Amy Bala: Hands-On Physical Therapy Classes in a Contact-Free Setting
With over 18 years of experience as a Physical Therapist and Certified Wound Specialist, Governors State University Physical Therapy Lecturer and Co-director of clinical education Amy Bala seeks to bring clinical experience––like her work in Level I trauma centers–– into the classroom in any way she can. This means you might find Bala with her 9-year-old twins building individual play dough models of wounds for each of her students on her evenings off.
“You can read about these things, but you really need to see them and to feel them. When I’m describing wounds in class, the students need to be able to experience what I’m talking about,” she explained.
Bala, who has lived and worked in the Southland community for over 20 years, views her growth as synonymous with the community's growth. Her aspirations include creating community clinics with all the licensed professionals who work at Governors State.
"Dr. Maryleen Jones, my colleague, and I have long talked about how wonderful it would be to start a pro-Bono clinic on campus. It would be a great learning opportunity for our students in the health professions, and to serve the people in our community, “ said Bala.
She hopes to teach her students perspective and empathy, while knowing these character traits are often byproducts of the work they will do.
“On my office door is a sign that reads ‘While you are complaining about the little things in your life, someone is fighting for theirs,’” Bala said. “This career brings things into perspective, and I want my students to start thinking of that.”
Bala's commitment to others is part of what inspired peers to nominate her for an Excellence Award, which she accepted following the 2020 Virtual convocation.
GSU Newsroom: What brought you to GSU?
Bala: I’ve been a practicing Physical Therapist (PT) since 2002, I have been providing therapy to patients with various diagnoses from the Intensive Care Unit down to the medical floors. I predominantly focused in the field of wound care physical therapy, but also worked in the inpatient acute and inpatient rehabilitation settings, all of which were hospital based.
I started off in connection with GSU as a clinical instructor where I supervised physical therapy students. I was also the site coordinator where I arranged and monitored physical and occupational therapy student clinical experiences. I always liked the correspondence with GSU and the caring and concern they showed for their students during clinicals. The students that came from GSU were of a high caliber.
I was asked to start teaching at a couple universities as a specialist in wound care. When I was a PT student, there was only a day and a half spent on wound care, but there’s so much more you need to know. Governors State was hiring for a full-time position in 2014 and that was when I decided to make the jump, a leap of faith. I knew I loved teaching and I would be content doing it forever, especially since I want to do research. It fit well with my personal life as well. With two children at home, hospital life wasn’t realistic anymore.
GSU Newsroom: What made you realize you loved teaching?
Bala: I love watching students get it. There’s suddenly this moment where they pull it all together and you see them grow from feeling like they know nothing and then they’re able to treat everyone by the end of the program. A few of my students have even gone into the specialty field of wound care which warms my heart. My goal is to help all of our students find their passion.
You’re teaching the principles so the students can apply what they know to every patient case, but every case is different and unique. You think the textbook will tell you how to do it and clinical practice tells you there is no textbook to tell you completely. You need to be able to synthesize and reason. Watching students gather the knowledge and then go out and be rock stars in the real world? I love it. I also love seeing them come back and mentor our students.
GSU Newsroom: How do you incorporate your clinical work into the classroom?
Bala: One way is I maintain my current practice registry at different facilities so I can stay in contact with what’s happening at the site. I usually work at the facilities once or twice a month. I also present at a lot of conferences and infuse the learnings into our curriculum and the coursework that I teach. I make a point of staying up to date on that evidence.
In my class, I keep reinventing how to teach actively and not to just be a classical PowerPoint lecture. I have done some integrated models and videotaping of procedures, because everyone gets it when you’re in front of them showing it.
Because of COVID and being in virtual land, we’re being forced to change how we do things. I used to be able to send students to the clinic so they can shadow for one day, until now. Now educators in my field are talking at the national level about how to simulate the experience. I worked with colleagues on a task force for the Academy of Clinical Electrophysiology and Wound Management Section of the American Physical Therapy Association, who’ve started doing simulations on Zoom live virtual sessions. They’re being broadcasted for free, and it’s a chance to see patients and diagnose them “in-person.” I’m trying to get students involved with these programs.
The program I teach in has mostly kinesthetic learners, who learn by doing, and so much of what we do is hands-on. Not having that ability to practice and to work on multiple body types is really hard. So that’s been my charge.
GSU Newsroom: What's next for you?
Bala: I want to eventually move to a tenure-track position to work my way up the chain to administration. I just started my Doctor of Education in Interdisciplinary Leadership at Governors State and I’m going to concentrate in higher education. With that I am hoping to pursue my passion for research in the areas of wound care and inpatient simulation.
Our faculty also have great research projects happening and we don’t have space for that. It would be incredible to have a research lab here on campus.