OT Students Reflect on Learning and Service Experiences
This past summer, the Occupational Therapy Program focused on providing students with opportunities to practice what they had learned over the year in both “study away” experiences and opportunities to create interventions at nonprofit organizations throughout the region.
Fourteen OT students were assigned to a three-week “study away” experience at agencies in Juarez, Mexico; Providence, Rhode Island; Houston, TX and Medical Lake, Washington. They engaged in a 40-hour clinical experience, the focus of which was behavioral and psychosocial interventions for children and adults.
Elena Pinaroc and Alissa Williams, who were assigned to Ben Taub Hospital in Houston, Texas, said their expectations of what they might encounter during their time there centered entirely on the fact that the hospital is an acute-care setting.
“We expected to see unusual diagnoses since the hospital is a Level 1 Trauma Center,” the students reported. “Our experience met our expectations…we saw the occupational therapist do evaluations on patients looking at cognition, vision, and sensation. We saw the diagnoses of patients with gunshot wounds, traumatic brain injuries and upper and lower extremity injuries.”
Simultaneous to the study-away experience, the OT Program engaged students in designing community-level interventions through an annual course called Community Engagement. Dr. Timothy Tu, clinical assistant professor and fieldwork coordinator for the OT program, was the instructor of record and oversaw compliance for the experiences. In the annual course, students are expected to conduct a community agency needs assessment, plan and implement a program to meet the identified needs, and reflect on the experience for future OT practice.
This year, students were divided into four groups and assigned to an agency, including Fundacion Integra, where they provided a virtual training session for therapy staff on adaptations for home modifications to increase independence for persons with disabilities; the Opportunity Center for the Homeless, where they organized cognitive and social participation activities for homeless individuals for promotion of physical, emotional, and mental health; Compadres Therapy, a horsemanship therapy camp for children diagnosed with disabilities, to help address gross motor, fine motor, cognitive, and sensory improvements; and El Paso Parks and Recreation Senior Centers, to organize wellness activities designed for seniors to promote social interactions, cognitive well-being, and physical exercise.
OT students assigned to the Opportunity Center for the Homeless (OC), a longtime partner of the College of Health Sciences, wrote in a reflection statement that they were pleasantly surprised at the level of engagement among the OC residents and touched to hear about their life stories. Additionally, they were happy to learn that their initiative, which focused on dance, movement, and play for a vulnerable group of older women at the OC’s Las Abuelitas site, would have a sustainable impact.
“It was amazing to see that that after we had left the site, our community partner continued to implement our program because they were motivated to continue being active,” the students said. They went on to say that the experience helped them to learn how to adapt to challenges and be thoughtful about identifying new approaches to best serve their clients as future OT professionals.
Another group of students assigned to Fundacion Integra, a nonprofit organization based in Juarez, Mexico that provides various services such as horse and aquatic therapy, electrotherapy, and physical therapy for vulnerable and economically disadvantaged individuals in Juarez, prepared a needs assessment for the organization and helped to identify adaptations for the homes of the foundation’s clients and their families. The students researched low-cost solutions to common problems faced by individuals with limited mobility and shared their research and knowledge in training sessions for staff and volunteers held through a virtual platform.
In their reflection statement, the students indicated that the experience helped them acquire new skills while using much of what they had learned over the prior year in their classes. “This experience taught us how to be adaptable, resourceful, client-centered, and to “think outside of the box,” they said. “These attributes are those we all hope to carry into our professions someday.”
For more information on the Occupational Therapy Program, please visit: www.utep.edu/chs/ot.