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Using a Public Health Approach in Physical Therapy

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The best part of Mariana Wingood’s job has always been helping patients return to their everyday lives.

She has spent most of her career being a full-time physical therapist at UVM Medical Center’s Fanny Allen campus in Colchester, providing care to patients who have suffered a fall or illness. She helps them get them back on their feet and stay healthy.

However, in the fall she decided to take the next step and start her PhD in Human Functioning and Rehabilitation at the UVM College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

“Many older adults stop exercising as they age. My interest is figuring out how can we change that,” she says. “One avenue may be through increasing physical activity discussions in healthcare. The thought is that older adults value the advice they get from healthcare providers, and by having them discuss physical activity with their patients, it may impact an individual’s level of physical activity. My question is, how can we increase healthcare providers promotion of physical activity?  What tools can be developed, validated and implemented to increase this ease? Do those tools make a difference in the level of physical activity?”

She hopes that these two important parts of her life—hands-on clinical care and research—could one day coalesce into a job teaching at a university with a pro bono clinic offering physical therapy and preventative care.

Epidemiology Certificate Program at UVM

To help her prepare for her career plans and the doctorate program, Wingood enrolled in the UVM Certificate of Graduate Study in Epidemiology in 2017. The 18-credit program is a one-year, online certificate that is a collaboration of the Larner College of MedicineContinuing and Distance Education, and the UVM Graduate College.

“What I enjoyed most about the program was the application of research, statistics and analyses,” she says. “It really deepened my understanding of public health and prepared me well for the Ph.D. program. Public health and epidemiologists have a different view of healthcare, I really enjoy their promotion of health and prevention of disease. As a healthcare provider it’s important to be aware of their view and efforts. By understanding them, we can improve collaborations and become better clinicians and better researchers.”

The program’s core courses include epidemiology, applied research in public health and public health biostatistics. Program electives range from public health law and ethics to investigating disease outbreaks.

“The program did a good job making the assignments based on real-life scenarios and making it applicable,” she says. “We would also apply any recent news of an outbreak—such as flu or salmonella—into our work as well.”

Wingood studied biology at SUNY Oswego and received a doctor of physical therapy from SUNY Update Medical University. Raised in Austria by her parents and grandmother, she moved to the United States in 1999.  She says that she always knew she wanted to work with older adults.

“I love exercise and how it makes me feel. It’s really beneficial to be able to enjoy physical activity and exercise later on in life and seeing how it can help people get better was a huge motivator for me wanting to become a physical therapist,” she says. “I always knew I wanted to go into geriatrics. My grandmother helped raise me and I always wanted to thank older adults for everything they have done. This is a great way for me to do that.”

Helping patients get better and helping them enjoy the life they lived prior to going to the hospital or getting injured is her favorite part of the job. More than anything, the human connection is what makes Wingood’s work in physical therapy so rewarding.

“I learn as much from my patients as I hope I teach them, especially the older adults as they have so much life experience,” she says. “Patients tell me that I have a great outlook on life and I inform them it is thanks to them, I have learned it all from my patients. It’s a great connection to have.”

Learn about UVM Certificate of Graduate Study in Epidemiology