NNIR Study day- Getting started in Therapy Abroad

The Northern Network of International Rehabilitation (NNIR) organised our first full study day on Saturday 29th September. The day was well attended with speakers from many different backgrounds discussing their roles and experiences of working in therapy abroad.

Cultural aspects of Working Overseas
The day started with Dr Philomena Commons discussing her work in Ethiopia, Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Madagascar. Phil described that often it is the cultural differences of working in a new setting that therapists working overseas struggle with most. There can often be stigma attached to people with disabilities, and they are kept hidden away out of public view. Phil explained that when first working overseas it is important to take the time to understand the particular customs and traditions of the country you are working in.


Phil described how humour is one of her many tools used when working overseas as an ice breaker. Phil then proceeded to encourage us all to have a laugh and a great time by teaching us a traditional dance from North Korea!


Wheelchair adaptations Practical with ‘Motivation UK’
Next, Celia Stubbs from the Charity ‘Motivation UK’ spoke about her work with the charity and how wheelchairs can truly transform someone’s life, especially in developing countries. Celia explained that the terrain and environments in developing countries can often make wheelchair access much more difficult, therefore, each wheelchair provided by Motivation is individually fitted to suit the person and environment they live in. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate that 70 million people globally need a wheelchair, but only 5-10% have access to one!

Celia described how Motivation provide training to local therapists and staff, teaching them how to modify and fit wheelchairs using locally made products. This not only ensures that the disabled population will have access to wheelchairs, but also provides skills and a form of income for the local population.


Attendees at the Study day then got to have some fun making their own wheelchair adaptations by using foam to create effective pressure relieving cushions!


Working in the Emergency Setting
Alice Harvey, Chair of ADAPT: Chartered Physiotherapists in International Health and Development discussed her work with the UK Emergency Medical Team. Alice explained  that rehab has a key role in humanitarian response and leads to improved functional outcomes, improved quality of life, reduced length of hospital stay, and better continuity of care. Alice described how the UKEMT work to support local staff in a disaster zone and will only be deployed once requested by the affected country to uplift available resources.

Alice’s key points were:
– Access appropriate training beforehand, UKEMT request a minimum of 5 years’ experience before deployment
– Support, not undermine local professionals who are experts in their fields
– Always work within your home and host country’s scope of practice as these rules still apply and must be abided by
– Always consider the long term needs of those you are working with, registering patients or providing knowledge and access to ongoing rehab and medical needs
– Alice also advised on the importance of knowing your limits and not burning out when working overseas!


Occupational Therapy (OT) in International Development
Mary Ann Waddell and Jahangir Alam represented OT Frontiers at the study day and discussed the role and importance of Occupational Therapy in international development. Mary Ann explained that OT Frontiers are the UK based organisation who offer support and advice to Occupational Therapists wanting to work overseas.

Jahangir then discussed his work in Bangladesh where he worked to provide access to water and sanitation for people with paraplegia. Jahangir was able to advise and support the paraplegic community in Bangladesh by building a tube well to provide water with a ramp to allow wheelchair access. This was a much more accessible and easier option than drawing water from nearby ponds and lakes which often become muddy and difficult to push the wheelchairs through.

Student Electives Abroad
Jessie Robinson the Student Representative of ADAPT then discussed her elective placement this year in Zambia. Jessie organised her elective through Work the World and told us of her experience gained in Paediatrics, club foot, Prosthetics and Orthotics, MSK, the Intensive Care Unit, and even helped deliver a baby on her first day on the Labour Ward! Jessie explained that she was also able to travel through Zambia as part of her elective too meeting lots of new people and exploring the culture of Zambia.

Jessie discussed the pros and cons of travelling with an organisation when working abroad with a major benefit being that the trip was organised for her by Work the World and this allowed her to gain a wide range of experience across lots of different areas. One of the cons of travelling through a large organisation was that it was expensive and Jessie explained that she had to fundraise to support her trip, however there are Grant options available through the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) which support student electives overseas. Jessie finished her talk by summarising the benefits of her elective and how it was a rewarding experience which she feels will continue to shape her career and encouraged anyone who is able to choose an elective placement overseas!


Funding and Grant options to support Therapy Abroad
Often when planning to work overseas, funding is one of the main barriers and key areas to consider. Heather McClelland the Head of Nursing, Education & Workforce at the Leeds Teaching Hopitals Trust discussed the different funding options available such as sponsorship, scholarships, matched funding, and fundraising. Heather then completed an exercise where each attendee had to write down 7 ideas for fundraising and then share these ideas among the group.


Therapy in Australia and New Zealand
Sam Fenning was our final speaker of the day and discussed her experiences of registering and working as a Physiotherapist in New Zealand and Australia. Sam explained that the application process to work in New Zealand is lengthy and took her 8 months to complete. Sam advised that when considering applying to work as a Physiotherapist in New Zealand or Australia it is best to start early as lots of the paperwork requires signing off by your University or a solicitor. She explained that the New Zealand registration process comprises of an application form, a reflective piece on the Treaty of Waitangi, threshold templates, and a CV.

Sam then explained that it is possible to transfer registration between New Zealand and Australia using the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Act (TTMR). If planning to register to Australia directly an eligibility assessment must first be completed alongside a written and practical exam. In total this costs approximately £3,900.

Sam’s top tips for registering to practice in New Zealand or Australia were:
– Put lots of detail in your application
– Keep a good log of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) work
– Be prepared for a long and expensive process
– Ensure you have an up to date immunisation record from your GP
– When registered, contact local job agencies to help with finding work, however you may wish to contact local hospitals directly

The day was considered a great success with lots of great feedback from attendees on how it had given them ideas or inspired them to want to work in therapy overseas in future! NNIR will now be going into hibernation for the next year as most of our committee members are planning to use the skills and knowledge learned from lectures with NNIR into practice by going and working overseas. Like or follow our facebook page to keep up to date with future events, or feel free to send an email to nnir.enquiries@outlook.com if you have any questions about our study day or future events.

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