Clinical experiences inspire students to give back
By Sidney Goodman ‘21
With the many unforeseen challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, occupational therapy students have been hard-pressed to find clinical fieldwork opportunities. However, through telehealth, students have been granted 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 over 1,500 miles away.
Utilizing this telehealth technology, Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy Dr. Gregory Chown, along with Occupational Therapy Clinical Fieldwork Coordinator Selena Ehlert, collaborated with an interprofessional group of occupational therapy and physical therapy students from Faculté Des Sciences De Réhabilitation de Léogane (FSRL) in Haiti. The students communicated with each other to learn about culture, interests and education. The clinical experiences encompassed lectures and observations of therapists, FSRL students and patients from Respire clinic in Haiti.
The first clinical experience involved seating, positioning and adaptive equipment. Students learned creative and innovative methods to fabricate seating and positioning devices and equipment using basic materials such as wood, cloth, buckets and PCP piping. Students were able to observe children, some who traveled significant distances, be evaluated, followed by constructing the seating and positioning equipment. This pushed Alvernia students out of their comfort zone and forced them to use creative problem-solving skills.
A second significant experience involved a detailed evaluation of a young boy with cerebral palsy. Students engaged in the assessment of the client and were able to ask the child’s grandmother questions. Students learned about the home environment and many barriers that the child and his caregivers faced.
“We often discuss in classes the importance of understanding and considering social determinants of health, such as economic stability, education, access to health care and the environment,” said Chown. “It became apparent to students when observing the occupational therapists and patients via telehealth the number of barriers and determinants that patients in Haiti must overcome and the impact on overall health and health outcomes.”
Being exposed to poverty and poor living conditions had a profound impact on the students. Alexandra Likakis ’22 was moved to help in any way possible. “While sitting in my room after the completion of just a single experience in the Respire clinic, I sat in shock after seeing the conditions that they endure on a daily basis,” she said. “I have never initiated this type of service act before, but I knew this was my call to help and my time to initiate a helping hand. As I shared my ideas with the class, they were 100% on board to help. We all realized that it was a crucial time to intervene, as the needs within the clinical and the Haitian community were overwhelming.”
Due to the global pandemic, traditional means of fundraising were restricted, but the class came up with a way to fundraise virtually using their social media platforms. Their efforts were met with great success, and in just two weeks, they raised over $1,600 for the Respire Haiti clinic.
The impact of this experience will not be soon forgotten. Likakis and her classmates are incredibly grateful for the opportunity and will carry the things they learned at Respire Haiti during this remote fieldwork experience into their careers.
“My eyes were opened to how occupational therapy is delivered in different regions of the world, and it makes me eager to enter the field and travel the world doing service work in underdeveloped areas,” Likakis said. “At the end of the day, everyone deserves to live a meaningful and purposeful life. I plan to utilize the tools and lessons I have learned from this experience to help my future patients achieve their goals.”