Love of Dance Leads UR Medical Student to Garth Fagan

March 09, 2010

University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry student Tracy L. Fuhrmann was able to complete her education by combining two passions -- dance and medicine -- in a research project that could have lasting benefits for the community and aspiring dancers everywhere.

Fuhrmann taught modern dancers how to prevent injury at the Garth Fagan Summer Movement Institute, capping off a community health requirement unique to the UR medical school.

Her pilot study was published online in the Journal of Community Health, and is expected to be included as an abstract in the Journal of Dance Medicine & Science later this year.

“I jumped at this opportunity,” said Fuhrmann, an Oak Park, Calif., native who has danced since she was a toddler. “It’s one of the reasons I chose to come to medical school in Rochester – they give you the flexibility to pursue what you are truly interested in, and I just had a gut feeling I would find plenty of mentors and support here.”

Fuhrmann enrolled in the UR School of Medicine & Dentistry’s longitudinal community health improvement track, which sets up partnerships between students and community groups in the first or second year of medical education. Then, in the fourth year, the medical students are required to take a Community Health Improvement Course (CHIC), the only one of its kind in the United States. Students such as Fuhrmann can use the CHIC class to analyze data they collected earlier and evaluate program successes. The students who spread their community service across all four years of school are eligible to receive a special distinction on their diplomas.

“This is a really novel course in which several hundred medical students like Tracy have launched some wonderful community interventions since the program’s inception in 2004,” said Scott McIntosh, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine, who teaches CHIC. “It gives the students a chance to better understand public health research and the importance of injury and disease prevention.”

As a child Fuhrmann was interested in ballet; she danced in The Nutcracker from age 3 to 18. Experience taught her that dancers have a high pain tolerance, and through research she discovered that annual injury rates range from an astounding 67 to 95 percent.

About half of all dancers also report chronic injuries, which can force them to take time off to heal. An additional hardship is the injury-related costs to dancers, who often lack health insurance, and to modern dance companies, which usually operate on small budgets. A result is that dancers sometimes delay treatment for minor injuries, which leads to worse problems due to overuse and fatigue.

“Dancers, in general, absolutely love their art and don’t want to give it up,” Fuhrmann said. “So they work through the pain.”

Fuhrmann noticed that misinformation about injury prevention and rehabilitation had been passed down through generations in the dance world. She aimed to create a course based on a comprehensive review of the scientific literature.

The result was a class that delivered accurate and timely information, and was available in a written format, as a lower-cost alternative to the expensive intervention programs currently available to dance companies. She also designed the course so that it could be taught by people without a medical background.

In 2007 the Garth Fagan Summer Movement Institute, which is for professional and pre-professional dancers but not members of Fagan’s acclaimed dance company, agreed to serve as the home for her pilot study. She taught three, one hour classes covering topics such as anatomy, proper warm-ups, stretching and rehabilitation, cardiovascular fitness, the risk of overtraining and safe weight management.

Nineteen dance students took part and 63 percent said they had a previous dance-related injury. Most participants completed quantitative assessments and qualitative evaluations for the course. They reported that the course was valuable, and in fact some participants desired a course of even longer duration that covered more topics.

Strengthening exercises seemed to be among the most valuable parts of the course material, according to the study, and one participant praised Fuhrmann for clarifying information that is sometimes misunderstood.

In addition to Fuhrmann and McIntosh, who is the corresponding author on the journal publication and the person to contact for a course manual, co-authors include: Anne Brayer, M.D., a URMC pediatrician and director of Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Rochester, and Noelle Andrus, Ph.D., assistant professor of clinical nursing at the UR School of Nursing.

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Leslie Orr
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