Laura Martel, DPT, a 2015 graduate from CU PT, has always
sought out culturally immersive experiences.
After graduating from college, she joined the Peace Corps and spent two
years in Zambia where she worked on a rural education development project,
helping teachers become better teachers.
Knowing that she wanted to become a physical therapist after the Peace
Corps, Martel advocated with the local physiotherapist to help bring PT services
to the school where she was working.
After coming back to the United States, Martel joined the CU
Physical Therapy Program and took every opportunity she could to work on global
and underserved health projects. She
volunteered at Stout Street Clinic, a health clinic for the homeless and
uninsured individuals in downtown Denver. She also worked with a group of
students to propose a global health elective in the curriculum.
Martel was also the first PT student to join CU Peru. This program brings together a cohort of
interprofessional students who travel deep into the Amazon to provide trainings
for community health workers who have no formal education or health
training. Students teach the community
health workers how to take vital signs.
They also teach help them learn when to send patients on the long trek
to the city hospital, when they should be referred for assistance with nutrition,
maternal health, and now physical therapy.
In Martel’s first year in CU Peru, she worked with CU
Physical Therapy Program Associate Professor, Tami Struessel, PT, DPT, OCS to
develop a curriculum on low back pain.
She then traveled to Peru to deliver lessons to community health workers,
who traveled up to 12 hours to receive the trainings. The community health workers were grateful to
be able to take treatments back to their villages where people often suffer
from orthopedic issues. In her second year in the program, Martel became co-President
of CU Peru and traveled again to Peru to deliver health trainings.
Most recently, Martel jumped at the opportunity to complete
her final 16-week clinical rotation at the Navajo Indian Reservation in
northern New Mexico, one of the most rural areas in the country, Martel had the
opportunity to put all her classroom and clinical training into action, learn
about rural Native American culture, and help bring physical therapy services
to a medically underserved area.
Martel’s clinical experience on the reservation was a
complete cultural immersion. Martel says that her patients often travel as much
as three hours on the reservation, many of them hitchhiking, to receive medical
services. Her patients often do not have electricity in their rural homes, so
she is always sure to ask before suggesting that they ice their injuries. Many of the patients who come to the clinic
complain of back pain that they believe occurred because someone cast a spell
on them. In these instances, she works
with a traditional healer to provide a dual approach to helping these individuals.
Reflecting on her experience, Martel said, “I love learning
about new cultures and the idea that there’s a culture like this right in our
own backyard made me want to go. I’m
really interested in working in underserved populations, so it was a good fit and
a great experience for me.”