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SNERC training the next generation of therapists

Each year, Southern New England Rehabilitation Center (SNERC) welcomes dozens of students, some of whom are there for months on a clinical rotation. The team at SNERC regards training the next generation of therapists as part of their mission. In many cases, outstanding students who complete rotations at SNERC are hired to join the CharterCARE team after graduation.

Robert DeLong, PT, DPT, is the Coordinator of Clinical Education for these students, who range from graduate to entry-level. While the students gain valuable experience, he says patients also benefit from additional time and attention during the teaching rounds.

Students come from in-state institutions like the University of Rhode Island, Community College of Rhode Island, and New England Institute of Technology, as well as out-of- state partners like Quinnipiac University and Worcester State University.

Carlene McGuigan is in her last semester as a Master’s student in Speech Language Pathology at URI. “This is an amazing place to work,” said McGuigan. “The whole team is supportive. I also get to work alongside Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists. It is a huge learning experience for me to work, speak, collaborate and co-treat with them.”

At the moment, she and Amanda Dragga, MS, CCC-SLP, from SNERC, are in the room of elderly patient. There, they will engage the woman in a series of speech exercises over the next half hour. At the very beginning of her 14-week clinical rotation, McGuigan mostly observed Dragga as she worked with patients.

“As I started getting more confident and comfortable, I expanded my responsibilities and my independence,” said McGuigan. “Amanda is always there for support if I need it. I am getting experience here that can’t be gained in the classroom alone.”

Daryl Beecher is close to completing his Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy from New England Institute of Technology. He plans to take his board exam later this spring, at which time he will be licensed as an Occupational Therapist. Beecher is already an Occupational Therapy Assistant and also brings clinical experience thanks to his background in social work and psychology. He started his 12-week Occupational Therapy rotation at SNERC in early January. Since then, he has been oriented and is immersing himself in learning about each patient and their specific set of goals. As time has progressed, he has been given more responsibility, a common thread for all the students engaged in a long-term rotation.

“The student program is strong and well-developed,” he said. “You are working with others to provide quality care in a fast-paced environment, which translates to a rich, hands-on learning experience.”

David Durigan is pursuing a degree as Doctor of Physical Therapy from the University of Rhode Island.  Before graduating, he is required to complete three 12-week clinical rotations. For the last month, Durigan has been at SNERC, which is his final rotation. Here, he is learning more about acute rehabilitation. “I’m learning a lot of new things,” he said. “What I like best is seeing the progress patients make. It is the most challenging setting that I have worked in so far, but I think it is the most rewarding.”

Natalie Petrucci, MS, OTR/L, works on Fatima Hospital’s two inpatient psychiatric units. She is also the student coordinator for Occupational Therapy students who require placement in a mental health setting. Her roles with patients are many – from facilitating groups and teaching coping skills to evaluating patient’s abilities related to discharge and providing one-on-one therapy. All of these are skills she looks to pass on to her students.

As there are not an abundance of inpatient psychiatry placement opportunities for OT students, Petrucci accommodates as many students as she can. In 2015, she worked with 10 students from a variety of institutions. While the students inevitably benefit from this learning experience, Petrucci feels staff and patients are rewarded as well.

“Students bring with them new ideas and new ways of learning,” she said. “They are excited to work in this environment, which means they bring a lot of positive energy with them.”


Carlene McGuigan (left), who is in her last semester as a Master’s student in Speech Language Pathology at URI, works with Amanda Dragga, MS, CCC-SLP, from SNERC to provide speech pathology to a patient at Fatima.