An Army PT Repairs the Casualties of Modern War.
“SO OFTEN WE GET A NEGATIVE IMAGE of the American presence in Iraq and Afghanistan,” notes Captain Karen Lambert at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. “But look at how focused our clients are, and how determined to get back to their units. It’s an inspiring piece of the story.”
As a physical therapist in the facility’s Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) unit, which receives about five new patients a week, Lambert pursues a path fostered in the Drexel PT program’s neurological track and cemented by a stint at New Jersey’s Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation. War injuries present Karen Lambert with challenges rarely observed in the civilian world.
“We treat a lot of multi-trauma. You almost always have orthopedic issues in addition to neurological ones, and the injuries tend to be more severe.” Lambert’s training in Drexel’s interdisciplinary environment pays dividends.
“There’s a lot more teamwork to make sure everyone’s on the same page in addressing all of a person’s needs.” She says that some three-quarters of those affected by the blast waves from explosive devices suffer some form of TBI —from visual impairment to cognitive dysfunction. Thanks partly to the intensive therapy provided by Lambert and her colleagues, most recover fully.
This year, the Pentagon has earmarked a record level of resources for research and therapy, and Lambert reports that so many screening tests are now available that “we typically hold patients for as long as three months to make sure we don’t miss anything.” The mildest forms of concussion, however, can be addressed in as little as a month.
As the mother of two children—her daughter Ryan just joined three-year-old son Jack—Lambert has gained a different perspective on her work. “Before, when people would ask if my work was sad, I’d say ‘no, because I see people enter in a coma and walk out with a cane.’ Now, I see an 18-year-old, and I know it’s somebody’s little boy or girl. I empathize not just with the patient, but with the family.”
Traumatic brain injuries “change everyone’s plans,” she continues, including parents who may be charged with looking after someone who can’t take care of himself. The work I’m doing has its rewards, but it’s also more challenging. In the end, though, I think it will help me become a better therapist no matter what I do in the future.” to her advocacy, skill and dedication.”
Physician Assistants take the care to those who need it most.
Two graduates of the Hahnemann Physician Assistant program are attracting attention for their unusual efforts to improve the healthcare options of underserved Americans. Reaching audiences hundreds or thousands of miles away, they stretch the boundaries with imaginative, cost-effective programs.
Educating at the Edge
“EVERYONE DESERVES GOOD HEALTHCARE,” affirms Jean Rounds-Riley. “And I sought out work where I could help people who are underserved and underrepresented.” A 1983 graduate of the Hahnemann Physician Assistant program, Jean turned her convictions into action, beginning by serving patients from every social stratum in a private pain clinic. Native Americans comprised a significant proportion of those patients, sparking Jean’s interest in the tribal clinics and hospitals in the front line of healthcare for one of the nation’s largest ethnic groups.
“I was an anthropology major,” she recalls, “so I was naturally interested in different cultures. There was an obvious need for better care, and I practiced in Arizona, Maine and New Mexico.”Her work soon opened a wider horizon. “I joined HAP [the Alaska Community Health Aide Program] in 1991 as an instructor. CHAP came about in response to growing concerns that a lot of Alaskans have very limited access to healthcare.”
Roughly 650,000 people call Alaska home. Each of them could claim one of the state’s 586,412 square miles and never see a neighbor. But when illness or accident strikes, that neighbor might be the only available caregiver. CHAP was born to provide even remote settlements with trained, competent health workers.
“They’re literally the eyes, ears and hands of a medical professional who might be several hundred miles away,” explains Jean. “They’re selected by their communities, and trained according to a curriculum set forth in the Alaska Community Health Aide/Practitioner Manual.” Jean is one of the manual’s authors, and also works with state officials and legislators to influence policy. Jean’s persistent efforts to improve the well-being of rural Alaskans earned her the Sherry Stolberg Alumni Award for 2008.
PA program director Pat Auth presented the honor at the 36th Annual American Academy of Physician Assistants Conference. “Jean shows what you can accomplish when you have a clear vision and the conviction to act on it,” he said. “People in Alaska are much better off thanks to her advocacy, skill and dedication.”
Healthcare on the Air
The PA program welcomed another alum who has reached out to a wide audience—in some of the nation’s most densely populated states. Howard Smith ’93 (center in photo) divides his time between a clinical practice in Bridgeport, Connecticut and Multicultural Healthcare Marketing Group, a company that seeks to educate underserved populations about health.
Howard began creating novel outreach tactics at Monmouth Medical Center, serving these populations in northern New Jersey. His Community Family Night (CFN) program welcomed area residents to information sessions on topics such as AIDS, diabetes and obesity.
“I KEPT THINKING ABOUT HOW WE ARE ALL CONNECTED and that we all have a responsibility to each other,” he recalls. “I want to empower and educate people in a non-threatening way.”
As his career advanced, Howard took the CFN concept along and met with continued success. he recalls. “I want to empower and educate people in a non-threatening way.” As his career advanced, Howard took the CFN concept along and met with continued success.
“Some topics, of course, are more popular than others. We did a program on hypertension, and so many people visited the clinic the next day that my colleagues were saying, ‘Howard, what have you done! There are all these people coming in!’”
A recent immigration discussion saw a standing-room-only crowd—ironically causing a health hazard of sorts. “We had to turn people away because the numbers exceeded fire regulations!” It’s easy to see why. Affable and open, Howard has a gift for making people comfortable and explaining difficult subjects.
With a broadcasting degree and his Drexel Physician Assistant training, he’s now adding a new medium to spread the word about healthcare. Greeting Pat Auth (right in photo) and Reid Kaplan, director (left in photo) on a sunny afternoon, Howard revisited old times and chatted about his newest project: a 30-minute film created with Transworld Productions. Howard plans to take the CFN program to radio or TV. “I see is as a show for the community by the community,” he muses. “CFN’s goal is to provide optimal health education. Intellectual, spiritual, physical, emotional and social —I want to hit them all.”