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Four Doctor of Physical Therapy students included in inaugural group of MS STEP UP Scholars

Four first-year Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students have been selected as the inaugural Multiple Sclerosis Standardized Training and Education Program with University Partners (MS STEP UP) Scholars at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

After a competitive interview process, Stacy Coffyn, Katelyn Jarvis, Samantha Keeling, and Alex Wileman were chosen to spend six semesters receiving specialized training to develop the skills needed to treat people with MS within an interdisciplinary team approach. The scholars were introduced during the annual Jessie Ball Lecture and DPT Pinning Ceremony on Oct. 5 in Battenfeld Auditorium. Catherine Siengsukon, Ph.D., PT, and Stacia Troshynski Brown, DPT, PT, are co-founders of the program at KU Medical Center.

"The effects of MS and the disease itself fascinate me, so I cannot wait to learn more about it and more about what physical therapy treatment looks like for patients with MS," said Wileman, who grew up in Edmond, Oklahoma, and earned her undergraduate degree in kinesiology this year from the University of Arkansas.

An estimated 400,000 people in the United States have MS, including about 12,500 in Kansas, Nebraska and western Missouri. Multiple sclerosis is the most common degenerative neurologic disorder among young adults and has no cure, although treatments can alter the disease's progression. Symptoms often include fatigue, blurred vision, altered sensations, and cognitive and motor impairments. MS is more common in women than men and onset is generally between 20 and 40 years of age.

At KU Medical Center, the STEP UP program will include advocacy, clinical, didactic and research components integrated into the DPT curriculum. Between 85 and 90 percent of the nearly 200 DPT students in the KU Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science program are from Kansas and many plan to practice in the state. Therefore, the KUMC STEP UP program promises to have a direct benefit for MS patients and their families living in Kansas.

Steve Ervin of Lenexa, Kansas, was part of the selection committee that reviewed the applicants and chose the scholars. He learned about MS STEP UP through his participation in the MS Achievement Center at KU Medical Center. An educator for much of his adult life, Ervin was delighted when Troshynski Brown invited him to be part of the selection process. He was particularly impressed with the DPT students who applied for the program.

"They truly are scholars," he said. "And they are not just scholars; they have great empathy and patience. You can tell they really want to help people."

Ervin, who was diagnosed in 2004 with primary-progressive MS, brought some special insights to the selection process. He also shared some words of wisdom with the students.

"They are going to realize each MS patient is different," he said. "The one thing that is consistent about MS patients is that we're inconsistent. I think they'll learn to appreciate the complexity of the disease they are dealing with.

"We're all looking for some kind of hope. These students need to learn to blend hope into the skills they offer patients, even though there might be little hope for someone who is confined to a wheelchair or needs help moving their body."

Keeling, who is from Asbury, Missouri, and earned her undergraduate degree from Rockhurst University in 2015, is interested in neuro physical therapy. Her interest was piqued this past summer when her 8-year-old nephew passed out and developed global brain damage. Keeling worked closely with a therapist at Children's Mercy, which gave her a deep appreciation of how therapy can be targeted to help the brain heal.

"I applied because this program will give me a special skill set that will allow me to target therapy for a specific disorder," she said. "Hopefully it will give me a fuller understanding of MS and other neuro-related disorders."

Jarvis said she was attracted to the program because of her experience working with people, including children with cerebral palsy, who need neuromuscular therapy to achieve their functional goals.

"Even if full functionality may not be possible, there is an unbelievable benefit and value in physical therapy. That is why I am interested in working with people who have MS," said Jarvis, who is from Overland Park, Kansas, and completed her undergraduate degree in nutritional sciences-allied health in May from Oklahoma State University. "I applied to MS STEP UP because it is an incredibly important opportunity to learn and grow as a therapist and a person."

"I became interested in working with patients with multiple sclerosis when I became very close with a family that has several members with MS," said Coffyn, who grew up in Prairie Village, Kansas, and graduated in 2014 from the University of Southern Mississippi. "I applied for MS STEP UP because it's an incredible opportunity to learn how we as physical therapists can help improve the lives of people with multiple sclerosis."

The University of Kansas Medical Center is only the third university in the country to implement the MS STEP UP as part of its entry-level education for DPT students. KU joined the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the University of South Florida in adopting this program to address the needs of people with MS. MS STEP UP was started at KU Medical Center thanks in part to a $10,000 donation from the National MS Society.


Samantha Keeling, Stacy Coffyn, Kaitlyn Jarvis, Alex Wileman and Katie Siengsukon

Last modified: Sep 07, 2018