Patient Care in a Pandemic: How GW DPT Faculty and Alumni are Using Their Skills in New Ways

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how society operates on a day-to-day basis, and that includes practicing physical therapy. Faculty and alumni of the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) Doctor of Physical Therapy Program (DPT) are using their education and experience to find new ways to help those affected by the pandemic.

Mary Busch, PT, DPT ’18, a physical therapist with the GW Hospital, sees firsthand how PT roles have recently shifted. “Currently, the country is not doing many elective procedures, which is limiting the demand for typical PT services,” Busch said. “However, PTs have the ability to provide cardio-pulmonary treatment, assist with mobility, and provide exercise programs, which are critical components of recovery for patients with COVID-19, particularly those in the ICU.” This switch in priorities has resulted in an increased need for physical therapists in the hospital setting.

Rebecca Pinkus, PT, DPT, a senior PT at GW Hospital and adjunct professor for the Department of Health, Human Function and Rehabilitation Sciences at SMHS, has been tasked with responding to the hospital’s need for more acute care PTs. To do this, she is helping the hospital transition many of the outpatient PTs to the inpatient and acute care areas. “The most important thing I am focusing on is making sure that the patients and the PTs are safe, and that these clinicians get the appropriate orientation to provide safe and competent care in a new setting,” Pinkus said.

Pinkus assisted with the hospital’s PT orientation, which included a didactic session, handout materials, and one-on-one training. “One great thing about being a PT is that we all graduate from school with basic knowledge to work in any setting. We are usually very flexible and able to cross over and provide patient care in many areas with some re-orienting. This is important as we can be useful teammates in caring for patients where we are needed most,” she added.

Heather Jentilet, PT, DPT ’18, is also experiencing her fair share of changes due to COVID-19. Jentilet is an outpatient PT at the Medstar National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C., and works with a variety of patients, including those who have experienced limb-loss and those with neurological and chronic orthopedic conditions. As a result of the pandemic, Jentilet has switched to an online video telehealth platform for patient appointments. However, she has not let this change affect her patient care.

“I’ve definitely had to be much more creative in how I choose to examine patients and address impairments over video conference, when I normally would have done many of these things manually,” she said. “I have found that I get a much better idea of a patient’s home environment and can help them navigate functional tasks in their own home better than I could in the clinic.”

Jentilet attributes her ability to make these changes to her GW education and training. “Two very consistent themes throughout the GW DPT curriculum are adaptability and always seeking improvement, both personally and within the profession. Because of this, I was able to adapt to the changing model of care, and I am able to see the use of telehealth platform as an opportunity to continue to promote a lifestyle that involves movement in order to reduce pain and improve quality of life in a new way.”