Read More News Here

DPT Professor, Students and Alumni Travel to the Amazon

Photo of Dr. Karen Albaugh with physical therapy students and alumni near Peru’s Tambopata River in the Amazon rain forest.
Dr. Karen Albaugh with physical therapy students and alumni near Peru’s
Tambopata River in the Amazon rain forest.


Dr. Karen Albaugh, associate professor of physical therapy, continually shares her passion for PT with her Neumann University students in the classroom; however, that passion reached a new level in August when she organized a trip to the Amazon with several Neumann students and alumni.

Albaugh took five graduates from Neumann’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program and four current DPT students on the excursion. The Neumann group was joined by Dr. Roger Mustalish from West Chester University and some WCU students.

The trip was organized through the ACEER (Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research) Foundation and is described as “Healthcare and Healing Traditions of Amazonia: Exploring the Roots of Holistic Health and Integrative Medicine.”

Albaugh, who has been teaching at Neumann University for almost 20 years, had gone to this region with a service trip a few years ago and felt an immediate connection with the country.  She also took a group of DPT students to Peru in August of 2015.  The response from that trip was so positive that she was able to coordinate another group to go this past August.

The group visited a primary care/children’s hospital and the National Rehabilitation Center in Lima, Peru. They learned about conventional medicine as it is offered in Latin America.  The group also traveled to the Madre de Dios region of southeastern Peru to visit a regional hospital and PT clinic in Puerto Maldonado.

During the trip, Albaugh gave a presentation on wound care to the medical professionals in Lima. Neumann representatives like alumnus Thomas Shaughnessy, found her talk to be very insightful.

“I enjoyed listening to Dr. Albaugh speak at one of the rehabilitation facilities.  Being a Neumann graduate and current lab assistant for her class, I have heard her lecture on wound care countless times, but sitting in an audience of people of different cultures and various backgrounds really had a lasting impact on me.  In that moment, we were all students again, whether we spoke the same language or not,” Shaughnessy said.

Perhaps one of the highlights of the trip for Albaugh and her fellow travelers was the trip deeper into the rainforest via the Tambopata River. It was  there they met a shaman, Antonio, who treats the locals with traditional medicine.

“My goal was to share the experiences I had in Peru so students and alumni might return with new ideas to implement a more integrative healing approach, not only with their patients, but also in their own lives,” Albaugh explained.   “I wanted to expose them to the holistic medicine practiced by the shaman. His whole-person approach to dealing with illness is completely different than most western medicine.  There is much to be learned from both a traditional and botanical perspective.”

For Shaughnessy, meeting the shaman was a particularly interesting part of the journey.

“Obviously, meeting and spending time the shaman was a clear highlight.  I am very interested in other cultures and beliefs.  We were all able to have one-on-one sessions with him.  We had a group ceremony, in which Antonio blessed us and asked the forest to protect us with good luck and health.  After this ceremony, we were also able to spend some personal time with him, asking for guidance in areas of our life that we may need to enrich. I was fortunate enough to have a day time ceremony with him, as well as an additional night time ceremony with him. My night ceremony took place in the middle of forest, without a translator, no lights.  Listening to his chants, and feeling the batting of his chakapa on my chest, arms and head created a relaxing, and invigorating whirlwind of emotions.  It was truly a once in a lifetime experience,” said Shaughnessy. 


Amanda Leutbecher, a current DPT student who also went on the trip, raved about her experience.

“My favorite part of the trip was the positive energy the Peruvians had. With the little they had, they were all so happy and grateful to see us and share their culture. All of our tour guides were spirited, helpful, and kind which made our stay even more special than I could have imagined. I cannot wait to go back one day,” Leutbecher said.  “Also, there is a calming rush you get just being in the Amazon that I cannot put into words. The sunrises were unlike any I've seen in the US.”

Many of the Neumann University DPT students who went on the trip shared similar feelings. Some, like Karen Hommer, plan on using what they gleaned from their journey to better the world.

“My motivation for going on this trip was to begin formulating my ideas for international service.  Upon completion of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Neumann University, I hope to use my degree to provide international service on an annual basis,” Hommer said.