Seven master’s of occupational therapy (OT) students took the first Lewis College study abroad trip after a two-year COVID hiatus, traveling to Constanza, Dominican Republic. The trip was a service-learning experience with some tourism in the final few days.
In only three and half days of providing treatment to underserved adults and children in rural Dominican Republic (DR), the three teams of OT students saw over 40 people. The community members had various conditions, including recovery from stroke, cerebral palsy and recovery from polio, something rarely seen in the U.S.
The Lewis College partnered with Comunidad Connect, a Central American exchange organization founded by Georgia State alumnus Jon Thompson and Puente, a DR-based health promotion organization. The Puente health promoters live in the communities they serve and share health education, like the importance of using clean water, with the residents. Because their work improves the locals’ lives, they are highly trusted.
“Puente staff made the difference in our work,” said Shayne Stone, an OT master’s student. “Every home we visited, people were so friendly and eagerly welcomed us in.”
In return, the OT students prepared for the work in advance by creating a survey to aid Puente staff in pre-selecting appropriate care recipients. A Puente health promoter and local interpreter accompanied each student team on visits with the clients, strengthening the relationship and better equipping Puente for follow-up work that students would recommend after the visits.
“The OT students developed a screening tool to be used by the Puente health promoters to pre-identify people in need of OT care, especially those without access to healthcare,” said Dr. Emily Buchman, clinical assistant professor and assistant director of the OTD program.
Buchman led trip preparation meetings online in the evenings, helping orient students to cultural differences and helping to pre-plan home exercises. The students, who completed 12 weeks of fieldwork assignment in the U.S. before the trip, were exposed to a very different environment, working in a rural area with no running water and meeting the challenges of cultural differences.
“We had to consider the patients’ culture,” said Stone. “Women took care of men, and daughters took care of the women. So, we had to come up with OT exercises that were men’s work.” For one client, the students had him shell peas for an hour to work on fine motor skills. Another had to unlock the door multiple times and walk up and down the hall. Women could work on household tasks, such as washing dishes.
Intervention of the OT students and Puente helped abate the overwhelming sense of dealing with a health condition without extra-familial support. Students had one hour per client to do an assessment and provide a mini-treatment. Puente staff would continue with follow-up work with each client.
“I wasn’t surprised about the students’ reach in the community, but Puente and Jon [Thompson] were very shocked by the reach in a short amount of time,” said Buchman. “I’m proud that they saw the value of OT.”
Stone previously participated in a study abroad service trip to China with Monmouth College, his undergraduate institution, but came away from the DR experience inspired.
“My classmates and I left the trip inspired and in awe of the experience and very humbled by our own privilege,” said Stone.
“I think I got more out of it [the experience] than the people we serviced,” said Stone. “It was also an opportunity to learn from my classmates and see their different fieldwork experiences. I use some of what I learned from my partner in the DR in my current fieldwork.” Stone is taking a pediatric experience at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.
written by Angela Go