Before Bethany Kelly graduates in May she will have helped young adults train for the Special Olympics, worked with psychiatry patients at the UVM Medical Center, and taught strengthening exercises to individuals with multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

The exercise and movement science major is currently training local athletes in a Special Olympics Unified Fitness Program launched in 2016 by Associate Professor Susan Kasser. Kelly and six of her classmates are working with young adults to develop a workout regime that supports their personal and Olympic goals. In the process, they are writing a manual for future exercise science majors who will expand the program next year.

“All of my clinical experiences at UVM have been ideal training for when I enter the workforce,” says Kelly, who plans to apply to physician’s assistant school after working in the field for two years. “These kinds of on-the-go experiences that require you to make immediate modifications and incorporate course curriculum into the program are truly invaluable.”

Kelly is among a growing number of students majoring in exercise and movement science or athletic training who are taking advantage of hands-on clinical experiences offered by the Department of Rehabilitation and Movement Sciences. Programs like MS IDEAL (Individually Designed Exercise for Active Lifestyles) – the state’s only exercise group for individuals with multiple sclerosis – have been around for decades, while others like an exercise program to help psychiatric inpatients at the UVM Medical Center are more recent additions to the expanding roster of clinical opportunities.

In the past year, students in athletic training, who complete at least 800 clinical hours before graduating, volunteered to work with disabled children at Bolton Valley through Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports. They also hosted a field day with Vermont Adaptive Disabled Veterans under the guidance of Assistant Professor Timothy Tourville. The Wellness Environment (also known as WE), an incentive-based program focused on health promotion, illness prevention and behavioral change, has also allowed students to serve as exercise and wellness mentors and to work on other WE projects.

“The chance for students to participate as exercise specialists with faculty mentors in the development and delivery of evidence-based exercise interventions in research, clinical and field based experiences is one of the pillars of our program, and one that we believe leads to an outstanding student experience,” says Jeremy Sibold, department Chair and associate professor. “We believe firmly that the opportunity to actually apply the theoretical knowledge gained in classes and labs adds a richness and depth to both the individual student skill set, as well as the overall identity of our program and our students.” 

Clinical experiences lead to employment in growing job market

Approximately 70 percent of UVM's rehabilitation and movement science graduates go directly into graduate programs in exercise physiology, public health, cardiac rehab, and physical therapy, among others. The remaining students enter the workforce in a range of clinical arenas including fitness prescription, corporate wellness, and strength and conditioning. A number of these professions are included on a 2017 list by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics of the fastest-growing jobs leading to 2024, including athletic trainers, exercise physiologists and physical therapists – a field that is expected to increase by 34 percent and currently pays a medium salary of $84,020. 

Senior Macie Fletcher, who worked with Kelly on the Special Olympics program, helped launch the aforementioned exercise and wellness program at the UVM Medical Center for students like her who are interested in helping psychiatry inpatients. They created a workout space on Shepardson 6, where they collaborate with nurses, physicians and group therapists to develop evidence-based programming and patient education materials designed to increase patient motivation to exercise.

“It has been very cool to start something like this in a very open and collaborative setting that really benefits people,” says Fletcher. “A lot of my family members have suffered from mental health issues, so this was especially appealing to me. Just knowing we might have played a role in their recovery and motived them to exercise is incredibly gratifying.”

Patty Prelock, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, has long supported efforts to create clinical opportunities to enhance students’ theoretical and lab-based use of state-of-the-art technologies such as 3D spatial kinematic modeling, metabolic cart and fitness testing, and DEXA Scan technology. “Our College is highly committed to academic excellence and engaging our students in experiential activities that give them real opportunities to touch the lives of others by applying the knowledge and skills they have learned in the classroom,” says Prelock.

Ed Davide, whose son participates in Special Olympics Unified Fitness Program, appreciates the effort.

“When my son was born, they didn’t think he would last two weeks, because he only weighed about a pound-and-a-half,” says Davide while watching his son work out with UVM students. “But he’s a tough kid and has become a good athlete. This program had been really good for him because he likes to stay active and can learn new things from students about training and health.”


Jon Reidel
Will Traver and athlete
Will Traver ’17 (left) works with a local athlete. (Photo: Sally McCay)