Helping Her Fellow Dancers

Third-Year PT Student Ashley Houck is Putting Her Passion to Work

March 01, 2017
Physical therapy student Ashley Houck is spending her clinical affiliation at the Bolwell Health Center in Ohio.
Physical therapy student Ashley Houck is spending her clinical affiliation at the Bolwell Health Center in Ohio.

Ashley Houck, a third-year student at Touro’s School of Health Sciences (SHS) Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program, is spending a clinical affiliation at University Hospital Cleveland Medical Center in Ohio. The Bolwell Outpatient Clinic, the hospital’s PT clinic, is in close proximity to the prestigious Case Western Reserve University and treats many of their students ranging from medical students to athletes, and dancers. Houck’s clinical instructor at the site, Anna Li-Conrad, began a performance arts rehabilitation program in the clinic, where dance students receive dance-specific rehabilitation for their injuries.

“What is unique about dancers is their capability to achieve the extremes of movement,” explained Houck. “They have extreme flexibility, extreme strength and their injuries tend to be equally extreme. Despite their extreme awareness of their bodies with movement, they tend to push past pain in their daily lives until it seeps into their dancing. With a background in dance you are able to incorporate a lot of strengthening, mobility, and treatment techniques that are unique to dancers. In addition, there has been a strong shift to incorporate dancer wellness programs to prevent injury.”

The clinical affiliation is a natural fit for Houck whose passion has always been dance— ever since she first began dancing at the age of three. Growing up, she indulged in a steady diet of dance, from ballet to jazz to contemporary. As a student in the University of Pittsburgh, she was torn between pursuing her love of the performing arts and her interest in biology and medicine. She opted to study biology and pursue her interest in dance on the side.

After graduating, Houck moved to New York and worked at a Manhattan physical therapy clinic. Many of the practitioners were graduates of SHS’s DPT program and recommended the school to her. Since she started at SHS, Houck has tapped into the educational and recreational opportunities at Touro—namely the Student Physical Therapy Association where she was elected as treasurer and currently serves as president. She recently started a dance club that allows her fellow students the opportunity to take a variety of student-taught classes.   

Even with a strong interest in dance rehabilitation, Houck finds the diversity for patient care in the physical therapy profession equally captivating, a diversity that is especially apparent at Bolwell.

“You’re seeing such an array of patients because of the diverse socioeconomic conditions,” Houck said. “It requires a lot of sensitivity and is rather humbling when you see a ballet dancer for an hour and then treat an individual recovering from gunshot wounds for an hour.”

With the clinic’s partnership with the hospital network, Houck is able to get a complete picture of the situation of her patients. Recently, she observed a surgery for a patient who broke several bones in a snowmobile accident. The largest bone in the patient’s body, the femur, and two main bones in their arm, had to be surgically repaired in a four-hour surgery.

“We are able to see what the patient is going through during surgery,” remarked Houck. “We’re really lucky that we get to discuss our school of thought with the surgeons.”  

Bolwell Health Center is also part of a nation-wide push for dancer wellness, a preventative treatment program for dancers to ensure their wellbeing.  Houck will be attending a wellness screening, run by her clinical instructor, for middle school and high school-aged dancers.  She hopes to bring a similar wellness program to SHS when she returns in March.

The clinic experience is a fulfillment of both Houck’s passion and her future career.

“When you need to tap into it, you’re using your dance knowledge and your passion to help them get back to their own passion and more importantly, their career as a dancer,” Houck said.