-By Natalie Langstaff
In March 2016, I was selected to work at the Dzherelo Children’s Rehabilitation Center as a Canadian Physiotherapy Consultant in Lviv, Ukraine. This six week opportunity was developed and funded by the Children of Chernobyl Canada Fund (CCCF). The clinical reasoning and hands on training that I gained while completing my Master’s of Science in Physical Therapy at Queen’s University prepared me for this amazing experience!
Firstly, I would not have found out about this opportunity if it weren’t for Queen’s. The School of Rehabilitation Therapy prides itself on offering international clinical placement opportunities for students in the Masters of Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy programs. With the support of the clinical placement coordinators, I was able to dip my toes into the world of global health and complete a 6 week clinical placement in Belize, Central America at the Inspiration Centre.
This experience ignited a spark that led me to seek out future global health initiatives. I was selected to represent Queen’s at the Global Health Summer Institute for Physical Therapy 2015 at Duke University in North Carolina, USA. It was at this conference that I learned about Dzherelo Children’s Rehabilitation Centre.
The Dzherelo Children’s Rehabilitation Centre is a not for profit organization that provides pediatric rehabilitation therapy for children with various neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism and other developmental delays. It was developed out of necessity to provide specialized rehabilitation services to children and families affected by the catastrophic nuclear accident that occurred on April 26, 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the town of Pripyat, Ukraine.
My role as a Physiotherapy Consultant included assessing the quality of service delivery in the Child Development Department’s Early Intervention Program, Kindergarten, School, and Adult Workshop departments. I worked collaboratively with a team of rehabilitation specialists from Canada, including a physiotherapist and occupational therapist. Together we empowered Ukrainian rehabilitation professionals at Dzherelo and developed standards, documentation guidelines, and a report of recommendations to support future growth and development. I also provided hands on training for physiotherapists through presentations, and clinical skills sessions.
The skills I gained through my education at Queen’s enabled my success in this challenging role. I used my leadership skills to model professional behaviors, mentor staff in evidence-based treatment, and suggest changes in service delivery to increase access to quality rehabilitation services. At Queen’s, I learned how to be adaptable in new situations. I was encouraged to think outside of the box, to develop creative solutions and apply them in a culturally sensitive manner. Most importantly, I developed critical inquiry skills and was taught to promote knowledge translation and dissemination. It empowered me to share my passion for pediatric rehabilitation with others and inspire a spirit of innovation.
One of the most important lessons Dzherelo taught me is that communication knows no bounds. The power of a smile and laughter transcends international borders and divides. Although my Ukrainian language skills were very limited, I was able to engage children in play-based interventions and share my passion for physiotherapy with staff and parents. Moreover, the children showed me that we all possess diverse abilities and have the potential to make positive contributions to society. As physiotherapy professionals, we must advocate for equitable treatment of our patients and model a shift in societal perspectives to showcase, support, and celebrate differences in abilities.
A big thank you to Natalie for contributing this piece to the School’s News Blog!