OT Students Explore Disability in a Global Context in Shanghai

This summer students and faculty from NYU Steinhardt’s Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy programs traveled to Shanghai for the course China: Disability in a Global Context. The class was led by Wen K. Ling, Associate Professor of Physical Therapy and Sally Poole, Clinical Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy. This interdisciplinary course brought students together from Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Teaching and Learning, and other programs at NYU Steinhardt. The students explored and identified factors, including cultural factors and health beliefs, which may influence a community’s view of disability.

Students spent two weeks in Shanghai, touring around the city with their home base as NYU Shanghai’s campus. During their free time they took part in traditional exercise classes, toured local homes, ate traditional meals together, and took in the culture of the region. They also learned about education, traditional Chinese health beliefs and practices, current health care, access and public transportation, and social welfare for individuals with disabilities in China.

We spoke with Joy Sarraf, a current OT student, about her experiences in the course. Read on to learn more!

Tell us more about yourself and what brought you to NYU Steinhardt.

I’m from Long Island and I am currently in the NYU Occupational Therapy Masters Program. I went to NYU for my undergrad degree as well and had the best most fulfilling four years here. In addition to the unbeatable location and many other factors, the fact that NYU offers global courses definitely added to the appeal of staying at my alma mater. 

Why did you want to participate in this global class?

For one thing, it was a wonderful excuse to travel to China! The Occupational Therapy Framework always stresses the importance of altering treatment plans based on your environment; being in an unfamiliar foreign country gave me a chance to really see how OT transforms with the culture and environment of the patients at hand. It was an engaging learning experience and also so much fun! Eating authentic Chinese cuisine and seeing the famous beautiful light up Bund, when the skyline of Shanghai lights up, excited me as well.

What was your favorite part of the Steinhardt global experience?

Although there were short lectures in the morning, a big bulk of the course consisted of field trips to hospitals, orphanages, living facilities, etc. Every afternoon we had another opportunity to take a peek into the health care system and daily life of China in a very hands-on way.

In some institutions we even got to see treatments as they were being performed. We all really appreciated these immersive field trips, and it was incredible to view OT through the lens of another culture.

Do you think having students from other disciplines in the class made the experience richer or more well-rounded?

Definitely! In the field, Occupational Therapists work so closely with other health care professionals, especially Physical Therapists, that it feels only natural to learn with them as well and to practice the inter-professional skills that we will utilize throughout our careers. Also, it was nice to get to know some new NYU faces and broaden my network. We all made some awesome friends during this trip and still keep in touch– we’re even planning a dumpling dinner reunion soon! 

What parts of the class did you find most interesting and/or surprising from an OT perspective?

To our surprise, in China there isn’t much of distinction between Occupational, Physical and Speech Therapists; they are all referred to as Rehab therapists and receive no specialized training. 

How do you think seeing how OT’s and other medical professionals from other cultures interact with their patients /clients will help you in your future practice?

I think this experience pushed me to think outside the box and use critical thinking to alter treatment plans appropriately. More and more occupational therapists are traveling abroad to live or to aid in natural disasters. I feel more prepared to be flexible with my treatment in the event that I end up working outside of NYC. I also believe I may be better able to understand the values and relate to my future international patients because of this experience. 

How has Steinhardt helped you to achieve your personal and professional goals? 

Because Steinhardt and NYU in general value the importance of inter-professionalism I have had multiple opportunities to learn from students with different backgrounds and gain a deeper understanding of the health care system that I will eventually be a part of. In addition to my interpersonal experience in China’s global class, I have been working with future health care professionals in my role as Inter-Professional Education Group leader for my OT class. IPEG brings students from all health care departments together, the board consists of NYU leaders from 11 different health care programs. Our goal is it to create events where all NYU health care graduate students can engage with each-other. Some of our events are social mixers to help students network, while others are more academic like our Grand Rounds where mixed teams work together and race to figure out the diagnoses of a case study – all of them help us better understand and appreciate one another and therefore better work together. Working with IPEG has truly been one of my most enriching experiences at NYU.