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New DPT Graduates Use 3D Printing to Fight COVID-19

Thursday, May 7, 2020   (5 Comments)
Posted by: Matthew Nicholas
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New DPT Graduates Use 3D Printing to Fight COVID-19

By: Dena Kontos, SPT, Northwestern DPT Class of '21
IPTA SSIG Communications Liaison

Sarah Rice, PT, DPT is no stranger to using 3D printing to help people. Throughout her time in the Northwestern University’s DPT program, she regularly printed bone models and learning aids to help herself and her classmates learn. Younger students often credit the anatomic models she created for helping teach them some of the most complex concepts in Anatomy and Kinesiology. However, during her final few weeks of physical therapy school, she and fellow 2020 graduate Lindsay Ardiff, PT, DPT are using 3D printing to help solve a much bigger issue- the shortage of PPE.

Over the past few weeks, Sarah and her husband have 3D printed over 6,000 masks to be delivered to local hospitals in Chicago. It all started when they were contacted by DePaul University after the school released their maker space to manufacture PPE. Since then, the Rice household has transformed into a makeshift factory, printing masks almost around the clock. It is an extremely time consuming task, as one single mask takes around 4 hours to print and costs about $2.50 to make. She says she has never worked harder in her life. Due to the time requirement, Illinois PPE Network has been working nonstop to find another design that is able to be produced more quickly, and they will soon be moving on to other means of production that allows them to provide masks for even more people. “ 3D printing isn’t usually the tool of choice for mass manufacturing due to the time required,” Rice explains, “but it is incredibly customizable and we knew it would be capable of making something that would work.” Rice and her husband are joined by almost 1,500 others who are working in small neighborhood nodes to print PPE and manufacture equipment made out of different kinds of plastic such as bike tubing, all while maintaining social distancing. Although they may be far apart, Rice says they are very much one team. “We all want the same thing, which is to protect our clinicians.”

Rice says that this experience has changed her view of the healthcare system, and opened her eyes to the many intricacies of the manufacturing world and how it contributes to disparities that exist in underserved populations. “There are many institutions working to be at the forefront of medicine, and we truly need those people. At the same time, there is a disconnect because we are not able to get those products out to people that are in need. We are working around the regulatory process right now. I don’t want to do that, but the alternative is nothing, and that is not acceptable. Many institutions are concerned with making something that is big and fancy but the regulatory process makes it hard for them to move quickly. We needed to add some agility to the process.”

What can you do to help? You do not need to own a 3D printer to get involved in the Illinois PPE Network. Currently, they are also in need of monetary donations, plastic donations and volunteers. To learn more and get involved, visit

You can also read more of Sarah’s story on the APTA pulse blog.

Sarah Rice, PT, DPT, is a recent graduate of Northwestern University. You can connect with Sarah through the Illinois PPE Network website.

Share your thoughts! Comment below!


Gail R. Johnson PT says...
Posted Sunday, May 17, 2020
To Sarah and all involved, way to step up and provide such a valuable gift (time/ service and dedication/ obvious attention to detail, etc!) to others in need. Wishing you ALL the best!
Tina Jonas PT DPT says...
Posted Saturday, May 16, 2020
I'm inspired by your creativity and ability to merge your knowledge and the needs of today's clinical environment. Great job!
Christina M. Frank PT MBA says...
Posted Saturday, May 16, 2020
This is impressive! What a way to make an impact!
Emily E. Pisani PT DPT says...
Posted Friday, May 15, 2020
Wow! Kudos to you and all those involved in the 3D printing during this time. This profession is fortunate to have incoming professionals with this passion and drive. Thank you for all you are doing!
Bradford A. Tracy PT DPT says...
Posted Thursday, May 14, 2020
This is awesome on several levels.... 1. I would be very much interested in seeing the anatomical models that were created, I would really like to connect with Sarah to have a visual. There may be a vast potential in here as we look to hybrid and blended education models. Additionally, it might be good to consider having these on display on say a future conference or some such similar event. 2. I really think potential exists here to communicate the accomplishment and contribution on the PPE front within the media. Could a press release be generated for local news coverage. This is great story, would promote Physical Therapists, as well s promote Illinois PPE. In my opinion this sort of thing needs to be communicated to public with reach beyond the confines of just our membership. Thanks a ton for this contribution, vast talent and potential exists in our profession. Cheers, Brad A. Tracy, PT, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT Northern District Chair

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