By Margot McCloy
My four weeks teaching physical therapy in DaNang, Vietnam, last January was a time of growth for the Vietnamese therapists and as well as for me. Living and traveling abroad while being a clinical instructor prepared me with the basics to teach PT in another country, but I still felt the culture shock.
I quickly turned to my teaching skills and assessed the therapists’ learning style, knowledge levels and interest so that I could be most effective. I did not want to impose my Western medicine upon their model of care; I wanted to shape my teaching model and let them decide what they wanted to take from the information I brought.
The first week I observed the flow of the clinic, which contained the spectrum of care from acute care to inpatient rehabilitation to outpatient. There were three wheelchairs shared by 10 patients and family and friends took turns transporting and helping each other. The therapist would demonstrate an activity with the patient, and then the patient and family member would carry out this activity for the next few sessions as the therapist made modifications. Much of the one-on-one time with the therapist was spent doing manual therapy.
While I was there, the hospital began total joint replacements with the guidance of American surgeons teaching the head Vietnamese orthopedic surgeon. I quickly found my niche for working with the surgeons to create, teach and implement a Total Knee Protocol emphasizing early mobility and the importance of pain management. I introduced the group model with the six patients who had total knee replacements. It was well received by the patients and therapist because it provided encouragement and more mobility than an individual approach would offer. My weekly presentations to the therapists focused on stroke management with functional weight bearing activities, and I observed these techniques begin to be woven into clinical practice.
This experience made me realize the complexity of our American medical system, and it helped me value the tools we have available at our fingertips. The day-to-day annoyances we can feel with work and personal life seemed to hold less weight after this experience. The luxuries of my life in Chicago were dearly missed, but by living simply I became more focused on the basic and truly important things in life. I learned that there are basic needs that people around the world want for themselves and their families. These needs are food, shelter, comfort and health. I hope I was able to give as much as I received in this experience.
Margot McCloy, PT, DPT, is a physical therapist with Rush University Medical Center.