School of Health Professions

Students travel to Mexico to learn about occupational therapy


Kate Hunger 

Seven occupational therapy students traveled in March to Mérida in Yucatán, Mexico, to expand their understanding of the practice of the profession.

The trip was hosted by the founders of the only bachelor’s and master’s degree occupational therapy program in Yucatan, the Instituto Interamericano de la Salud (INTSA), said  Bridgett Piernik-Yoder, Ph.D., OTR., Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy.

Piernik-Yoder accompanied the students on the trip, one of the School’s international spring break trips and the program’s first to Yucatan.

The students visited multiple healthcare settings, including a state-run facility providing a wide range of services, such as early intervention, geriatrics, outpatient services, and vocational training. Students also visited a social services hospital that provides outpatient rehabilitation services, CRIT Yucatan and a geriatric wellness program in a rural community. 

Students also were able to discuss health and disabilities in Yucatan and listen to guest speakers, including a social anthropologist and a healer who uses herbs and medicinal plants. 
First-year OTD student Janna Roberts went on the trip to expand her perspective. 

“I wanted to go because in the OT program we are always learning about the importance of the patient’s context and culture and how that will shape their lifestyle, routines, and habits—the things they do in a day, the things we care about in occupational therapy,” Roberts said.

Traveling to gain new insights into professional practice around the world is inherently valuable, Piernik-Yoder said.

“It certainly challenges their viewpoint and really makes them reflect on their knowledge and values and assumptions,” Piernik-Yoder said of students traveling abroad for academic and cultural exchanges. “It also makes them hopefully more reflective practitioners as they understand how lives are lived very differently in different places, but as an OT practitioner, you are focusing on what’s important to that person, what that person values. When you are immersed in a setting, such as international traveler, it facilitates the ability to see the daily things we focus on in OT from a different perspective when you are seeing it in a different culture.”

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