Dr. Fredy Solis looks on as two physical therapy students treat a patient at the pro bono clinic.
Physical therapy students treat a patient with Dr. Fredy Solis looking on. (Alyson Shields/Brenau University)

Physical therapy students reopen pro bono clinic

May 24, 2022
Alyson Shields

Brenau University’s pro bono physical therapy clinic reopened this spring after it temporarily closed due to the pandemic. The clinic is operated by graduate students who practice their skills while simultaneously keeping operations running smoothly.

The clinic, which treats patients referred by Good News Clinics, operates weekly after hours at the Brenau Downtown Center. The second year PT graduate students are supervised by faculty and volunteer clinicians.

Two physical therapy students work with liaison Dr. Mary Thigpen on paperwork.
Dr. Mary Thigpen guides students with their paperwork at the clinic. (Alyson Shields/Brenau University)

“The whole second year class is involved in different jobs,” Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Mary Thigpen said. Thigpen acts as a liaison at the clinic. She said typically the students will pass the baton to the next class. “We don’t tell them what to do, but I set up some frameworks for them, because we had been down for two years.”

Darci Dow and Jeffrey May are student leaders at the clinic.

“It’s a giant group effort to pull the whole thing together,” Dow said. “The first day, we definitely ran into some struggles — we lost power. Our team came together and we moved into the atrium where we had some light, and were able to help patients on our first night here. And patients have been coming in pretty steady since, which is exciting.”

May said being able to work pro bono fuels why he chose a profession helping people.

“I get to learn the stories of the people that come in, learn about them and what they’ve gone through, and see how strong they are as individuals to even get to where they are now, despite having so much going against them,” May said. “It’s a passion of mine to see them getting care that I believe is correct and appropriate. It’s not a treadmill of getting them in and out and hitting a number, it’s about seeing a change.”

Jeffrey May and Darci Dow
Jeffrey May and Darci Dow (Alyson Shields/Brenau University)

Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Fredy Solis acts as a supervisor and also aids in communication. Solis, who is originally from Nicaragua, helps with the language barrier, as roughly 60% of patients are Spanish speakers. 

Solis said he doesn’t want to get in the way while the students learn. 

“If I see that they’re going to mess up, I stop them and say, ‘Okay, let’s think about it a little bit more,’” Solis said. “But I let them run their show, because in the end that’s what we’re trying to train them to do, to deal with situations in real life.”

Thigpen said the students don’t just learn the ins-and-outs of running a clinic. 

“They learn about those who may not be as fortunate as they are,” Thigpen said. “They learn about these different tiers of our society, and how much some do have and how much others may not.”

The idea for the clinic was developed in part by Clinical Instructor Greg Patterson, who said the need for accessible care in the area was great. The clinic partnership between Brenau, Good News Clinics and Patterson began in February of 2017, according to Thigpen.

“It’s a very rewarding place to be in healthcare when money is not in the picture,” Patterson said. “And I think the students see that really quickly. The other rewarding thing to me is to see them be able to provide this care to patients who really need it.”