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Community Engagement, Clinical Services, and Research

Engagement and Outreach in the Western North Carolina Community


Western Carolina University is designated as a Carnegie Foundation Community-Engaged Institution for its many service-learning opportunities available to students. WCU DPT students are involved in this mission through service oriented doctoral projects, our student-run pro bono clinic, and even international service opportunities. These initiatives allow students to:

  • Engage in meaningful community-based service
  • Apply knowledge and skills learned in the classroom
  • Glean experience needed to use our skill set as physical therapists to practice altruism long after graduation

Discover more about service learning at WCU 

Community & Regional Clinics

Mountain Area Pro Bono Health Services: Our mission is to provide effective, pro bono physical therapy and social work services to the under-served and under-insured population of western North Carolina regardless of socioeconomics or health status. We strive to improve quality of life, health, and function of our clients while serving the community and fostering student education. This clinic provides students an opportunity to apply their newly acquired knowledge and serves the community. 


Balance and Fall Prevention Clinic: Western Carolina University provides inter-professional team-based evaluation, treatment, and consultation services for individuals who have fallen or are at risk for falling. Our team, consisting of a physical therapist, an audiologist, and a nurse practitioner, provides integrated care at one location to help identify risk factors and other contributing factors associated with balance disorders. 


Utility of Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) for Rehabilitation: Currenlty conducting a systematic review of the literature. Goals are to: 1. Determine the level of evidence supporting the use of BFR in rehabilitation of muscle/tendon impairment, 2. Identify directions for future research.

Does fatigue (muscular or cardiovascular) have a role in injury? Conducting a systematic review of the literature. Goals are to: 1. determine what level of evidence exists linking fatigue to changes in mechanics and injuries; 2. Identify directions of future research.

Fatigue study

The effects of fatigue of the core and lower extremity musculature on gait stability while carrying a backpack 

Video-based learning (VBL) module of the movement system: Developing a web-based learning/teaching tool consisting of typical and impaired movement, for use by all professionals and students.

PT/PTA Education: 
This project seeks to achieve the dual goals of developing the involved DPT students as clinical educators and exploring and strengthening the professional relationship between physical therapists and physical therapist assistants.

Balance Exercise Program for Older Adults:
Students partner with aging and public health staff to deliver and assess a community balance exercise program.

Training Sitting in Balance in Individuals with Stroke:
Students partner with area clinicians to study the effects of different instructions on sitting balance performance and learning.

Adaptive climbing


Adaptive climbing:
Providing greater access to recreational and therapeutic adaptive rock climbing and yoga in populations with physical disabilities in western North Carolina.

Parkinson’s Disease Exercise Program:
Empowering individuals with Parkinson’s disease and their caregivers by providing safe environments for exercise.

Health and Wellness at WCU:
Promoting health and wellness at WCU in partnership with W.H.E.E. for Life to enhance musculoskeletal health in WCU employees and with club and recreational student athletes to reduce sport-related injury risks.

Exercise after Cancer:
Delivering evidence-based education on the benefits of exercise for cancer survivors in partnership with regional healthcare organizations.



Each year our faculty take a group of students to Honduras to provide pro bono physical therapy services.  The citizens of Honduras rarely have access to any type of health care outside of our services.

"I underestimated the Honduras trip.  I underestimated how much money I would spend.  I underestimated the beauty of the land, and of the people.  I underestimated the resilience of the community we served, and the cultural differences I would experience.  I underestimated the strength of relationships I would build with my classmates, Dr. Watson, Eric, our patients, the girls at the orphanage, and the people of Taulabé.  I underestimated myself, and my ability to provide meaningful services to these people in one short hour after one short year of PT school.  Most importantly, I underestimated the impact that this experience would have on my life moving forward. To be clear, I had high expectations for this trip, and it exceeded every one of them.  Because of that, I will remember it forever." - Zach Demeester

"Being a part of the Honduras team was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It is very clear to me that I learned far more from the people of Honduras than they ever did from me. Despite my limited PT knowledge, the amount of love and appreciation I felt from everybody there overwhelmed me. I look back at that experience with such a full heart and thankfulness because most of what I learned and experienced could never be taught in a classroom. I know that moving forward this has provided me with a more holistic lens when I treat as well as a reminder to continually challenge my own biases. Overall, this experience already has and will shape me into both a better clinician and person." - Michelle Davis

Learn more. Visit the course page.

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