An Educational Adventure
In August 2018, second-year occupational therapy (OT) student Carla Bazan travelled to the mountains of Abancay and the jungles of Tarapoto in Peru to introduce occupational therapy to the local community.
“I wanted to incorporate my knowledge of occupational therapy that I had thus far learned from the OT program at NYIT to educate the people there,” said Bazan, who attended two medical missions organized by the Peruvian American Medical Society (P.A.M.S.).
She describes her experience as life changing. “I was challenged, pushed out of my comfort zone, and I experienced an array of emotions,” said Bazan. She found that the medical staff was short on both help and supplies. Physical therapists often had to fill the roles of occupational therapists and speech pathologists. “I would love to set something up with NYIT and go back to the mountains of Abancay because they need so much help,” she said.
Bazan developed a questionnaire and an informational handout to educate the local people about occupational therapy, something they knew little to nothing about. “OT is more focused on function than physical therapy is,” she explained. “I’ve learned how to help people get back to their daily routines, things like taking care of themselves, grooming, brushing their teeth, combing their hair, getting dressed. I wanted to talk to the people and inform them that this is what OT is all about.”
When she was interviewing patients, Bazan focused on two areas that she felt were the most important and easiest for the patients to understand: play and sleep. Bazan took what she learned in the classroom and applied it to her sessions with the patients. She used the Model of Human Occupation (MOHO), which includes volition, habituation, and performance capacity.
“Based off MOHO, I would ask patients what is important to them, what makes them happy, what a typical day for them is like, what physical activities do they find difficult, what physical activities do they find easy,” said Bazan. She would then use their interests and incorporate it in their therapy sessions.
“[For example,] I found that every male I talked to said what made them happy was soccer. When I was treating fractures, I would incorporate soccer, whether it was holding the ball or throwing it back and forth. That would motivate them to come to therapy.”
Bazan’s solo trip turned into a family affair when her father (a retired surgeon) and sister (an internal medicine doctor) joined her in Tarapoto. Both are members of the P.A.M.S. and her mother is a physical therapist.
One might think Bazan’s decision to follow in her family’s footsteps and pursue a career in healthcare was an obvious one. However, that wasn’t her original plan. She studied interpersonal communication and Spanish in college and then spent 10 years working in insurance, which she liked but did not love. Looking for more meaning in her life, she began volunteering at a rehabilitation institute, where she observed physical and occupational therapists and discovered her passion. She liked the psychological and social components of occupational therapy.
Bazan chose the occupational therapy program at NYIT for the location near her home and the cost. “I love it here. I love the classes, the faculty, and my classmates. I’m so happy with my decision,” she said.