Clinical experiences inspire students to give back
By Sidney Goodman ’21
With the many unforeseen challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, occupational therapy students struggled to find clinical work opportunities in the field. However, through telehealth, students have received life-changing experiences that expose them to the realities of health care in practice and inspire them to help a community struggling with health care needs of over 1,500. miles away.
Using this telehealth technology, associate professor of occupational therapy Dr Gregory Chown, with Selena Ehlert, Coordinator of Clinical Field Work in Occupational Therapy, collaborated with an interprofessional group of occupational therapy and physiotherapy students from Faculty of Rehabilitation Sciences of Léogane (FSRL) in Haiti. The students communicated with each other to learn more about the culture, interests and education. Clinical experiences included lectures and observations from therapists, FSRL students, and patients from the Respire clinic in Haiti.
The first clinical experience focused on sitting, positioning and adaptive equipment. Students learned creative and innovative methods of making seats and positioning devices and equipment using basic materials such as wood, fabric, buckets, and PCP piping. Students were able to observe the children, some of whom traveled significant distances, be assessed, and then build the seats and positioning equipment. This pushed Alvernia students out of their comfort zone and forced them to use creative problem-solving skills.
A second significant experiment involved a detailed evaluation of a young boy with cerebral palsy. The students participated in the client assessment and were able to ask questions of the child’s grandmother. The pupils discovered the family environment and the many obstacles that the child and his caregivers face.
“We often discuss in class the importance of understanding and taking into account the social determinants of health, such as economic stability, education, access to health care and the environment,” said Chown. . “When observing occupational therapists and patients via telehealth, it became evident to the students the number of barriers and determinants that patients in Haiti must overcome and their impact on overall health and health outcomes. .
Exposure to poverty and poor living conditions had a profound impact on students. Alexandra Likakis ’22 was moved to help in any way she could. “As I sat in my room after completing a single experience at the Respire clinic, I sat in shock after seeing the conditions they endure on a daily basis,” she said. “I’ve never initiated this type of act of service before, but I knew it was my call to help and my time to initiate a helping hand. As I shared my ideas with the class, they were 100% willing to help me. We all realized this was a crucial time to step in, as the needs within the clinic and the Haitian community were overwhelming.
Due to the global pandemic, traditional means of fundraising were limited, but the class found a way to virtually fundraise using their social media platforms. Their efforts were crowned with success and, in just two weeks, they raised over $ 1,600 for the Respire Haiti clinic.
The impact of this experience will not be forgotten anytime soon. Likakis and his classmates are extremely grateful for this opportunity and will carry into their careers the things they learned at Respire Haiti during this remote field experience.
“My eyes have been opened to how occupational therapy is delivered in different parts of the world, and it makes me want to step into the field and travel the world to do service work in underdeveloped areas.” , Likakis said. “At the end of the day, everyone deserves to live meaningful and meaningful lives. I plan to use the tools and lessons I learned from this experience to help my future patients achieve their goals.