT experience at Moultrie, she had the most fun evaluating the children.

“I want to work in pediatric PT,” said Greenwood. She is a former children’s dance teacher who has returned to school for a new career.

After eating a box lunch delivered by a local church and taking a quick nap or study time, the PT students moved to locations near the fields where the adult farm workers work. For four nights, between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., the students treated around 110 adults. The workers stopped by for treatment after dinner and showering, seeking relief from the pain of repetitive physical activity.

“We checked them for orthopedic problems like back, shoulder and knee pain,” said Greenwood.

Under the supervision of the faculty, the PT students diagnosed soft tissue injuries and joint pain and treated the injuries with manual therapy, exercise, and a back or knee brace as needed. The students also showed the workers exercises that could bring relief.

“These workers start their day at 5 a.m. and work until 6 or 7 p.m. most days,” said Greenwood. “It was humiliating to help them with their orthopedic problems.”

“They [the farmworkers] work so hard for us, so it was nice to do something for them, ”said DPT student Alex Maeder.

Maeder said she learned a lot from the faculty and appreciated the opportunity to improve efficiency in caring for workers.

PT faculty and travel coordinator Jodan Garcia said the planning for the service learning opportunity in 2021 is different from previous years. The program involved 50 percent fewer healthcare providers, with the exception of physical therapy students, who were specifically requested.

“COVID protocols made treatment more difficult,” Garcia said, “especially communication since we were all wearing masks.”

Kimberly Morelli, DPT program director and travel coordinator, believed COVID was forcing faculty and student teams to be better organized.

“The multidisciplinary faculty team wrote a 15-step standard work manual prior to the trip, something we had to do but didn’t have time to put on paper,” she said.

Flexibility dominated the journey, and the students adapted to the many challenges and changes better than any other group of PT students before. The students on the Moultrie Project chose to travel, and some wanted to return to working life in the future after they graduated.

“The entire clinic has been very efficient, possibly because students were used to adapting due to the hybrid learning model implemented during the COVID restrictions,” Morelli said.

“The Farm Worker Family Health Program is who we, Georgia State University, are as a community,” said Garcia. “Caring for those who are forgotten and underserved.”

–Written by Angela Go