Work Type



Fall 2019

Faculty Advisor

Holly Roberts, PT, DPT, GCS, NCS




Background and Purpose: In March 2019, eight physical therapy students (SPTs) from University of Puget Sound traveled to Zacapa, Guatemala to work with Hearts In Motion to deliver rehabilitation services and education for five days as part of a global health service learning experience (SLE). Throughout the SLE, students responded to journal prompts reflecting on their experiences. This analysis explores the impact of student experiences by identifying recurring themes in journal entries.

Methods: Eight students provided written consent for analysis of personal journal entries. Three student reviewers completed a qualitative evaluation of journals using a constant comparative method. Reviewers used open coding to determine initial categories and axial coding to cross-link sub-textual themes.

Results: Four themes emerged from the analysis: 1. Communication: Learning to communicate and build patient relationships while negotiating language and culture barriers, recognizing and addressing miscommunication, collaborating inter-professionally to provide meaningful care. 2. Clinical Development: Improving confidence with clinical skills and critical thinking, discovering resourcefulness, applying and integrating prior coursework. 3. Healthcare Disparities: Recognizing disparities in access to quality care and resources, promoting patient education in the absence of care continuity, responding to severe presentations. 4. Compassionate Empathy: Juggling reactive emotions with professionalism in response to trauma, overcoming feelings of hopelessness, desiring to make a positive impact, building human connection.

Conclusion: Student reflections indicate that this SLE allowed students to recognize healthcare disparities, build clinical and communication skills in an intercultural context, and show compassion in the face of trauma and hardship. These competencies are crucial to the professional development of novice practitioners and reflective of American Physical Therapy Association core values.


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8. Sandoval A, Wildt-Bailey W, Roberts H. Global Health Perspectives in Physical Therapy Education: A Qualitative Report on a Service Learning Experience in Guatemala. Presented at the: Physical Therapy Research Symposium. 37; October 23, 2018.


University of Puget Sound

Geographic Coverage

United States, Guatemala