What I have Learned as a Global Health Teacher

Center for Global Health
March 01, 2020

Dr. Patty Coker-Bolt is a professor in Occupational Therapy at MUSC. Some of her global health projects include implementing evidenced-based therapy for children with cerebral palsy in Ethiopia and Vietnam, tackling women’s health issues in Haiti, and developing community sport programs for adults and children with disabilities in Russia. Read about the top three lessons she has learned from teaching in global health programs over the past year.

1) Students are more eager than ever to learn with and among people from other countries and cultures 

Recently, I had the unique opportunity to collaborate with Humanity Inclusion (HI) and international colleagues to develop a Rehabilitation Guideline for the Care of Children with Cerebral Palsy in Vietnam. As part of this project funded by MUSC Center for Global Health, I was able to travel to Hue, Vietnam to conduct several training workshops for Vietnamese physicians and therapists. Students from the Division of Occupational Therapy (OT) accompanied me and helped with the workshops, learning how to implement evidence-based and high-intensity therapy for children with cerebral palsy alongside the Vietnamese practitioners. The MUSC students were eager and excited to learn how to apply their therapy knowledge and skills alongside therapists who were trained in different types of therapy practices and who held unique ideas on how humans grow and learn. The students learned how to embrace the thoughts and ideas of other practitioners and to graciously and humbly engage in civil discourse about the similarities and differences between Western models and treatment approaches practiced in other countries. The students embraced common goals to help families and to improve the overall skills and abilities in children with neurologic disorders. One student remarked that they “were humbled by the participants’ enthusiastic engagement during their treatment sessions and inspired by their joy after seeing the gains in the children’s overall abilities.”

2) Value and respect new experiences and opinions when teaching in other countries

I recently finished a U.S. State Department Fulbright Specialist Project in Russia as a visiting specialist with the Volga Region State Academy of Physical Culture, Sport, and Tourism Academy, Adaptive Physical Education program. I was invited to provide lectures in the Adaptive Physical Education program and lead small group discussions with graduate students. The common goals of the project were to build acceptance for new and innovative inclusive community sport programs for adults and children with disabilities in Kazan, Russia. During my visit, I had the opportunity to see first-hand the high quality sport facilities in Kazan and discuss with key stakeholders what were perceived barriers to inclusive sport programs. I listened intently and learned from my Russian colleagues and students, who were so passionate about building new adaptive sport programs in their community. The exciting part of contributing in international projects is collaborating with partners to help them reach focused goals. I didn’t arrive in Russia thinking I would help in the development of Inclusive Sport Programs in Kazan, but remained open to the many different thoughts, opinions, and possibilities for collaboration throughout my visit. I left feeling enriched and blessed for the many friendships I made and remain open to future collaborations with colleagues in Kazan.

3) Mentoring students who participate in global experiences helps change views of people and the world

Lastly, the most fulfilling reason to teach abroad and to mentor students who participate on global medical experiences is to see the change in students’ knowledge and perspectives on people who have different lived experiences and value systems. I think it is critical to help students understand different perspectives and to be able to value and appreciate the different ideas and philosophies of others in order to better care for diverse patient populations. I hope I have broadened my students’ thoughts and perspectives on working with people from all cultures and strengthened their appreciation for individual differences and each person’s unique contribution to our world.

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