OTA Program’s Ecuador Option Helps Students Help Others

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Allegany College of Maryland’s Occupational Therapy Assistant program offers students the opportunity to complete their capstone clinical internship in Ibarra, Ecuador. Students provide OT services to medically under-served children in a free treatment and rehabilitation center in the country's northern Andes.

Allegany College of Maryland occupational therapy assistant student Morghan Snyder was among a trio who recently completed the clinical internship that caps their associate degree program in Ecuador.

“The partnership with CRECER has been a wonderful addition to the OTA program,” said its director, Dr. Rae Ann Smith. “The opportunity to travel to Ecuador for fieldwork has been life-changing for those students who have gone."

Allegany College of Maryland’s Occupational Therapy Assistant program has international outreach, allowing students to complete their capstone clinical internship in Ecuador.

Three of the program’s summer 2014 graduates did just that, spending nine weeks in Ibarra, a city of about 100,000 residents in the South American country’s northern Andes.

They extended occupational therapy to medically underserved children at a free clinic founded by Elaine Keane, a Cumberland OT who has been volunteering her services in Ecuador for more than a dozen years.

Keane, an adjunct faculty member of the ACM program, is executive director of CRECER Ecuador, an occupational therapy treatment and rehabilitation center housed at Technical University of the North.

The trio – McKenzie Christopher, Morghan Snyder and Olivia Wolfe, all of Cumberland – bring to eight the number of OTA students who have so far completed fieldwork in a collaboration that began in 2011.

“The partnership with CRECER has been a wonderful addition to the OTA program,” said its director, Dr. Rae Ann Smith. “The opportunity to travel to Ecuador for fieldwork has been life-changing for those students who have gone.

“They are immersed in a culture that is very different from what they are used to,” she added, “and working with limited resources, they have to provide therapeutic intervention for their clients, which really forces them to be creative and use their critical thinking skills.”

The three students, who foresaw both opportunity and challenge in an Ecuador summer, echo their professor’s sentiments now that they’ve had the experience. The lessons learned were manifold and meaningful.

“It was different because of the culture,” said Snyder, who, like the others, summoned basic skills in Spanish to work through a language barrier with young children.

“You have to make do with what they have,” said Christopher, who noted that while resources were scarcer than before, “we had enough to do what was needed.” The clinic, she added, “is very well organized.”

Occupational therapists help a wide range of persons handle tasks of daily living, including through impairments posed by industry, disease, aging and developmental deficits.

The young clients treated in the Ecuador clinic fall into the latter category, chiefly in three major areas: cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and learning disabilities.

“We learned to be flexible and to deal with whatever situation we were thrown into,” said Wolfe.

The three valued their experience abroad and encouraged future OTA major to consider Ecuador in lieu of a domestic clinical placement, all the while recognizing that there are trade-offs.

“We would recommend it,” said Christopher. Added Wolfe: “The cultural aspects were worth it. It opens your eyes.”

CRECER, which means “to grow” in Spanish, is also an acronym. It stands for words that identify a center for rehabilitation, education, training and research as well as the resources to accomplish those aims.

ACM is closely associated with the center, which is guided organizationally by a board of directors that includes two other college faculty members.

The board’s president is Teresa Waugerman, assistant professor and clinical coordinator for the OTA program. Its treasurer is Cherie Snyder, professor and human service associate program director.

OTA students who elect to complete level II fieldwork in Ecuador bear the cost of travel, lodging and meals. Participants conduct considerable fund-raising beyond that expected of membership in the Student Occupational Therapy Assistants (SOTA) club.

Christopher, Snyder and Wolfe had additional financial support from the Cumberland Rotary Club, which provided $500 shared by the three.

For more information about ACM’s OTA curriculum, including the summer option in Ecuador, contact Smith at 301-784-5536, or by email at rasmith@allegany.edu. Information about the curriculum is also available on the college website, http://www.allegany.edu.

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Gil Hazelwood
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