In September 2019, a group of medical professionals joined with Medical Missions Outreach to hold a free medical clinic in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Rachel Farnham (Pre-Physical Therapy ’10), one of the medical professionals who volunteered to serve, will never forget that trip.
During the clinic, Farnham and two other team members worked with people dealing with musculoskeletal pain, many of whom did not have insurance and had limited resources to buy pain medication. “I was able to see how simple exercises after evaluation could take patients from severe back pain to, in many cases, little or no back pain at all. Best of all, these exercises and simple postural re-education could empower the patient to care for themselves long after our clinic was gone and help to prevent a return of their pain. The smiles we saw during those few days were priceless.”
During trips such as this one, the volunteers partner with Baptist churches in the areas where the clinics are held in order to share the gospel with people who come to the clinic and disciple those who make a decision for Christ.
“The opportunity to show God’s love by helping reduce people’s pain, improving their strength to complete tasks, or helping ease their fear of injury is awesome,” Farnham said. “Better yet, many of the patients also heard the gospel and made the decision to accept Christ as their Savior.”
All throughout high school, serving in missions was what Farnham wanted to do as an adult. The problem, though, was that she wasn’t sure how she should serve.
“My family encouraged me to find my ‘talent’ and use it to serve the Lord. As I looked at the courses online, I chose to pursue the pre-physical therapy degree at PCC because it seemed to be a field very focused on caring for and helping others,” Farnham said.
Throughout the next four years, Farnham immersed herself in classes such as First Aid, Kinesiology, Anatomy and Physiology, and Biology as she prepared for graduate school. “I will always appreciate my training at PCC. I learned that no matter what skills/strengths you have (nursing, doctor, finance specialist, etc.), you can find a way to use your talent for God and others.”
After she graduated, Farnham worked as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) in an Alzheimer’s unit and went on a missions trip to Bangladesh to shadow Christian nurses, doctors, and physical therapists at a hospital there. “Seeing PT used in missions and making a difference with the people there is what confirmed for me that this was the correct direction for me to take.“
Soon afterward, Farnham was accepted to the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Springfield College, where she graduated with her doctorate in 2015.
Since then, Farnham has worked as a physical therapist at Cape Fear Valley Hospital in North Carolina. Although she has already fulfilled a variety of roles, she currently works with patients who have had strokes, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, or amputations, or who have diseases such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s. Farnham is also certified to treat vestibular disorders (AIB-VR) and evidence based stroke rehab (CSRS).
Farnham loves working as a physical therapist. “A favorite part of working in my field is seeing patients improve in their daily lives. I’m so happy that in this field I can encourage my patients to improve their overall mobility and get back to the activities that mean so much to them,” she said. Farnham specifically pointed out how rewarding it has been for her to work with a very young patient who had lost the ability to walk. After starting therapy, this patient progressed to walking with a walker, to using crutches, to using only one crutch, and more recently to taking a few steps without a device.
“Getting to know this patient, seeing their determination to get better and hearing all their life goals including college, family and career, has been very motivating to me and my teammates every treatment session to do the best we can,” Farnham said.
While Farnham holds a stateside job, she has never lost sight of her original purpose in studying physical therapy. “I am so thankful this past year to have traveled with Medical Missions Outreach on their trip to South Africa to work with other medical professionals in a free medical clinic providing physical therapy services,” Farnham said.
“God has given me more than I deserve,” Farnham added, “and I would not be a physical therapist today without His help and the people He has put in my life along the way.”