Physical therapy students to work for military hospitals

Most physical therapists who enlist in the military don’t immeditately have the necessary skills to succeed, as they’re untrained in tasks such as ordering X-rays and diagnosing complicated injuries. Most have not gone through basic training — or even fired a rifle.

Katie Osterman, on the other hand, a sixth-year physical therapy student who was commissioned in May as a second lieutenant after five years in Northeastern’s ROTC program, will be prepared to tell a much different story.

Through a new partnership between military hospitals and Northeastern University, Osterman will conduct her clinical rotations at some of the nation’s top facilities. At the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md., for example, she will teach soldiers how to use new, high-tech prosthetic limbs.

“After these clinical rotations, I’ll be going into my career with all this background and experience so many people won’t have,” said Osterman, whose parents served in the Marine Corps.

Though there’s a waiting list for therapists who want to be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, there’s also a shortage physical therapists with military training who can hit the ground running.

“They almost have to be retrained when they get there,” explained Christopher Cesario, a clinical instructor in the physical therapy department who spent the last two years building the partnership.

Maura Iverson, chair of Northeastern’s Department of Physical Therapy in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences, noted that students who complete the ROTC program — which requires grueling physical training and leadership classes on top of a full academic course load — are some of the university’s strongest.

The chance to complete clinical rotations at military hospitals is also open to civilian students. Alan Cheng, a sixth-year physical therapy student, for example, will work later this year at Marine Corps Base Quantico.

“When this opportunity presented itself, I thought ‘What other chance will I have to do something like this? Something that could prepare me for any kind of physical therapy work I might encounter?’” Cheng said. “I couldn’t turn it down.”