Our Own and Their Experiences in International Therapy Service

Posted on September 20th, 2013 by Denise | No Comments

Our Own and Their Experiences in

International Therapy Service


Denise Koonce OTR

Last week I wrote about international therapy service and the unique opportunities that exist when you apply your skills outside of your own country.   We, at Reach Therapy Center, are a diverse group of individuals and some of our staff has had the opportunity to engage in international therapy services.  I asked some of those staff members to share a memorable, impactful moment with us about their experience when they traveled abroad.   

Beth Hancock DOT, OTR and the Director of Program Development:

“My experience was with People to People.  They are an Ambassador organization who for 50 years has provided educational travel for both students and professionals around the globe.  With more than 20,000 Ambassadors traveling annually, People to People Ambassador Programs continues to play a significant role in increasing global awareness.  My particular trip was for Therapy Professionals (OT, PT, and ST) and we traveled to Russia.  There were approximately 60 therapists who traveled and we were guided by a Russian tour guide who had worked with People to People many times previously. The goal of our trip was to learn more about the therapy organizations and education in Russia and share how therapy works in the U.S. within the education system as well as in private practice and hospitals.  We met with rehab facilities and learned about how their education is more as a universal therapist rather than a discipline specific therapist and they all were required to obtain a PhD in order to practice.  They rely upon the Russian government to document patients that qualified for services and if you did not have a qualifying disorder you were not eligible and could not appeal this process.  Another eye-opening side trip that we took was to an orphanage for special needs children near St. Petersburg.  It is common practice in Russia if you have a child who is born with disabilities to give them up for adoption immediately.  The children with special needs are placed in a separate orphanage from the typically developing children.  This orphanage was state-run and they did what they could with what they had.  It was apparent to many of us there that we were privileged to tour only certain sections of the orphanage and other sections were closed.  All of the children had shaven heads as a way to prevent infestation of lice.  Many were in their beds with little to no interaction all day long. We saw examples of children who had no access to physical medicine doctors or intervention of any kind.  After this tour many of us wanted to come back to volunteer to help and the staff indicated that many groups do just that.  They have therapy students come and work with the children during the summer as they have only nursing staff on site typically.” 

Sue Muenks MOT OTR, MOT, C/NDT and Director of Professional Development:

“My experience with international therapy services was at the Maua Methodist Hospital in Maua, Kenya with a missionary OT from Germany.  The hospital is in a rural area which serves over 200,000 people.  There are no ambulances so people often walk for days or bring people in for services on the back of trunks or motorcycles.  Since all cooking is generally done over open or partially contained fires or with propane tanks, accidental burns are a serious issue in Kenya.  Due to the medical complexity of a burn survivor, the OT created a special burn unit.  She has managed to acquire a building away from the rest of the hospital to create sterile areas for the patients’ rehabilitation.  They have few supplies so the OT had become very resourceful by creating the equipment she needed.  It was so amazing to see how much she was able to accomplish with so little.”   

Another member of the team, Florence Thillet-Bice PT, DPT, MA, PCS is currently on an international therapy service trip and we will hear her story when she returns from Sonsonate, El Salvador.

We are very fortunate in the United States to have the amazing medical knowledge and facilities that exist.  It is very humbling to hear the stories and experiences first hand from therapists who have experienced healthcare outside of the United States.  If you have had an opportunity for international therapy services please share your experience with us.

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