Occupational Therapy (OT) practitioners who volunteer for short-term medical service trips in developing countries face many challenges, including gaining an appreciation of that country's culture (values, economy, political, and medical systems) and understanding how these factors influence provision of OT services.

As OT practitioners, we "contribute to the global health of society and individuals by enabling the right to engage in meaningful, purposeful occupations" (World Federation of Occupational Therapists, n.d., para 4). The frequency of short-term medical service trips (STMST) undertaken by persons living in high income countries to low income countries is increasing (Sykes, 2014). Despite this fact, systematic research identifying best practices for such trips is limited to low-level evidence studies. Although the amount of OT literature extolling culturally-sensitive practices has grown (Began, 2015), most articles are directed toward first-world rather than third-world countries (like Haiti's). These limitations handicap therapists who seek knowledge of how to provide occupation-based interventions in a developing country (Compton, 2013).

This session will present an overview of global health initiatives involving OT, summarize available research about STMST, and identify key aspects of culture and diversity which need to be considered by therapists providing STMST experiences. A case study of service trips to Haiti will be used to demonstrate the application of research-based recommendations to clinical practice. Small group discussions will encourage self-reflection of cultural beliefs impacting the provision of international treatment. Resources and recommendations will be shared to assist therapists in planning short-term service trips that are culturally sensitive and collaborative.


Presented at the Occupational Therapy Association of California (OTAC) Western Regional OT Spring Symposium, March 16-17, 2019, in San Diego, CA.