Our goal is to provide experiential learning opportunities and cultural expansion for physical therapists and physical therapy students while allowing those in our partner communities to benefit from assessment and physical therapy. 

About ISL’s Physical Therapy Program

ISL’s physical therapy program is very interactive and highly specialized. Volunteers learn methods of restoring functional movement, perform orthopedic massage, and learn to assess and evaluate soft tissue manually, without the aid of x-ray and MRI testing, an excellent triage method for determining the site and extent of an injury when high tech equipment is not available.

Our physical therapy program provides evaluations and services during home visits and within health care facilities and community clinics, assessing patient needs, providing relief from pain, and offering education and insight. Physical therapy volunteers are able to receive an invaluable opportunity to not only observe physical therapist in action, but to actively assist with important aspects of physical therapy treatment.

Who Is Right For Our Physical Therapy Program?

ISL’s physical therapy program is ideal for physical therapists, physical therapy students at all education levels, and students and professionals in massage therapy and sports medicine.

Note: Costa Rica physical therapy volunteers must have completed a basic course in anatomy and physiology. The Dominican Republic is only available to licensed physical therapists and DPT students accompanied by faculty.

What to Expect

Upon arrival in-country, you will be met at the airport by ISL staff. Your team’s first day will be busy with orientation and intensive training seminars on orthopedic massage for shoulders, neck, knees, elbows, hips, and legs, and the assessment and treatment of soft tissue injuries, as well as patient intake and learning medical terminology (Spanish or Swahili); then the community work begins!

Whether your team is working in a home for the elderly and disabled or working in an underserved community, you will contribute your skills in the following ways:

  • Assisting professional caregivers in providing orthopedic massage and physical therapy
  • Visiting homes to provide basic health screenings and setting appointments for those with muscular tension/pain to a field clinic
  • Learn to maintain and manage support equipment, inventories, and supplies

While serving one of our partner communities, you will set up a field clinic staffed by local, licensed medical professionals. At the clinic, you will rotate through stations taking turns doing the following:

  • Conducting patient interviews/intake
  • Participating in manual soft tissue assessments
  • Students will observe the physical therapist in diagnosis and treatment
  • Set up and participate in pharmacy stations
  • Play with the community children

Be aware: There will be virtually no down-time during your ISL program. This is an immersive, intensive experience loaded with service activities and cultural exploration!

In the evenings, you will participate in seminars on PT issues. There will also be designated time for group reflection – time to discuss and express what you’ve experienced in your day’s community work, either formally or informally.

You will eat most dinners out in order to relax and experience the local culture and cuisine. You will learn a few traditional dances and explore some important historical/cultural sites.

Recreational opportunities vary by location, but you will have opportunities like: shopping for local crafts and exploring geographic treasures such as beaches, volcanoes, rainforests, or caves. Traverse ruins, tour city centers, or trek through coffee plantations, and have time for other  exciting activities such as ziplining, snorkeling, or safari!

Volunteer Involvement

ISL collaborates with in-country professionals and local Ministries of Health in order to determine how our volunteers can best impact developing communities. Level of volunteer participation is directly dependent on level of training. For example, each team has the potential for three levels of volunteer involvement: observer, assistant, and practitioner. Pre-PT student volunteers would fall into the “observer” category in terms of the examination/diagnosis/treatment process, but would be allowed hands on experience with non-invasive procedures such as taking vitals, as determined by local Ministry of Health standards, while a PT student might assist in the examination, diagnosis, and treatment process to the degree determined appropriate by local Ministry of Health standards.

Safety and Respect

Respect of our patients

Patient consent is, of course, an essential pre-requisite for any level of volunteer participation.  All patients sign a consent form to be seen by a doctor with students observing – we have their complicit consent to treat prior to their intake and examination.

Our patients are protected from exploitation – we are discreet and respectful. We do NOT under any circumstances take photo of any procedure during a patient’s visit. Furthermore, patient rights must be respected at all times; Patients have the right to refuse treatment.

ISL prohibits discrimination on the basis of color, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, religion or any other factor.

Volunteer Safety

For the sake of security, ISL volunteers remain together as a team from arrival to departure, and are accompanied by ISL staff at all times.

The safety of our volunteers is our number one priority. ISL has offices in all of the countries that we serve. That means wherever you go, rest assured, we’re there too. All ISL regional staff members are thoroughly screened to ensure the safety of your team’s local interactions and we continuously monitor and address all emerging health and safety issues in each of the countries we operate.

Specific precautions taken by ISL:

  • ISL teams avoid large, crowded areas like sporting events whenever possible
  • We continuously monitor local media and information sources in each of our countries through our on-site staff, and take appropriate actions to avoid areas of concern
  • Our on-site staff provide feedback on the local situation in each community we work, and if recommendations are made to change itineraries or programming, we do so immediately
  • Our management team relies on the advice of a number of organizations including the U.S. State Department, the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control, the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, as well as an international safety and security organization. If conditions exist that may hinder our ability to provide a safe program, we will alter the itinerary and redirect the program to safer regions or provide other alternatives.

What To Bring

You will need:

  • Stethoscope
  • Blood pressure cuff
  • Otoscope
  • Scrubs
  • Donations of medications
  • Medical supplies (optional), and
  • Refillable water bottle (i.e. Nalgene bottle)
  • Funds sufficient to cover one meal per day, recreation, incidentals, souvenirs and departure tax (where applicable).
  • An open-mind
  • A sense of adventure
  • A heart of service

What ISL Provides

  • 24-hour accompaniment by professional, bilingual staff
  • Airport pickup/drop off
  • All ground transportation
  • All lodging
  • Two meals per day
  • Drinking water
  • Instruction by licensed medical professionals
  • Medications and supplies
  • Quality experiential learning
  • A meaningful glimpse into another culture
  • An unforgettable adventure