Ever since I was young, I knew God was calling me into ministry overseas and specifically China. I just didn't know what that looked like until my time at SLU, where I not only learned first-hand what it meant to have my heart break for justice issues right in our own backyard but I learned about a profession I grew to love and wanted to use to serve.
Physical Therapy, as we think of it in the West, was first introduced to China in major hospitals about 15 years ago but is still a relatively new concept. I am often asked about my occupation here and many are confused about what that is or what it entails. Rehabilitation for illnesses are often treated with Traditional Chinese Medicine which takes a passive approach to care and often doesn’t emphasize functional activity or patient-centered goals. In the hospital setting, therapists have a wide range of educational backgrounds: some have just graduated from high school or others who have been physicians all their lives are now interested in learning what it means to become a therapist. Things are starting to change where more therapists are being educated; currently there are rehabilitation schools present in each province. These schools are a “three in one discipline” where one becomes a PT, OT, and SLP. Although one can be trained in well-known techniques, there can be a discrepancy between what they have been taught and in actually incorporating it into clinical practice. At times, there is lack of clinical reasoning in choosing certain techniques so care can fall into more of a ‘recipe’ of treatment rather than a rationale of treatment. The biggest issue is the same across the board worldwide: there are not enough therapists to meet the demand for the aging population.
There have been a variety of things I have been involved with since being here. In regards to work, coming in as not only an “American” but as someone who has a higher level of education/experience, specifically in physical therapy and also a basic background of Mandarin, opens the door to opportunities. Training is an opportunity most are interested in. Training can mean hours of lecturing given to those with medical or non-medical backgrounds wishing to learn more about PT. It can mean treating patients with 5-15 other therapists surrounding you wishing to learn from you. Training can also mean treating their most complicated patients with other patients/family members watching and hoping you will introduce new concepts or make their illnesses gone, all in one visit! Lastly, training can entail working at the orphanage and helping caregivers embrace the importance of daily stretching, exercising, walking, or even just simply playing with the children. In addition to these experiences, I’ve also been involved in working with project development and doing home visits in rural communities.
Saying it has been a challenge in learning a different medical system, taking classes and learning medical language, treating/training in Chinese, or even living day to day in a country where they think you’re Chinese because you look like it on the outside but you’re completely American can be an understatement! Yet, at the same time, there is great reward in knowing you and your co-workers are working with the medical community together to better serve people. How can you not be excited to be a part of the process in helping a country become more familiarized with your profession? How exciting to be able to be a part of developing programs that link therapy with even more specialized care that we forget others do not have the privilege of receiving, such as introducing the concept of home health, sports, or women’s health into practice, just to name a few of my experiences! Mostly, I've learned what it is like to not come in with a patronizing attitude or feeling like you are “helping” or “saving” others but that you are here to listen, learn, and grow in relationship with others. Each day is a new day of learning and I’m so blessed to be here to experience it all!
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