Students gain exposure to global health with international experience program

24 September 2010

All students from the University of Sydney's Faculty of Health Sciences have the opportunity to take up an international development placement as part of their degree under a new initiative launched this year. Titled FHS Abroad, the program allows students to spend up to 6 weeks in a range of locations across South and South East Asia working with non-government organisations and other development agencies.

"Cultural practices, disease patterns and health care systems are vastly different in the developing world," says FHS Abroad Director, Dr Alex Broom. ""These aren't things that can be taught in a classroom - they need to be experienced in order for students to have a true understanding of health and health care in the international context."

Occupational Therapy student Nicole Darcy is the first to take part in the new program, recently returning home from five weeks in Cambodia.

"You get the chance to be challenged and use the skills and knowledge that you have acquired from university and other areas in your life to contribute in a very meaningful and satisfactory way," reflects Nicole.

She undertook two placements, the first of which was at a centre for orphaned, abused and neglected children with a range of physical and intellectual delays.

"I worked closely with four children and their caregiver to evaluate the children's needs and implement occupational therapy programs which could be continued by the caregivers once I left, and could be used with other children in the future."

As well as the cultural and linguistic challenges, Nicole experienced the vast differences in accessibility to facilities and resources in Cambodia, resorting to using items such as bamboo to make adaptive equipment for the children with disabilities.

"These experiences really are an eye opener for our students, and forces them to draw on their knowledge and experience in finding creative solutions within the constraints of new cultures and environments," comments Dr Broom.

Following this Nicole worked on a disability tourism project where she assessed the accessibility of various accommodation, sightseeing venues and transport for tourists with physical disabilities and visual impairments.

"Based on my research, I made recommendations which promoted disability access. It was rewarding to see that most accommodation places I visited were very keen to take on board the ideas I suggested to make their facilities more disability friendly."

Although somewhat sad to return home to normal student life in Sydney, Nicole says the experience has cemented her resolve to work overseas in the future and provided her with a great stepping stone in terms of experience and contacts.

Students from the Faculty of Health have been contributing to community projects in developing countries for over 30 years, the FHS Abroad program now establishes this as in integral part of the curriculum offering students across all undergraduate and graduate entry master's programs the chance to take the elective unit during study vacation in their senior years.

"We are working with two external volunteering agencies to ensure that we can offer students placements that are tailored to their area of study and their professional aspirations," says Dr Broom.

Contact: Dr Alex Broom

Phone: 02 9351 9373