Expanded Partnerships Bring New Opportunities for Widener Student Clinicians
Extensive clinical and field work education opportunities have long been a hallmark of many Widener programs, and are often the reason that students, like Jayci Falzarano, choose to attend Widener.
“I chose Widener’s occupational therapy (OT) program for two reasons: the sense of community and support I felt from the OT faculty, and all the hands-on opportunities provided to us,” Falzarano explained. “From lab practice and the pro-bono clinic to many field work and volunteer opportunities, I knew this was the place for me.”
This past year, students including Falzarano are starting to benefit from expanded opportunities with the clinical partners that provide these experiences, thanks to the work of Director of Strategic Clinical Partnerships Jane Oeffner.
Oeffner seeks to create and enrich clinical partnerships for the School of Nursing, College of Health and Human Services, and beyond. Working closely with clinical education directors across departments, Oeffner’s work has already resulted in some big wins for Widener programs.
“My job is to present potential partners with the fact that we’re a health sciences powerhouse,” Oeffner said. “I want to deepen our relationship with these organizations and bring as much opportunity to Widener students as I can.”
Students in Widener’s health services programs certainly need experience at health care organizations, but Oeffner notes that clinical partnerships can accommodate students from a variety of other programs.
“Health care organizations also have finance, accounting and marketing departments, and other needs that may offer opportunities to Widener students from across the university,” she said. “When an organization partners with us, they can get a strong pipeline for potential hires for their many needs.”
In this way, Oeffner has been “mining Widener” to take stock of the clinical relationships already available to students in one department and offer them to others. Her recent work expanding a partnership between the Center for Education and Melmark, a special education school in Berwyn, to offer opportunities for occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech-language pathology students too, exemplifies this.
Partners in Excellence
These mutually beneficial relationships provide many advantages to the clinical partners too, including discounted tuition for their employees, and access to Widener's Wolfgram Memorial Library and an affiliate clinical faculty title for those supervising Widener students during their placements. Benefits like these encourage employees of partner organizations to enroll in Widener programs, which creates a ripple effect that improves outcomes for everyone.
“The more students we have in our programs, the more specialized programs we can offer,” Oeffner explained. “Any time we bring more students in, we grow in available resources, and everyone wins.”
Recently, Oeffner has brought in local organizations including Eddystone-based ChesPenn Health Services and Media’s Family Support Line into Widener’s ever-growing network of clinical partners, as well as Delaware-based Bayhealth and the national Ivy Rehab Network. She’s also expanded existing relationships, like those nursing and social work students have with Media-based MVP Recovery, to occupational therapy and physician assistant students as well.
This summer has also seen additional partnerships with The Cooper Health System, Lehigh Valley Health Network, and PAM Health, a national acute rehabilitation organization. Oeffner notes that national contracts with organizations like PAM Health allow students to complete their clinical at a site that’s convenient for their lifestyle with the confidence that the organization understands their programs’ curricula and expected outcomes.
Oeffner has also worked to bring these clinical partners to campus for exclusive recruitment events. In the spring, she organized an event with the physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech language pathology clubs to host Ivy Rehab and PAM Health on campus. Over lunch, students in these programs got to connect with representatives from the organizations to ask questions about both the hiring process and the day-to-day details of professional life.
Falzarano, who worked with Oeffner to organize the event, came away feeling excited about the growing relationships with clinical partners.
“Encouraging collaboration not only improves career opportunities for us, but it also broadens the knowledge of everyone involved,” she remarked. “Networking like this is a great chance to make lasting relationships where everyone can learn and grow from one another professionally, and it makes me excited to advance my career as an OT.”
One Hub, Many Wins
While individual departments and their respective directors of clinical education are the ones finding placement for students based on their unique interests, Oeffner’s work as the hub for all things clinical has already made a huge difference for many Widener student clinicians.
When the occupational program needed some last-minute clinical placements last year, Oeffner coordinated with Ivy Rehab to arrange slots for those students just weeks after their partnership was officially signed. Oeffner has also secured around 80 clinical slots for physician assistant students at Lehigh Valley Health, before the first cohort of those students even steps onto campus in fall 2024. The recent partnership with Cooper Health System has already yielded new acute care clinical opportunities for undergraduate nursing students too.
For current students like Sarah Glazewski ’22, the opportunity to try out clinical experiences at multiple locations has opened her mind to the possibilities of her profession. Glazewski will be completing her pediatric clinical rotation at the Lawrenceville, New Jersey Ivy Rehab for Kids in early 2024, and looks forward to working with children.
“When I first started PT school, my dream was to work with a sports program at the professional or collegiate level,” Glazewski, a Pride soccer alumna said. “Fast forward two years later and that’s still a dream of mine, but I also dream of working with kids in both inpatient and outpatient settings.
“One of the best things my PT program has taught me is that there are so many different fields and specialties that you can go into. I’m taking full advantage of my next clinicals to see where I want to end up and I can’t wait to take all I learned and apply it in the future.”