Hands-On Learning Opportunities

In addition to classroom, lab, and clinical placements, DPT students have a variety of other work, both required and volunteer, within which they find time to excel while at Samuel Merritt. The DPT Program is busy, but motivated students are able to find time for outside activities such as volunteering in the community and assisting with faculty research projects. Some work, such as classes in the HSSC or MARC and the Physical Therapy Functional Performance Lab, are part of the curriculum while allowing students to meet pressing community needs and practicing professional presentation skills for the SMU and physical therapy community.

Click on the links below to see some examples of recent student work including:


DPT Students Assisting Faculty with Research
Each year, students are able to elect to work with SMU DPT faculty on research projects.  This work is volunteer or paid by grants/stipends and is on a case-by-case basis.



Examples of research currently being assisted by SMU DPT students includes:

  • Two students are assisting Dr. Benjamin Boyd with a series of studies examining alterations in nerve health and body image perception in women after breast cancer treatments. 
  • Approximately 10 students per year have assisted Dr. Gail Widener with a grant entitled “Movement Ability Changes with Balance-Based Torso-Weighting in Multiple Sclerosis (MS)”. This study is funded by the NIH. Two students continue to work on data analysis. This work has produced 3 peer-reviewed publications in high impact factor rehabilitation journals, including Physical Therapy, Physiotherapy Research International, and Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
  • 3 DPT II and 2 DPT I students from SMU and 4 DPT II students from UCSF/SFSU participated in data collection and analysis for a study entitled:
    "Long-term Effects of Torso-Weighting: Pilot Study." Data collection and analysis took place in the MARC.
  • 4 students assisting Dr. Rolando Lazaro with data collection on "Case Series: Effects of Alter-G Treadmill Training on Balance, Mobility and Strength of Older Adults with Selected Neuromuscular and Musculosketelal Conditions."
  • 6 students have assisted Dr. Gail Widener in collecting and analyzing data for a research study investigating the use of the AlterG Treadmill for exercise in people with multiple sclerosis.
  • Nearly 30 students over the last 3 years have been assisting Dr. Gail Widener on presenting a "Free From Falls" class for persons with Multiple Sclerosis. This class is part of a National Multiple Sclerosis Foundation initiative to reduce falls in persons with MS.
  • 6 students assisting Dr. Sharon Gorman with creating and shooting videoclip examples of acute care tests & measures for the Function In Sitting Test Online Training and an online continuing education module on tests and measures in acute care for Kaiser Permanente.
  • 7 students have participated in a grant “Balance-Based Torso Weighting Effects in Normal Healthy People and Reliability of the BBTW Method” in data collection and analysis.

Student & Graduate Publications
Every year, approximately two to three student case reports have been presented as posters or platforms at state, national, and international conferences. Additionally, students' case reports have also been published in peer-reviewed journals in orthopedic, geriatric, and student physical therapy and in other international research journals and textbooks. Examples of the most recent publications include the following:

  • Harris-Adamson C, Mielke A, Xu X, Lin H. Ergonomic evaluation of standard and alternative pallet jack handles. Int J Indust Ergo. 2016;54:113-119.
  • Linford AE, Wegley JC, Blackadar K, Lazaro RT. Two-week intensive locomotor training improves balance and mobility of a person with chronic incomplete C4 tetraparesis AIS D: A case report. Phys Ther Rehabil.2016;(3)4:1-6. doi:10.7243/2055-2386-3-4Tagliareni I, Gorman SL. The physical therapy management of an individual with an acute exacerbation of Parkinson disease symptoms using a salient, multimodal approach: a case report. Poster presentation at CPTA Annual Conference 2016; Santa Clara, CA, Oct 8, 2016.
  • Gorman SL, Liu J, Marino R, Mason R, Romanini A. Physical therapy patients presenting to a rural, ambulatory care clinic in Panama. Platform Presentation at Samuel Merritt University Spring Scholarship Symposium, Oakland, CA, April 22, 2016 & CPTA Annual Conference, Santa Clara, CA, Oct 9, 2016.
  • Mielke A, Lazaro R, Widener G. Using symptoms to effectively dose therapeutic exercises for a female with multiple sclerosis after an acute exacerbation: a case report. Phys Ther Rehabil. 2016; 3:2. http://dx.doi.org/10.7243/2055-2386-3-2
  • Hausle SS, Widener GL. Using interprofessional collaboration to design cognitive-based interventions for a patient following a right hemisphere stroke: A case report. Poster presentation at Combined Section Meeting, Anaheim, CA, Feb. 10, 2016
  • Cook J, Widener GL, Rivera M, Lam M. Using the International Classification of Functioning Disability and Health Model to Guide Outcome Measurement Choices for a 14 year-old Adolescent with Cerebral Palsy: a Case Report. Poster presentation at Combined Section Meeting, Indianapolis, IN, 2015.
  • Ahola A, Widener GL. Implementation of an Aquatic Therapy Program to Address Fall Risk and Fear of Falling in an Elderly Male Exhibiting Parkinson-like Symptoms Complicated by a Recent History of Multiple Falls. Poster presented at the CPTA Annual Conference, Oakland, CA, Sept 25, 2015.
  • Standfield AN, Raymond GL, Widener GL. The Application of Modified Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy for Pre-Gait Training in a Patient Post-Stroke: A Case Report. Poster presented at the CPTA Annual Conference, Oakland, CA, Sept 25, 2015
  • Harris-Adamson C, Bailey J, Smith D.  Is perching the new paradigm?  The assessment of a new working posture. Orthop Phys Ther Pract. 2014; in press.
  • Tuomainen S, Grieve S. Utilization of the Fear Avoidance Beliefs Questionnaire to guide the physical therapy management of a patient following arthroscopic partial meniscectomy. Poster presentation at CPTA Annual Conference; Oakland CA, Oct 24, 2014.
  • Fridolfsson J, Gibson-Horn C, Widener G. Balance-based Torso Weighting for enhancing functional mobility in a child with ataxia from a traumatic brain injury: a case report. Poster presentation at CPTA Annual Conference, Oakland CA, Oct 24, 2014.
  • Hartman HW, Widener GL. The measurement of functional outcome in a 13 year-old female with iliotibial band tightness using the Functional Self Assessment Lower Extremity (FSALE): a case report. Poster presentation at CPTA Annual Conference, Pasadena CA, Sept 2013.
  • Hapai J, Gorman SL. Substanital functional improvements in a patient post stroke with a focus on family support and a multi-modal intervention approach. Poster presentation at CPTA Annual Confernce, Pasadena CA, Sept 2013.
  • Lazaro RT, Gorman SL, Novello A, Widener G. Conversion disorder. In: Burke-Doe A, ed. Case Files in Physical Therapy (Neurology). Philadelphia, PA: McGraw Hill. July 2013.
  • Lazaro RT, Luong H. Acute Transverse Myelitis. In: Burke-Doe A, ed. Case Files in Physical Therapy (Neurology). Philadelphia, PA: McGraw Hill. July 2013.
  • Rideout D, Nordstrom T, Lazaro PT. Coccidioidomycosis. In: Burke-Doe A, ed. Case Files in Physical Therapy (Neurology). Philadelphia, PA: McGraw Hill. July 2013.
  • Harvey T, Gorman SL. Non-traumatic spinal cord injury. In: Burke-Doe A, ed. Case Files in Physical Therapy (Neurology).Philadelphia, PA: McGraw Hill. July 2013.
  • Holt E, Gorman SL. Outpatient cerebrovascular accident. In: Burke-Doe A, ed. Case Files in Physical Therapy (Neurology).Philadelphia, PA: McGraw Hill. July 2013.

Health Science Simulation Center (HSSC)
The DPT program frequently uses the HSSC for a variety of teaching and learning activities. Students have lab sessions in the HSSC training rooms to gain familiarity with hospital-based equipment such as hospital beds, gurneys, IVs common in hospital, emergency department, and ICU settings. Students have standardized patient interactions, usually in the form of practical examinations, in every semester of the program to give students real-world experience working with patients in settings that mimic those they will see on their clinical placements and in practice. Additionally, we use the HSSC for high fidelity simulation experiences where students, in small groups, can run through patient cases in a realistic manner, review their interactions via video/audio, and debrief on the experience with faculty and student observers.


Community & Global Outreach
SMU DPT students perform many hours of volunteer outreach, in addition to their challenging course load. At SMU, outreach is both community-based and local, as well as global. Examples of recent SMU DPT student community and global outreach work include:

  • Organizing a backpack fundraiser for local youth to ensure they have safe backpacks and school supplies before the start of school. This yearly fundraiser is run by the first-year DPT students during each summer. Read more here about this community service.
  • Participating in interprofessional health fairs at Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland with a variety of faculty and students from SMU's programs.
  • Assisting Dr. Sue Grieve in presenting educational sessions on exercise for persons with cancer at the Markstein Cancer Center at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center.
  • Working with licensed physical therapists as part of the San Francisco to Los Angelse AIDS Life Cycle ride as part of the Sports Medicine Team.
  • Leading tours of SMU's Anatomy Lab and other facilities and speaking with local high school students about health sciences careers and college as part of the FACES for the Future program.
  • See photos of DPT students volunteering in the community in the SMU DPT Flickr photostream.
  • Volunteering as part of an SMU interprofessional team providing global medical outreach via medical clinics in rural Panama with Hands for Americas. 17 students and 4 alumni have participated in 7 trips over the last 4 years.


Physical Therapy Functional Performance Labs
In PT 713 PCM Neuro I and PT 718 PCM Neuro II, DPT students run a free clinic for community members with neurologic dysfunction.


Motion Analysis Research Center (MARC)

DPT students use the MARC in their biomechanics courses and Pt/Client Management courses to observe, test, and measure different aspects of human gait, functional movement, and balance. Students see and use the equipment in the MARC to expand their learning and understanding of human motion and how these high-tech tools can be used for research and patient care. There may be additional opportunities to volunteer to help faculty with research occurring at the MARC as well.