A framework for global engagement in DPT education: creating advocates through authentic and ethical experiences


Students enrolled in the University’s DPT program are provided with global learning opportunities in collaboration with the University’s Department of Cultural and Global Engagement (DCGE). The University is committed to providing students with learning experiences that promote global solidarity. The DPT program has integrated the APTA vision of “transforming society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience” into all of its global programming. Global learning experiences related to healthcare permit physical therapy students to engage in ways which allow them to critically reflect in order to understand common human dignity; self; culture; positionality; socio-economic, political, and environmental issues; power relations; and social responsibility, all in global contexts.1,2 These immersion experiences and practice of reflection prepare physical therapy students to be globally minded practitioners who are culturally adaptable. Combined with their knowledge and competencies in movement science, culturally adaptable students consciously advocate for the profession and stakeholders.

Methods and/or Description of Project

The DPT Program and DCGE have invested in three different global experiential learning constructs guided by Fair Trade Learning (FTL) Principles.3 Each construct shares common components including a community-driven framework for program development, comprehensive pre-departure instruction, in-country immersion, and post-departure debriefing and assessment. The individualized formats focus on specific aspects of development to highlight critical components for sustainability and predicted outcomes.

1) OPTION Nicaragua – Occupational and Physical Therapy In Other Nations: emphasizes the role of authentic partnerships. Students work interprofessionally with local partners to determine the long-term mutuality of goals and aspirations of the community and collectively design sustainable strategies for meeting the goals. The success of this construct is based on years of building trusting and transparent relationships with community partners.

2) Guatemala Capstone: emphasizes interprofessional education and practice to build capacity for increase access and level of healthcare in rural areas. DPT students, alumni, and faculty formally exchange ideas, lessons, and skills with medical students and faculty from Universidad Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala, local health promoters, and community leaders. The success of this construct is based on the mutual respect and open dialog between participants.

3) PT Curriculum Development in Haiti: emphasizes building capacity for Haitian healthcare through collaboration in developing the curriculum for physical therapy at Faculté des Sciences Réhabilitation de Léogâne d’Haïti. In addition to creating curricular materials, DPT students and faculty focus on the empowerment of the community through the opportunity for locally-trained physical therapists to work in Haiti.


Through these international experiences students confront of the depth of the APTA Vision “Transforming society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience”. The students are clearly able to articulate the essence of this statement through the opportunities they have working with clients and partners in countries with varying healthcare access. They gain an increased understanding of domestic and international healthcare systems. The globalization of the world requires physical therapists to be globally minded, have cultural humility, and be culturally adaptable. The students learn the importance of, and practice advocating for the profession and its stake holders. Reciprocal learning and respect occurs when students have the opportunity to prepare, work and discuss interprofessionally with international healthcare practitioners, and reflect on the experience.

Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: Through the Looking Glass: Transforming Physical Therapy Education

The conference theme of "transforming physical therapy education" logically follows the relatively recent APTA vision of "transforming society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience." As a profession, if we are to achieve our vision we must commit to transforming our educational system to include meaningful objectives that address goals in line with the vision. If we are to transform society through our profession, we must create an infrastructure that supports not only client-centered care but community-informed care. Globalization has generated very diverse communities and we must prepare our students to be culturally adaptable to have a positive impact on societies. The challenge to educational programs is to insure exposure and learning of cultural competencies. Our experience has been that students actively participating in global solidarity programming develop a deeper understanding of the role of the profession of physical therapy in the healthcare system, an increased level of respect of human conditions, and can put into practice enhanced clinical decision-making based on an appreciation of human diversity.


1. Hartman E, Kiely R (2014) Pushing Boundaries: Introduction to the Global Service-Learning Special Section Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning: 55-63.

2. Lattanzi JB, Pechak CM (2012) Educating globally minded physical therapy students: curriculum strategies to equip the next generation. J Phys Ther Educ 26 (1):55-60

3. Hartman E, Paris C, and Blache-Cohen B (2014) Fair trade learning: Ethical standards for community-engaged international volunteer tourism. Tourism and Hospitality Research 14(1-2): 108-116.

Course Objectives

1. Demonstrate that intentionally-designed short-term international immersion experiences are valuable in enabling students to realize the APTA Vision.
2. Reinforce the use of strict ethical practices and authentic partnerships for supporting sustainable international work.
3. Demonstrate the use of curricular and co-curricular activities as a venue for PT students to develop the knowledge, skill, and practice to advocate for their profession and the stakeholders of the profession.
4. Articulate strategies to foster sustainable programs which incorporate international partnerships to develop practitioners who are globally minded and culturally adaptable.
5. Discuss how international opportunities help develop skills of leadership and advocacy in physical therapy students.

Instructional Methods

1. Case Presentations
2. Interactive group activity
3. Facilitated Discussion

Tentative Outline/Schedule

I. Best Practices for Global Engagement (5 minutes)
II. DPT curricular or co-curricular models for implementing the APTA Vision (5 minutes)
A. OPTION Nicaragua (20 minutes plus 5 minute activity)
B. Guatemala Capstone (20 minutes plus 5 minute activity)
C. PT Curriculum Development in Haiti (20 minutes plus 5 minute activity)
III. Concluding Remarks (5 minutes)

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  • Control #: 2736466
  • Type: Educational Session
  • Event/Year: ELC2017
  • Authors: Prof. Maureen Helgren, Erin Sabato, Dr. Julie Booth, Rose Flammang
  • Keywords:

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