SMHS Faculty Spotlight
SMHS Faculty Spotlight
CFE (Center for Faculty Excellence)

GW School of Medicine & Health Sciences Center for Faculty Excellence 

October 2023 Faculty Spotlight

National Physical Therapy (PT) Month

Excellence in teaching & learning, scholarly endeavors, and leadership are all around us at SMHS. The Center for Faculty Excellence would like to Spotlight our faculty’s contributions to SMHS, George Washington University, and beyond. Each month we will spotlight faculty from across the Academic Medical Enterprise. We want to thank our highlighted faculty members for sharing with us their advice and perspectives!
- SMHS Center for Faculty Excellence
Dr. Erin Wentzell, PT, DPT, DrPH
Join the CFE as we highlight Erin Wentzell PT, DPT, DrPH, In honor of the National Physical Therapy Month. Erin will highlight the “Value of PT” through her efforts at GWSMHS and her recently funded project, "Classroom Without Walls: Investigating learning in students, faculty, and participants during a community engaged mobility screening." Erin discusses her role as a pediatric physical therapist, her involvement within the GW Medical Enterprise community, and the impact she hopes her research will have on community public health and the development of students.


Dr. Erin Wentzell, PT, DPT, DrPH, moved to the Washington D.C. area in 2007 from Michigan. She is a practicing pediatric physical therapist who has worked in both acute care and outpatient settings. In 2010 Dr. Wentzell purchased her own practice where she provides in-home early intervention services for children throughout Washington D.C. Her practice serves infants and young toddlers with a focus on parent education and family empowerment to increase activity and physical play from an early age. Dr. Wentzell earned a Specialist Certification in Pediatrics (PCS) from the Board of Physical Therapy Specialties in 2012. She is active in the APTA and Pediatrics Section as well as the International Organization of Physical Therapists in Pediatrics. Dr. Wentzell teaches in the Foundations of Interventions and Pediatrics courses. In addition, she organizes and runs the Inter-Professional Community Practicum course. Her areas of interest are physical activity and exercise promotion for children with disabilities.

Interview Q/A

How long have you been at GWSMHS? What drew you to your current position?
Erin: I have been at GW for over 10 years. I started as a guest lecturer in a Pediatrics course, and from that experience, I fell in love with teaching and GW and became a full-time faculty member about 2 years ago. What really drew me to GW is its unique atmosphere; it is a university that is situated within a major city but still has such a great sense of community both within the school and in the larger DC area. Specifically, within SMHS, there are always so many different faculty and researchers that are engaged within the community, and that really speaks to what the university values and our program values, and that aligns well with what I found most meaningful.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in Physical Therapy?
Erin: My background is in Pediatric Physical Therapy, I love working and interacting with children, and my mom was also a physical therapist, so those things sparked my interest and introduced me to the field. I find PT to be such a wonderful aspect of healthcare where I have been able to really get to know my patients, be a part of a child’s care team, and make a difference in their lives.
Along the way, I became interested in population and community health, so I went back to school to get my DrPH at GW because, in addition to the benefit of the individual patient, I wanted to expand my impact to providing care at the community level.
What are some of your primary responsibilities here at GWSMHS?

Erin: I teach within our Physical Therapy program, which is a cohort doctorate program where students are with us for a total of three years, with 2 of those years being spent working on campus. Our faculty teach various courses within the program, I typically teach the Pediatric PT course as well as courses on foundations of intervention and teaching and learning. Another course I teach is the Interprofessional Community Practicum, which is a service-based learning course that works with about 10 to 12 partners each year and allows the students to do work within the community focusing on health equity in the DC area. This kind of course allows students to apply the skills they learn and do some really amazing work throughout the semester.
Service-wise, I am the Co-Faculty liaison for our PT student leadership organization. I also serve our program through the admissions, awards, and curriculum committees. Finally, I serve as the Equity Director within the Health, Human Function, and Rehabilitation Sciences (HHFRS) department.
What about the future of Health, Human Function, and Rehabilitation Sciences (HHFRS) excites you?
Erin: One of the most exciting things for me is the potential for collaboration and integration. Our Occupational Therapy program is relatively new and just had its second cohort start, so the opportunity to have interdisciplinary education with another rehabilitation professional within our department is fantastic. In addition to growth within our department, the leadership that we have really recognizes and supports community engagement and how it benefits the students in their learning and application by having this model of education.
Can you tell us a little more about your recent CFE Grant, "Classroom Without Walls: Investigating learning in students, faculty, and participants during a community engaged mobility screening?"
Erin: The project we are working on is part of a larger initiative that developed from faculty discussing things we could do to engage students post-pandemic. From that discussion, we wanted to look at ways to engage our students with the community, but for a lot of faculty, community engagement, service learning, or even just getting students out of the classroom to learn have a lot of barriers and many don’t know where even to start. What came out of these discussions was the idea of the Engaged Department to create a structure and framework of community engagement by having a core set of community partners that we work with and incorporate our work with them across all the different courses within the PT program and eventually within the HHFRS department. The structure would include how to set up initial meetings, what information you need, and how you link it to the class. This framework would have that internal component of helping faculty integrate community service and learning within their classes and the program curriculum while building connections and relationships with our community partners.
Erin: We also have this focus on research and want to create community-based participatory research by allowing the participants we screen can opt into having their data longitudinally tracked over time, which can be a part of faculty’s scholarship and help generate really meaningful research across patient care, teaching, and education.
Who are you collaborating with? 
Erin: The Engaged Department started with a core team of myself and Drs. Keith Cole, Jason Dring, and Karen Goodman. Within that core team, we piloted this idea last year with a single community partner, the Foggy Bottom West End Village, whom we have worked with for decades. They came to us very eager to work with us to have more screens for members about their strength, balance, overall wellness, and mobility, so it was a great opportunity to partner with the Village and apply this framework. 
Erin: Our students are able to administer their first mobility screen in their first semester within the Foundations of Examination course, which this year is taught by our newest faculty and member of the Engaged Department, Rebecca Pinkus. Then in the second semester, within our teaching and learning course, students work again with the village by developing educational materials using the principles of teaching and learning. In the summer, students can work with the villages in our service-learning course. Lastly, by the second year, they will do another mobility screen at a higher level by doing the screen, getting the results, and providing education to the participants. 
What is the goal of the study?
Erin: The overall goal and hope of having these multiple touch points within the program is to get students to understand who the community is, what their needs are, and how they are creating value. We also hope that this framework benefits our community partners by receiving care on a regular basis.
Erin: We as a group believe that community engagement is beneficial; however, we want to really investigate how and why it is beneficial for all stakeholders Our study, which we have received funding from the CFE to do, is trying to identify exactly what that benefit is to all the different participants. What did they gain from participating in this? What are they actually learning? This will also serve as a gap analysis.
What are your proposed methodologies? Where are you in your project?
Erin: We are using a mixed-method approach, including quantitative and qualitative methods. Each stakeholder has a survey designed to capture their learning and experience. We have focus groups and surveys being disseminated to both cohorts. So this includes our first-year students, who are very new to the program, and our second-year students, who are wrapping up their management courses and about to go to the clinic full-time. Incorporated into this is reviewing course feedback and students' reflection papers on their experiences. In addition to the students, we also want to examine the impact on the faculty. The faculty piece will allow us to understand more about how this framework is received by faculty, what barriers might still exist in community learning, and how this impacts faculty's teaching strategies and style.
Erin: The initial screen will be in early November, so we are currently just laying the foundation and are going to focus on this year's data to start. 
What impact do you hope your research has on your profession?
Erin: I hope that more faculty see the benefit of participating in community engagement by working with the community and building this into their courses and how they teach. Doing so helps us all as faculty and ties in that the learning is immensely beneficial for our students while providing meaningful reciprocal relationships with the community. 
Within our community partners, we are trying to target communities that are historically underserved and have health disparities. Currently, we are partnered with the older population; our next partnership is with individuals who use wheelchairs or adaptive assistive equipment for adaptive sports, and then in the future, we are going to be partnering with children with disabilities. My hope is that if we can show the benefit to faculty, they're more likely to engage, and if we show the benefit for the communities, more community partners are going to step up and say, this is something that we want and can benefit from.
Erin: Our students want to see the impact they are making, and this effort will allow us to show them that the work they are doing is directly benefiting the community.
How does this spotlight/recognition make you feel?
Erin: I am incredibly honored to be recognized in this way and have the ability to speak on the research we are doing, but I also want to mention that I am just one piece of this fantastic team in my program in order to do this. I'm happy to see our hard work get recognized for what we think is a pretty innovative and exciting initiative at GW and hopefully build more connections across the university.
What is one thing that keeps you motivated during the day?
Erin: As an educator, I find that the moments that are most powerful and motivate me are seeing a student really grasp and understand what they are learning and have pride in their impact. I think the quote that really summarizes both my why I do this, which is the students and for the overall benefit of communities and health equity, is actually the quote that is at the bottom of every email I send at GW. It is my reminder to myself and to everyone I am privileged to work with:
"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive." -Howard Thurman
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