For a college student, the phrase, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” generally means that homework is piling up or a teacher threw a curve ball on the last test, but something good is to come out of it. However, a physical therapy student might have a different view.
Students in the second year of UF’s professional PT program take a musculoskeletal course. At the start of spring semester in this course, each student learns that when a professor hands you lemons, you palpate them.
“This course deals with the spine and the lower extremities,” said Mark Carroll, Ed.D., associate professor of physical therapy. “At the conclusion of the semester they go out for an outpatient clinical.”
Instructed by Carroll and Robert Frampton, D.H.C.E., associate professor of physical therapy, students learn to grow comfortable with diagnosing patients through palpation, or examining by touch.
On the first day of class, the students broke into small groups and each student received a lemon. They were asked to put a mark on the lemon without indenting the rind.
“They have a background in anatomy, they’ve made it through their first year of the program, but they haven’t really felt the features until they get into this course, said Frampton. “We ask them to close their eyes and spend about three to five minutes feeling, palpating, touching and getting an appreciation for the characteristics of that lemon.”
The lemons are collected and then handed back to one student in each group. With eyes closed, they palpate the lemon to see if it is his or hers. If not, they pass the lemon on to the next person and receive a new one. The students continue to pass the lemons until they have their original lemon back.
“In the clinic, they will get plenty of opportunities for real patients, but for that moment, we wanted the students to trust their hands,” said Carroll. “They’re capable of taking in far more information than you would ever think.”
Carroll and Frampton have used this activity in class for about four years with well over 100 students. Neither professor recalls any more than two students failing to find the right lemon.
“You palpate because you obviously, cannot unzip the skin and even sometimes X-rays or radiology won’t help, so you really have to use your hands to feel what’s deep under the skin when you’re treating a patient,” said Carroll.
Before implementing this activity, Carroll and Frampton found that students often questioned themselves when feeling structures. Now, the class participates in this activity before getting into heavier palpation of the spine, neck thorax and lumbar.
“I love to get them to think outside of the box,” said Frampton. “This is a chance to do something different and also hone in on the skills that they may have forgotten.