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Physical therapy students earn clinical hours needed via Zoom

Back in March, Cara Rosie’s semester got derailed. The second-year student earning her associate degree in Tidewater Community College’s Physical Therapist Assistant program was shy of the clinical hours needed to complete her degree, a result of area facilities shutting down to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

With her board exam also on hold, Rosie felt as if her education was hijacked.

An innovative solution introduced by TCC Professor Melanie Basinger will allow Rosie and many of her peers to finish what they started before the summer ends. WTKR talked with Basinger, students and patients in this feature.

Back in spring 2019, Basinger started a nonprofit organization called Therapy on the Move aimed at preventing falls among adults 65 and older through a hands-on exercise and education program.  Her students helped design the “Timeless Living Fall Prevention” program, which they subsequently ran at the Regional Health Professions Center on the Virginia Beach Campus.

When COVID-19 halted in-person instruction, Basinger shifted the program’s delivery instruction method to telehealth. It was a mode of delivery she had never considered before; “It was never on my radar,” she said.

What she didn’t anticipate was telehealth actually being an ideal choice for many patients who would rather remain in their own homes for physical therapy.

“We’re reaching people we wouldn’t ordinarily reach,” said Basinger, who secured the necessary approvals by TCC and Virginia’s Community Colleges for the program to count toward the 105 clinical hours needed. “Sometimes people are too shy or embarrassed or they’re just not comfortable coming out. I love that telehealth allows us to reach a lot of people in a pretty diverse area geographically.”

The seven-week telehealth clinical pairs students with mentors, graduates of TCC’s physical therapist assistant program who are working in the field. Students connect via Zoom with patients they have found – often extended family or friends; their mentor remains on the call for the two-hour sessions, too.

The first hour focuses on active exercises and strategies to prevent falls. Topics include home safety, medications, nutrition and diet, vision and feet and community safety. Basinger also added a component teaching patients how to fall safely to mitigate or prevent injury.

“That is something that is rarely taught,” she said.

The second hour of the call involves an educational component that patients can incorporate into their daily lives. Students can actually see problem areas inside patients’ homes – stray electrical cords, for example – and offer solutions.

“It’s been an incredible experience,” said Rosie, who completed earlier clinical rotations at a skilled nursing home and an outpatient therapy clinic. “Listening to their stories, having them tell us about the home and seeing them make changes is gratifying. This is a life-changing program for some of these people.”

Student Larry Havard said he’s learned to be creative during the telehealth sessions. Streaming music during warmup exercises drowns out any awkward silences.

“It’s really important for people to have the social interaction doing this telehealth,” said Havard. “I’ve learned that you’ve got to have patience. And I’ve learned some different ways to potentially adapt in situations. I never thought I’d be doing anything like this, especially for school.”

On Sundays, Basinger and the students review the upcoming week on a Zoom call. The telehealth program has worked so well, she plans to continue it even after COVID-19 restrictions end.

“It’s so heartwarming; what they’re getting out of this is beyond what I ever expected,” she said. “It’s just perfect.”

Interested in TCC’s Physical Therapist Assistant associate degree? Contact Basinger at