Three students from the Program in Occupational Therapy traveled to Hong Kong in June 2015 to participate in the Summer Overseas Exchange Subsidy Scheme (SOESS).
The week-long program is hosted by the Department of Rehabilitation Science at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), the only university in Hong Kong and the Chinese Mainland to provide tertiary education and training for both occupational and physical therapists.
Berrit Goodman, MSOT/MPH/S ’17, Tabitha McManus, MSOT/S ’16, and Megan Matthew, MSOT/MPH/S ’17, are students in the Program’s Health and Disability Research Laboratory, led by Alex Wong, PhD, DPhil, BSOT. Wong earned his bachelor of science in occupational therapy in 2001 and his doctorate of philosophy in rehabilitation science (cognitive neuroscience concentration) in 2007 from PolyU before he received further training in community health and health services research from University of Illinois and Northwestern University.
“There are specific projects the students are working on in my lab that directly related to the SOESS seminars topics. I knew they would benefit from being exposed to the cutting-edge rehabilitation and neuroscience research at PolyU through the lectures, seminars and laboratory experiences the program offers,” Wong says. “I contacted my research collaborator and mentor, Chetwyn Chan, PhD, to let him know three of my students were selected.”
Following the 20-hour flight from St. Louis to Hong Kong, the students arrived at the dormitory at PolyU where they stayed for the week. Thirty occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) students from eight countries were chosen for the 2015 SOESS, which is offered every other year.
“Our first full day consisted of a welcome reception to meet other students, a campus tour featuring student poster presentations on innovative design solutions, a Dim Sum lunch and an ‘East Meets West’ seminar focusing on the strengths of eastern and western rehabilitation approaches,” Matthew says.
One of the seminar presentations the students found both interesting and relevant to their research was on how Eastern exercises can impact stress management in the workplace by Hector Tsang, PhD, OTR. McManus’ research project focuses on the health benefits of mindfulness exercises, such as Yoga, Tai Chi and Qui Gong, on neurological conditions or elderly with cognitive-motor declines. “These exercises are accessible to this population and can help with fall prevention through increased balance and mind-body awareness. The participants are able to follow the simple movements even if they have never participated in any other kind of exercise before,” McManus explains.
Goodman and Matthew, who are pursuing the new Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT)/Master of Public Health (MPH) joint degree, are working on projects centered on health promotion and wellness in adolescence and young adults with chronic diseases. “Mindfulness exercises are low risk, help with pain management but don’t overthrow cardiac function that put our patients at risk. Another seminar focused on mind-body exercise solutions to help with gait and balance disorders in older adults,” Goodman says. “Along with these physical benefits, our group also likes to test the cognitive and mental health benefits; if so, why?” Wong adds.
The topic of the second day was neuroscience and neurological rehabilitation, and included sessions on virtual reality, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) and current medical information and technology (CMIT). The students were familiar with these topics from the Program’s curriculum, but enjoyed hearing the international perspectives from the other students and professors. The students also explored laboratories engaged in research for stroke rehabilitation using the Sensory Cueing Wristwatch (developed at PolyU), prism glasses and dual-tasking for individuals with stroke.
“We found it exciting to not only get a glimpse at some of the ongoing research at PolyU, but to have hands-on experiences as well. For example, we tried Tai Chi for the first time using an instructional video and tested the Sensory Cueing Wristwatch on ourselves,” Goodman says. “There was also a group activity where OT and PT students collaborated to present ideas of what makes a skilled researcher in health science professions.”
The next two days consisted of a final set of seminars focused on orthopedic and sports rehabilitation, and a visit to several different clinical settings around Hong Kong. The students visited B.M. Kotewall Memorial, the Pak Tin Pre-school Centre and the Sahk LOHAS Garden to learn in “real-life contexts.” Each site was client-centered with trans-disciplinary teams of health specialists collaborating together in one environment. They also visited the House of Innovation (HOI) at PolyU, which features a technology showroom of the University’s research and development accomplishments. Here, the students learned about innovations such as a radiation-free, 3D system for scoliosis evaluation, a functional electrical stimulation (FES)-robot hybrid system for upper limb rehabilitation, and a virtual reality (VR)-based community living skills training program.
On the last day of the program, each student had an individual consultation with the professors of their choice. “This was very helpful as we received ample feedback and ideas on our current research interests and general advice on clinical practice,” McManus says.
Before the SOESS group headed home, they did some site seeing including popular tourist locations such as the Clock Tower, Man Mo Temple, Repulse Bay, Victoria Peak, and a memorable trip up Sky100, the highest tower in Hong Kong.
Looking back on the trip as future occupational therapists, the students felt it was an incredible, valuable learning experience they will never forget.
“The experiences I had demonstrated how much impact research can have in a clinical setting. Research drives what we do as occupational therapists because it filters to community level,” Matthew says. “I was looking at cells through a microscope; learning about neuroscience and rehabilitation on a whole new level. This experience has changed the way I will practice and research in the future.”
“We learned about health care, research and clinical practice from leading professionals in the field, and had the opportunity to explore one of the world’s most exciting cities,” Goodman adds. “The entire SOESS group was able to interact and exchange views with each other as therapists from a variety of different countries. We will always have that international perspective – no matter where we are and who we are helping in the community.”