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Kimberly Chesney reflects on her experience volunteering in Haiti and how it aligns with her passion for our profession

Posted: Nov 6, 2018

My name is Kimberly Chesney, I'm a physical therapist, and I graduated from Northern Arizona University in 2016. I work at SWAN Rehab doing outpatient neurological rehabilitation and vocational rehab.

From early on when I was a PT student, I set the goal for myself that I wanted to do non-profit work within two years of graduating. I felt this was a direction that I really wanted to use my skills and make a difference to those who get minimal or no medical care. I looked into volunteering opportunities with various organizations but none of them seemed the right fit for me. Then I learned about STAND The Haiti Project, and immediately I knew this was what I wanted to do. In May 2018 I traveled to Port de Paix, Haiti with a group of about 20 other PTs, OTs, and a nurse to serve those in need in this very impoverished part of the country.

It's hard to explain my experience exactly, as I consider it one of the most life-changing experiences I've ever had. I heard when I was in Haiti, "once you go you can't ever stop thinking about it. Haiti is always on your mind, it gets in your blood". And it's true! The people there are in such need for any medical care and I learned the incredible value that a PT can have with just her hands, brain, and a rough wooden table.

I think often as early professionals, we feel that we don't have much to offer yet, we are still learning and just trying not to hurt anybody and make our way in this therapy world. But we actually have incredible skills in the way we evaluate problems, listen to our patients, and use creativity and critical thinking to make changes. This is such an important skill in the medical field, and Haiti helped me realize just how life-altering these skills can be to someone in need.

I have so many incredible stories from my time in Haiti, and I can't get back there fast enough. This trip has also helped me realize that being a physical therapist isn't just about the patients I see every week, but that I can be part of something bigger, reach more people, and help those globally who have no access to medical care. All it takes is courage, saying YES, and trusting yourself that you CAN do this! Even if you're a brand new graduate STAND has so much support and positivity as you're learning skills, don't let that stop you from stepping out and doing it! It has been the biggest highlight in my career, and something I would encourage every early professional to look into.

Also, I'll be returning to Haiti in January! I'll be teaching the very first class of Haitian PT students neuro treatment techniques, which is my big passion: teaching.

There are lots of open spots in the trip I'm taking for anyone interested in going with me. Trip dates are Jan 25-Feb 3. The benefits of more than one person going from Arizona on one trip is that each PT can take a wheelchair, which there is a desperate need for in Haiti. Anyone interested in more information can contact me:
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