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Community Engagement, Clinical Services, and Research

Engagement and Outreach in the Western North Carolina Community


Western Carolina University is designated as a Carnegie Foundation Community-Engaged Institution for its many service-learning opportunities available to students. WCU DPT students are involved in this mission through service oriented doctoral projects, our student-run pro bono clinic, and even international service opportunities. These initiatives allow students to:

  • Engage in meaningful community-based service
  • Apply knowledge and skills learned in the classroom
  • Glean experience needed to use our skill set as physical therapists to practice altruism long after graduation

Discover more about service learning at WCU 

Community & Regional Clinics

Mountain Area Pro Bono Health Services: Our mission is to provide effective, pro bono physical therapy and social work services to the under-served and under-insured population of western North Carolina regardless of socioeconomics or health status. We strive to improve quality of life, health, and function of our clients while serving the community and fostering student education. This clinic provides students an opportunity to apply their newly acquired knowledge and serves the community. 


Balance and Fall Prevention Clinic: Western Carolina University provides inter-professional team-based evaluation, treatment, and consultation services for individuals who have fallen or are at risk for falling. Our team, consisting of a physical therapist, an audiologist, and a nurse practitioner, provides integrated care at one location to help identify risk factors and other contributing factors associated with balance disorders. 



Dr. Watson Presents at the World Physiotherapy Congress

Dr. Watson Presents at the World Physiotherapy Congress

Dr. Watson’s clinical expertise in musculoskeletal/orthopedic physical therapy and his 12-year long working relationship with community partners in Honduras have developed a robust, ongoing community engaged service-learning project that has produced community-engaged scholarly work related to educational benefits for DPT students involved in the service-learning.  This work aligns well with the university’s designation as a community-engaged institution, has resulted in two recent publications and presentations at local, national and international venues, and has been recognized by the university by receiving the WCU Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning 2022 Engaged Research Award. He also partners several junior program faculty on projects related and unrelated to his primary line of service-learning research. 

Fatigue study

The effects of fatigue of the core and lower extremity musculature on gait stability while carrying a backpack 

Video-based learning (VBL) module of the movement system:
Developing a web-based learning/teaching tool consisting of typical and impaired movement, for use by all professionals and students.

PT/PTA Education: 
This project seeks to achieve the dual goals of developing the involved DPT students as clinical educators and exploring and strengthening the professional relationship between physical therapists and physical therapist assistants.

Evidence Based Programs for Health Promotion and Fall Prevention:
Students partner with community dwelling individuals including those with Parkinson's Disease to study how evience based programs can be effectively implemented in the community.  

Training Utilization of the Affected Side During Sit to Stand  in Individuals post Stroke:
Students partner with area clinicians to study the effects of different instructions on sit to stand performance and learning.

Anatomy Dissection: 
The project is an in-depth, focused study of anatomy as it relates to physical therapy practice. The interest of the group will determine the topic with the overall goal of expanding anatomical knowledge with relevant clinical correlations. 

Fostering Enhancement of Critical Thinking Skills in Generation Z for Success in DPT Education and Beyond: 
The focus of this project over the next 12 months is to measure critincal thinking skills and levels of anxiety/depression in a group of students prior to the start of the semester, administer interventions(s) over the course of the semester and reassess critincal thinking skills and levels of anxiety/depression at the end of the semester to determine if the intervention facilitates measurable change(s).

For up to date research projects please look at individual faculty pages. 



Each year our faculty take a group of students to Honduras to provide pro bono physical therapy services.  The citizens of Honduras rarely have access to any type of health care outside of our services.

"I underestimated the Honduras trip.  I underestimated how much money I would spend.  I underestimated the beauty of the land, and of the people.  I underestimated the resilience of the community we served, and the cultural differences I would experience.  I underestimated the strength of relationships I would build with my classmates, Dr. Watson, Eric, our patients, the girls at the orphanage, and the people of Taulabé.  I underestimated myself, and my ability to provide meaningful services to these people in one short hour after one short year of PT school.  Most importantly, I underestimated the impact that this experience would have on my life moving forward. To be clear, I had high expectations for this trip, and it exceeded every one of them.  Because of that, I will remember it forever." - Zach Demeester

"Being a part of the Honduras team was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It is very clear to me that I learned far more from the people of Honduras than they ever did from me. Despite my limited PT knowledge, the amount of love and appreciation I felt from everybody there overwhelmed me. I look back at that experience with such a full heart and thankfulness because most of what I learned and experienced could never be taught in a classroom. I know that moving forward this has provided me with a more holistic lens when I treat as well as a reminder to continually challenge my own biases. Overall, this experience already has and will shape me into both a better clinician and person." - Michelle Davis

Learn more. Visit the course page.

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