Published on October 17, 2019 by Sarah Waller  

Caring for the whole person. While this message appears simple, its impact is profound. And each year, students experience this impact firsthand through the summer’s Bright Ideas TBI Camp, a program for persons with a traumatic brain injury and their caregivers.

Hosted in partnership with the Alabama Head Injury Foundation, students in the school’s Doctor of Physical Therapy and Master of Science in speech language pathology programs worked together in interprofessional teams—alongside licensed occupational therapists from the community—to assess and provide treatment based on individual needs.

The individuals who attend the camp are all at least three years removed from their injury—though several participants were more than 10 or 20 years removed. Each of them has reached a point where his or her motivations have stagnated, leaving caregivers feeling like they are running low on options. They come to camp knowing they will leave with a renewed action plan—created by the students—and new resources they can use when they return home.

Students assessing an individual with a traumatic brain injury

While lasting only three days, the camp produced significant outcomes for its participants—from small details, like a team of students working with their patient to modify a fishing pole, so she can once again participate in an activity that she loves, to larger ones.

“On the first day, two physical therapy students identified significant issues with skin integrity due to diabetes,” said Scott Powell, executive director of the Alabama Head Injury Foundation. “Think about the long-term consequences of a potential amputation. It was a huge outcome to have this early intervention and prevent something so tragic.”

In caring for the whole person, the student’s relationship with the patient plays a vital role, one that is based in compassion and empathy.

“I feel like Samford has really instilled that in us. We’re not just here to fix a knee or reduce pain. We’re here to make the whole person better and to encourage and love them,” said Alex Brown, a third-year Doctor of Physical Therapy student.

While these second- and third-year students have had several opportunities for patient interactions prior to camp, for many, this was their first chance to work with a patient for three consecutive days. “It made the entire experience so rewarding,” said Stephanie Fant, a third-year Doctor of Physical Therapy student. “As we got to know our patient, understanding all that she has gone through, we were able to encourage and celebrate with her. Persons who have had a traumatic brain injury need to celebrate the smallest victories.” 

“I can truly say—having done this at other universities—that the level of compassion that exists with the students here at Samford is uniquely remarkable,” Powell said. “They have such a wealth of new ideas that our participants benefit from. And just knowing the social isolation that this condition can cause, it’s incredibly meaningful for them to have someone take an active interest in their well-being.”

Professor Margaret Johnson instructing a graduate student

The interprofessional nature of the Bright Ideas TBI Camp affords students the opportunity to observe how each discipline evaluates the same patient. “It was really fun to work with speech language pathology and occupational therapy,” Brown said. “This was my first time to sit in on a speech evaluation, and I saw so many aspects of their care that I could incorporate into mine. Plus, it was meaningful to just brainstorm ideas, figuring out how collectively we could provide the best care.”

In total, the camp involved eight different health professions at Samford, including nutrition and dietetics, social work and nursing. 

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