Regis DPT Global Health Pathway Immersion trip to Huancayo, Peru

This past spring, 8 students from the Regis DPT Global Health Pathway attended a 3-week global immersion trip to Huancayo, Peru, led by Regis DPT faculty member Dr. Heidi Eigsti and Regis DPT alumnus Dr. Amber Walker.

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“We were fortunate to have the expertise of Dr. Heidi Eigsti and Dr. Amber Walker. This was Dr. Eigsti’s third trip to Huancayo and it took about 5 seconds after our plane landed to realize how popular she is in Huancayo. It was quickly evident how much genuine compassion she invested into her relationships on previous trips. She developed trust, and what I realized is that when you care that deeply about others, they don’t forget. The foundation that Dr. Eigsti and past students built on previous trips allowed us to quickly build relationships with these individuals as well. As a result, we were able to hit the ground running with our purpose there in partnering with them.” -Dr. Jessica Kirkwood, Regis DPT Class of 2019

Family Nurse Practitioner and DPT students collaborated with the Catholic Medical Mission Board Community Based Rehabilitation program to provide inter-professional support and services to children who have disabilities and their families. Students had the opportunity to provide physical therapy services in a collaborative model of care at Carrion hospital outpatient physical therapy department.

“These experiences help both students and faculty more clearly define personal and professional values, acknowledge what we can learn from others, and ask us to expand our perception of how we can have a greater impact on the health outcomes of all members in our communities specifically those members who live on the margins.” -Dr. Heidi Eigsti.

 

Student Perspective on the value of the Global Pathway Immersion Trips

 “It was incredibly valuable to experience another culture in such an immersive way. We spent much of our time learning about the healthcare system in Peru while providing free health fairs and working at Carrion Hospital and CMMB, a non-profit organization that provides therapy for children with disabilities. I will never forget the people I met, the places I saw, the food I ate, and the lessons I learned during my 3 weeks in Huancayo.

I came into the trip with a very go-to attitude and I wanted to help as much as I possibly could. However, during this trip I realized that sometimes more important than doing is watching, listening, and going with the flow. This is something that I feel we’re taught in our global health pathway as a whole. However, the concept really hit home for me in Peru and I left with a humility that I had not expected to come away with. I realized that we weren’t there to “do it all”; we were there to learn and to do some good while we were at it. Sometimes our impact is big, like providing adaptive equipment to a child with cerebral palsy. Sometimes our impact is smaller, like putting a smile on someone else’s face for 0.5 seconds. I realized that sometimes the biggest impact is just showing up, learning, listening, and showing love.” -Dr. Amber Bolen, Class of 2019

 

“My experience in Huancayo, Peru was filled with endless learning. It did not take long for me to realize how often I take my resources for granted. As our trip coordinator Natalia reminded us, “You have amazing teachers, you have amazing resources, you have amazing opportunities. Take them.” This trip was a much needed reminder that I have been given endless privileges that others are not as fortunate to receive. It is my duty to consistently use these privileges to help others. Working with our community partners in Peru- Carrion Hospital, Continental University, and CMMB- taught me a lot about the differences in our healthcare system and how deeply limited resources acts as a restriction to outcomes. Navigating these relationships was also very impactful, as it taught me how to balance respect with education to work on both nurturing relationships while also promoting health in our profession. The change we made in those quick 3 weeks is really minimal in the big picture, but taking the lessons I learned and applying it to my future practice is what will make a difference. Witnessing the social injustices experienced in Huancayo firsthand has lit a fire inside of me- to open my eyes a little wider, listen a little clearer, and to act with more intention.”– Dr. Jessica Kirkwood, Class of 2019

 

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Chris Lew Reflects on Working With 2017 Opus Prize Winner

What is the Opus Prize? 

The Opus Prize is an annual faith-based humanitarian award that is designed to recognize and celebrate those people bringing creative solutions to the world’s most difficult problems. The award partners with Catholic universities, although recipients can be of any faith (Excerpt from Crux.).

Mercy Sister Marilyn Lacey received the Opus Prize from Regis, the host for 2017. Chris Lew, 3rd year Regis DPT student, assisted in her work in Haiti for displaced women and children as an Opus Student Scholar. Here is his reflection about his experience in Haiti, initially published in the Jesuit Journal of Higher Education.

Name: Chris Lew, Class of 2018
Undergrad: University of Portland
Hometown: Eugene, OR
Fun Fact: I have a whistle reminiscent of various fairy tale soundtracks…or so I’m told.

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Throughout my life I’ve had many opportunities for international travel – from travel abroad to Granada and London, a Fulbright scholarship to Madrid, and a service-learning immersion trip to Nicaragua, I have always considered myself blessed to be able to travel the world, experience different cultures, and see the world from a different perspective. Nevertheless, my time performing a site assessment in Haiti at Mercy Beyond Borders (MBB) for the Opus Prize was a unique and eye-opening experience.

MBB was founded more than 30 years ago by Sister Marilyn with the vision that education, especially of women, is the key to overcoming the widespread corruption and poverty that has consumed Haiti and South Sudan. Through my research of the Opus Prize, I understood this site assessment was different from the typical trip to an underserved community. From the initial interview to the final trip preparations, it was made very clear that the purpose of these trips was not to do; rather, the intention was to be, to see, and to experience. It was this aspect of the Opus Prize that interested me most in the organization and its mission. There is a plethora of groups in developing and underserved areas that perform charity work such as building houses and providing medical goods and services. While this service work provides a certain degree of benefit to the community, I have always been somewhat hesitant of this type of altruism because it generally fails to provide long-term, sustainable change to an underlying societal problem. What happens when the volunteers leave and no one is left to provide the necessary medical services? What happens when a fire destroys a new house and there are no resources to build a new one? This traditional type of charity work seems to be a superficial bandage over a much deeper, wider wound.

This is where Opus is different.

The Opus Prize Foundation emphasizes six values that it seeks in the recipient of the Prize. The one that stands out to me most is Sustainable Change. Rather than focusing on a top-down, government-focused approach to solve global issues, Opus intentionally sponsors and supports organizations directed towards community development and cooperation. Opus understands that the resolution of profound societal problems and corruption is ultimately driven internally, not externally. As such, the Prize acknowledges individuals who are addressing the root of social issues and are striving for change that is pioneered locally.

With this in mind, I embarked on my site assessment trip to Haiti with a very different perspective and intention than my previous international travels. The first stop on our trip was in Ft. Lauderdale, FL , where we met Sr. Marilyn, who lives in California and operates MBB in both Haiti and South Sudan. She introduced us to her story and illuminated details of the work she does with MBB. Her work in Haiti revolves around empowerment and opportunity for girls and women. Extreme poverty and corruption of the educational system prevent most children from obtaining a basic education. Most primary schools are private and, as such, require tuition as well as uniforms and books. Many families cannot afford to send their children to school or can only afford to send one child. In the latter case, most families opt to send boys rather than girls because males typically have greater opportunity for success than females in Haiti. As a result, most girls in Haiti only receive up to a 1st or 2nd grade level education. Sr. Marilyn and MBB attempt to ameliorate this disparity by providing secondary school scholarships, leadership development opportunities, and a safe and supportive living environment for girls who demonstrate academic potential. Additionally, MBB provides vocational and literacy training for young adult mothers and older women to develop skills such as reading, writing, computer skills, and baking. These skills provide women with greater independence and self-sufficiency and can even allow them to earn money through both formal and informal work.

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The following morning we took a short early morning flight from Ft. Lauderdale and landed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The contrast between our departure and arrival city–only a quick two-hour flight apart–was profound. Destitution was apparent on our short drive from the airport out of the city. Litter filled the streets and empty plots of land and stray animals ran largely unmonitored throughout the city. Sr. Marilyn explained that, due to political and financial reasons, much of the rubble from the 2010 earthquake was never adequately disposed of in many of the poorer areas of the capital. As a result, many parts of the city appear recently destroyed even though the earthquake was seven years ago.

Our initial stay in Port-au-Prince was short as our first destination was Gros Morne, about a five-hour drive north of the city. Gros Morne, a town of about 35,000 people, is the community that MBB primarily serves in Haiti. Following the earthquake in 2010, Sr. Marilyn noticed that many relief efforts developed in Port-au-Prince but much fewer resources made their way out of the city and into the more rural parts of the country. She understood that her vision for MBB in Haiti had its limitations and saw the most potential for change in a smaller community.

Our time spent in Gros Morne and the surrounding area was quick but powerful. To gain insight into the MBB’s operations and its community impact, we met with several partners and individuals associated with the organization. We were able to meet several of the girls who are a part of the educational program as well as their families and see the personal impact that MBB has on their lives and their future. We interviewed the principal of a primary school that hosts several of the MBB students; he had high praise for the organization, stating that many, if not all, of the students would be unable to afford their school dues if it wasn’t for the support of MBB. On our final day in Gros Morne we also met with Sr. Jackie, a missionary sister who has worked in Haiti for almost two decades. She provided insight into the corruption in the Haitian political and educational systems. She explained that the private school system is largely unregulated, meaning almost anyone can start a school. This inhibits children from receiving a high-quality education and prevents those students who have the potential to succeed academically from actually achieving success. Overall, these interviews and personal interactions further highlighted the need for an organization like MBB in Haiti.

Sr. Marilyn embodies the spirit of the Opus Prize and models many of the Opus values, including Sustainable Change, Faith, and a Life of Service. She understands that long-term transformation is driven from within, not purely from her work, and this is what directs her vision for MBB. Through empowerment and leadership training of the girls she sponsors, employment opportunities for the local people, and a conscious effort to have Haitian and South Sudanese representation on her Board of Directors, she demonstrates a continued commitment to sustainable change in these countries. A woman humble in both stature and personality, she demonstrates her love and passion for her work in Haiti and South Sudan through her relentless work. I was most impressed by her ability to understand the needs of the communities she works with, while also maintaining a realistic expectation of how many people one person and one organization such as MBB can effectively impact. Although her work may be relatively small in the scope of the vast corruption and poverty in Haiti and South Sudan, her heart is big, and it shines through in both her actions and words.

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My Immersion Trip in Ethiopia: A Reminder About the Importance of Communication

Name: Matt Gervais, Class of 2017
Hometown: Medford, OR
Undergrad: University of Portland
Fun Fact: I actually enjoy wearing ties.
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Matt Gervais, disguised as a bottle of Sriracha sauce, ran the Move Forward 5K/10K with his classmates in the fall

Every year, the Regis University School of Physical Therapy puts on a series of immersion trips around the world as part of students’ 3rd or 4th clinical rotation. Through an application process, around 25 students in each class get selected to participate in 1 of 4 immersion experiences. This year, the options were Ethiopia (available in Fall and Spring), Peru (Fall), and Nicaragua (Spring). I applied for and was fortunately selected to go on the Fall Ethiopia trip. The experience did not disappoint!
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Regis DPT students on the Ethiopia immersion trip (from left to right): Brent Ingelman, Alexander William, Matt Gervais, Elizabeth Heckmuller, Morgan Pearson, and Amanda Morrow

Six of us students and three faculty members took part in the trip.  We students worked in several different hospitals around Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia.  One other classmate and I worked in an outpatient clinic at Yekatit Twelve Hospital, a government-run hospital near the center of the city.  In Ethiopia, inpatient physical therapy and initial mobility work is far less common than it is in the US, so most PT is outpatient PT.  The Yekatit 12 clinic sees a huge variety of patients: post-stroke, spinal cord injury, low back pain, post-fracture contracture, post-burn contracture, Guillaine-Barré syndrome, and many others.  Several things jumped out to me about the clinic: the small space available (coupled with a ton of patients), the lack of clinic resources, and the positive mindsets of the patients.

img_3531The small clinic was very crowded from the time we arrived at work in the morning until the time we left the clinic at noon. Because physical therapy is not the most lucrative career in Ethiopia, many PTs only work 3-4 hours per day in the morning and work other jobs in the evening. As such, every patient with a prescription for physical therapy would come to the clinic early in the morning and wait—sometimes up to 2-3 hours—to be seen. Naturally, this meant we had very limited space to use for treatment in the clinic.

Also, the clinic lacked many resources that we take for granted in outpatient clinics in the US; we learn to expect high-low tables/mat tables, exercise equipment, private rooms, a large selection of weights, and space to do a variety of PT interventions. I believe every student on the trip learned to be significantly more creative through the process.  For example, several times we used a makeshift combination of theraband, a dumbbell, and an ankle cable attachment cuff to create a forefoot weight, along with many other techniques that can only be described as “winging it.”

In any event, we made the small space and relative lack of resources work. And, despite the shortage of space and equipment, patients managed to maintain a very positive attitude and constantly work towards their goals. These attributes, coupled with an unwavering respect for healthcare practitioners, undoubtedly contributed to improving their outcomes.

Because of our short clinic hours during the mornings, we worked with many Non-Government Organizations in the afternoons. Our work included teaching basic nutrition, basic first aid, and performing PT at several different aid organizations. We also collaborated with students from the Regis-sponsored DPT program at Addis Ababa University—the first program of its kind in the country. Between our work and simply exploring the city, it was an incredibly busy and transformative trip.

Ultimately, my greatest takeaway from our trip to Ethiopia was the importance of communication. I started the trip assuming that many of our patients would understand English, at least to some extent. My first day in the clinic disproved that assumption, though, and I had to rapidly scramble to learn basic Amharic words so I could create some form of communication with my patients. In the end, I was not very successful during my short trip, but I learned to lean more on teaching through demonstration. I was reminded that, even in patients that do speak English, you can never underestimate the value of demonstrating a task to help a patient learn.

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Beyond all else, my immersion trip to Ethiopia reminded me that communication is paramount. As PT students and future healthcare professionals, we often are focused entirely on providing the most optimal care as efficiently as possible. However, without effective communication and rapport, that optimal care will likely never be delivered effectively. This program was a tangible reminder that sometimes strong communication can trump every piece of optimal practice that research can provide. I believe I can speak for every student and faculty member on my trip in saying that the Ethiopia immersion trip was a fantastic and informative experience. I highly recommend it to anyone in the program—even if you don’t necessarily have an interest in travel. Each trip is an invaluable experience to work with populations you rarely get to work with and is a unique opportunity to hone your clinical skills, communication skills, and intercultural awareness.