Service Learning

Columbia Physical Therapy Service Learning: Columbia Cares

Elective: One Week in Guatemala

Volunteers pose during their work in Guatemala.

Under the auspices of faculty member Dr. Martha Sliwinski, and in coordination with the agency Sharing the Dream, students gain international experience in a country with underserved communities in need of a broad range of health-care services and education. Students have the opportunity to apply previously learned knowledge and skills as they apply to the needs assessed in the community for pro bono services. Health risks related to prevention will be assessed and physical therapy services applicable to the needs will be designed and implemented. There are opportunities for collaboration with other nonprofit organizations that work closely with Sharing the Dream; for example, Transitions helps provide wheelchairs, prosthetics, and orthotics to adult and pediatric clients. Students are responsible for the cost of the trip and run various fund-raising activities throughout the year to help subsidize the expense. A complete description of the elective is found under Course Descriptions in the Program Bulletin.

Columbia University Program in Physical Therapy Community Action Network (PT-CAN)

PT-CAN is a student-run organization for service within the PT program. Through PT-CAN, students can volunteer, join committees, advocate for the profession, and create new outreach opportunities. Through PT-CAN, students can participate in the following service opportunities:

Lang Youth Medical Program

Lang Youth Medical Program volunteers in white coats.

The Lang Youth Medical Program is a community outreach program that offers local youth a pathway to college through health-care career exploration and medical science education. Each year, the Lang program accepts 12-15 local sixth graders who will participate in extracurricular study and activities during the six-year stretch from 7th grade through 12th grade. Students study anatomy, disease pathology, prevention, and community and public health, as well as participate in field trip activities and complete annual year-end projects. These extracurricular courses are taught to the Lang students by undergraduate and graduate students representing various fields within the CUMC community, including volunteers from the CUIMC DPT program. DPT students also participate as mentors, serving as both a friend and a role model to the Lang students, encouraging them in their academic and personal growth.

Columbia Student Medical Outreach (CoSMO)

Students pose outside the COSMO clinic.

CoSMO is a student-run primary clinic offering free, high-quality primary heath care to the uninsured population of Washington Heights. Under the auspices of faculty member Dr. Martha Sliwinski and NYPH physical therapy clinicians, physical therapy students have the opportunity to work with their mentors alongside medical, nursing, and social work students at this primary-care clinic. First-, second-, and third-year students participate in this outreach program one Saturday a month in the Washington Heights neighborhood, which encompasses the CUIMC campus. Each class elects a student-run CoSMO Board. Second- and third-year students mentor interested first-year students in screening clinic patients.

The AXIS Project: Spinal Mobility

A physical therapy student works with a client.

The Spinal Mobility program, located in New York City's Harlem nieighborhood, is designed as a means of exercise for people with spinal-cord injuries. Physical therapy students who volunteer with the AXIS Project have the opportunity to:

  • Receive training specific to a population with spinal-cord injury
  • Provide exercise training to people with spinal-cord injury in an accessible setting
  • Work with other volunteers and medical professionals outside the Columbia University community
  • Practice skills learned in the classroom in a real-world setting

Fairytale Physical Therapy

Fairytale Physical Therapy (FTPT) is a project of students of the Columbia University Program in Physical Therapy. The group presents abbreviated versions of popular shows, such as Disney's "Frozen" , "The Lion King" and "The Little Mermaid."

The volunteer cast of Fairytale Physical Therapy poses on stage.

These events, performed in children's hospitals, give kids a chance to get moving and offer parents and children alike a break from being in the hospital. The show is broadcast to all rooms, giving everyone a chance to see the show if they are not able to make it to where the performance takes place.

Song, dance, and arts and crafts (for fine motor skills) are part of the event.

Choreography with a therapeutic exercise slant is taught to kids through popular songs such as "Let It Go" and "In Summer." Kids are invited to dance along from standing or seated positions. If anyone forgets the song lyrics, FTPT provides them.

For more information, contact or visit the Fairytale Physical Therapy website.