An SRU professor and three physical therapy students traveled to Beijing, China on Dec. 2 through Dec. 19 to provide care to Beijing citizens, as well as get hands-on training for their major.
Billek-Sawhney organized the service trip via a professional colleague who introduced her electronically to their hosts in Beijing. Schmitt committed to the trip that was unlike any traditional classroom setting.
“I have always wanted to go on an international service trip for physical therapy, so I was very excited when Dr. Billek-Sawhney presented this opportunity to us,” Schmitt said. “This trip was a great opportunity to push myself outside my comfort zone by immersing myself in a different culture while serving and educating students and practicing professionals in the field of physical therapy.”
The level of care in rehabilitation facilities in China is not to the same high standard as America. The students and professor that attended the trip were able to teach students the necessary skills of being a physical therapist like handling, transfers, bed mobility and gait.
“We delivered two courses or conferences, each three days in length,” Billek-Sawhney said. “Each of these three-day sessions were complimented by three additional days of clinical cases and co-treatment of patients. The co-treatments progressed from mostly observation on day one to facilitation of the students in examining and treating the patients. We taught and served for 12 days total.”
In their spare time, the students and professor had the opportunity to explore Beijing, as well as interact with the students in an informal setting. Demetriadis said she enjoyed getting to know the students and learning how to play Mahjong as well as gaining the unforgettable experience of visiting the Great Wall of China.
Belvins was able to teach alongside her fellow student peers and professor, all while being submerged in a diverse situation.
“This was a once in a lifetime experience,” Belvins said. “It was such an amazing and challenging experience to teach others clinical skills that I have learned and have recently been practicing in the clinical setting in the U.S. It was also a personal challenge to overcome so many barriers like language, food and culture. Everyone was so friendly and helpful in China. It was wonderful to meet new people and form a connection with them against all odds, and it really solidifies how amazing diversity is.”
While in China, the students and professor where able to see firsthand the lack of training and need for improvement in the field of physical therapy. During the 17 days they were abroad, Billek-Sawhney and the three students were able to educate Beijing students to make an impact on the standard of living for patients.
“There are multiple universities and programs in the U.S. trying to raise the level of care in China,” Billek-Sawhney said. “The two hospitals where we taught have equipment, but need to continue to grow in the examination and care of patients. In the U.S., physical therapists are doctorally prepared. In China, there are individuals who are trained in sports therapy who do not have the skill set to care for the aging population or individuals following a neurological problem like traumatic brain injury or stroke. So, that was our emphasis.”
Due to high pollution levels, Billek-Sawhney and students were asked to wear masks in public to combat air pollution. The population is greater than in the U.S., so overcrowding was another issue they faced.
“It is a long trip, a foreign country, and so everything is different,” Billek-Sawhney said. “There is no social media, but, I believe they each grew as individuals, and as therapists. They were so effective in helping me to teach. I spent 17 days with three students who I would call colleagues and friends. I am so thankful for their assistance and, they are now each proficient in using chopsticks.”
Demetriadis said she would recommend taking service trips to students because her overall experience was amazing.
“I loved learning about the Chinese culture, learning some of the language and being able to tour the city of Beijing,” Demetriadis said. “Every person we encountered was so friendly and appreciative that we were there that it was so easy to make new friends.”