SRU physical therapy students preparing for service-learning trip to Peru


Students traveling to Peru

From left, Slippery Rock University physical therapy graduate students Michael Fabrick, Justin Eby, Jared Todorowski and Erica Burnworth are traveling to Peru, July 22 to Aug. 3, to provide physical therapy to underserved people.

July 9, 2019

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — The two bags that each Slippery Rock University student are allowed for their service-learning trip to Peru are symbolic in that their mission is two-fold. On one hand, the trip will provide excellent field experience; while on the other hand, the donated physical therapy equipment they will take with them will help support people in need.

"We'll be able to further our education as students of physical therapy and we'll also use God's gift to serve the underprivileged," said Justin Eby, a graduate student majoring in physical therapy from North East. "Being able to do two things that we love doing at one time is really cool and we're all really excited about it."

Eby is one of four physical therapy students from SRU who are traveling to Arequipa, Peru, July 20 to Aug. 3, to provide physical therapy care to Peruvians in underserved, rural areas. The trip is in conjunction with Medical Ministry International. Joining Eby are: Erica Burnworth from Greenville; Michael Fabrick from Glen Rock; and Jared Todorowski from Gibsonia.

Jenny Holbein


The SRU group will work with Peruvian physical therapists to administer care at pop-up clinics at various locations around Arequipa. They will treat patients by resizing and providing orthotics that will help support patients' injuries, deformities and other debilitating conditions. The orthotics the SRU students are taking were provided by donations through MMI. The students will also teach and recommend rehabilitation protocols and provide physical therapy that the patients would not otherwise receive due to limited access to health care in Peru.

"We've been told there will be people coming from far and wide to receive these services," Fabrick said. "We'll do an examination and figure out what we believe they need and provide them with instruction."

Fabrick is SRU's director of the project, which is partially funded by a $1,000 grant from the University's Student Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities grant program. The remaining program costs, which exceed $3,000 per student, is being covered by the students and external family and church fundraising efforts.

This is the 11th year that a group of students from SRU's Physical Therapy Department are traveling to Peru through the MMI partnership. The program started when Emily Cook, a 2011 graduate of the program, first approached Mary Ann Holbein-Jenny, professor of physical therapy, with the idea. A group of second-year PT students has gone every year since, just prior to the start of their 15-week clinical rotations.

"The students work all year to make this happen," said Holbein-Jenny, who has been part of previous years excursions. "Every year when the students come back, they have amazing stories and experiences and it changes their perspective and their lives. The people they meet are in dire need and they learn so much about the differences in health care."

Holbein-Jenny said the students will see patients with post-surgical conditions or unrecognized, deteriorating injuries, and will have to be creative without traditional equipment. For example, they might have a patient use a bottle filled with rocks instead of a dumbbell or therapeutic band while exercising.

"The resources are scarce so it forces them to be creative to work with patients to solve problems," Holbein-Jenny said. "There's a lot of duct tape and foam and you have to work with what you have. Students will see things they wouldn't often see (in the United States) but they'll also see things that are a nice reminder that we are all people, despite the lack of access the Peruvian people have to health care."

"A big part of physical therapy is coming up with new exercises and equipment," Eby said. "You don't want to make it boring for someone, especially when they need to do some type of repetitive movement."

The students may also encounter a child with cerebral palsy or spina bifida and have to fit them with a neurological wheelchair.

"(Students) can make a profound difference in people's lives through this trip," Holbein-Jenny said. "It's neat to see when a child can finally sit up and participate in a class where before they couldn't sit up straight."

The SRU contingent will also benefit by obtaining experience and honing techniques that they will use for their clinical rotations, prior to graduating next May. Three of the students have never travelled outside North America.

"The cultural difference is also going to be a huge learning experience since they will need to work with people from different backgrounds and languages," Fabrick said.

"We love physical therapy and being able to give back and serve," Burnworth said. "This is the ultimate way to do that."

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 |