Physical Therapy PT

| 4 May 2024

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Change-Making at Home and Abroad: Dr. Garrett Mandel’s Dual Passion for Physical Therapy and Volunteerism

Dr. Mandel PT PBC Debrief

In the heart of St. Augustine, Florida, Dr. Garrett Mandel, PT, DPT, blends expertise in physical therapy with a dedication to community service. As a physical therapy (PT) instructor at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS), Dr. Mandel channels his drive to enhance lives through teaching and volunteering, leaving a lasting impression on those he encounters.

Influence beyond the clinic

Driven to extend his impact beyond individual patient care, Dr. Mandel transitioned into academia. “I was drawn to teaching because I have seen the transformative effect of PT on individuals and communities,” he shares.

Dr. Mandel recognized the disparities in training outcomes among physical therapy graduates and felt compelled to elevate the standard. “I noticed that USAHS graduates performed at a higher caliber than alumni from most other schools,” he remarks. This realization sparked his interest in education, leading him to invest in shaping the next generation of physical therapists.

Drawing from his own experiences as a 2013 USAHS DPT alum, Dr. Mandel intertwines his approach to teaching with the values instilled in him during his time as a student. He emphasizes the significance of mentorship and equips his students with the tools they need to excel in their practice.

“Their interest to learn fuels my fire and passion to help them with critical thinking skills, hands-on practice and more,” he explains, “I find a lot of value in students who want to invest in themselves.”

Dr. Mandel finds fulfillment in observing the growth of his students, from their initial semester to their eventual mastery of therapeutic techniques.

Does Dr. Mandel come across any challenges? He acknowledges that, at times, it is frustrating yet humbling when he struggles to connect with a specific student. “This is where USAHS’ emphasis on collaboration and interprofessional education proves valuable,” he explains. “I can turn to a colleague, and together we can help facilitate that ‘ah-ha’ moment.”

Dr.-Mandel El Salvador

Home-grown and global impact

Outside of the classroom, Dr. Mandel expands his reach through volunteer initiatives, both locally and internationally. One notable endeavor is his involvement in the pro bono physical therapy clinic at USAHS St. Augustine.

At the pro bono clinic, OT and PT faculty and students collaborate on an interdisciplinary level and provide crucial physical therapy services to underserved populations, including uninsured or underinsured individuals in St. Johns County. Dr. Mandel notes that 60% of their patients are from the community.

“Patients enjoy the opportunity to be a learning experience for those students, demonstrating the dual benefits of patient care and student education,” he remarks.

Dr. Mandel’s commitment to community care extends internationally, where he participates in annual medical mission trips to El Salvador. These journeys bring essential healthcare services to remote towns, address critical needs and foster long-term connections.

His volunteer work in El Salvador holds a special place in his heart and highlights the power of compassion and collaboration. He stresses the importance of building relationships with local leaders to ensure effective outreach and maximize positive change.

“Establishing community connections allows us to collaborate with local leaders,” he explains. Through these efforts, Dr. Mandel and his team provide vital medical care to those who lack access, embodying the ethos of service and empathy.

He and his team set up one-day mobile medical clinics in small towns along the coast. His partners include 12-15 healthcare professionals with unique specialties: Fellow PTs, OTs, medical doctors, dentists, paramedics and more.

They provide hands-on care and teach exercises to help patients manage their health conditions.

“It’s rewarding to see so many grateful individuals patiently wait in line to be seen. When we return to locations in El Salvador, we see some of the same people and become invested in their stories,” he highlights

Dr. Mandel shares the story of a young child – maybe four or five years old, who broke his leg playing soccer. The volunteers gave him a splint and crutches. When they saw him a year later, he was running again. “We have watched him grow and thrive; It’s so nice to help someone and see them progress year over year,” Dr. Mandel explains.

The team gathers medical equipment donations – treatment tables, walkers, wheelchairs and crutches – to provide to the local community. They also engage in innovative work – like working with 3D-printed prosthetic limbs. “We helped someone get back to walking after being stuck in a wheelchair for a long time,” he says.

The volunteer opportunity is open to students who are nearing graduation. “They gain exposure to real-life pro-bono work. It gives them an appreciation for what you can do to serve others,” he says.

Dr. Mandel speaks some Spanish and is practicing his language skills daily. He also recruits local youth as translators. “They get to practice their English, and it puts patients at ease to talk with a familiar individual,” he says.

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A commitment to continuous learning

Dr. Mandel plays a pivotal role in bridging education and therapy through teaching continuing professional education (CPE) courses. These courses help students to hone analytical reasoning and decision-making skills, allow for hands-on practice and foster professional development among clinicians.

“The E2 Course I teach synthesizes extensive learning and integrates both extremities and the spine,” he says.

Dr. Mandel’s instruction transcends traditional limits; he has taught courses at other USAHS campuses and abroad, including a session with 40 physical therapists (PTs) in Osaka, Japan.

Focused on the future

Looking ahead, Dr. Mandel remains committed to expanding the reach of the pro bono clinic at USAHS St. Augustine. He envisions the clinic as a cornerstone of community engagement, providing essential services while nurturing the next generation of compassionate healthcare professionals.

What is his advice to aspiring physical therapists? Pursue volunteer work – either locally or internationally – and you will find great rewards. A big part of our profession is tapping into why you got into it in the first place,” he says, “Find an outlet to help people in a specific way and serve without any expectations.” He recommends contacting local free clinics and asking to be a referral source for pro bono PTs. He says that spending an hour or two a week volunteering is beneficial.

Through his efforts, Dr. Mandel exemplifies the transformative power of physical therapy and the profound impact of altruism on local and global communities.

Learn more about Dr. Mandel and his work.

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