Occupational Therapy Abroad

Curtin University of Technology,
Faculty of Health Sciences
School of Occupational Therapy

Trevor Goddard, (right)
Director of International Relations
Telephone +61 8 9266 3651

Nigel Gribble, (far right)
Director of Fieldwork
phone +61 8 9266 3638

Trevor Goddard

Nigel Gribble

Vignette title and details

Occupational Therapy Abroad: International interdisciplinary service learning clinical placements
This is an industry based international service learning experience that offers allied health students the opportunity to work within a work based learning environment. The placement is conducted over seven weeks and can form part of both an undergraduate and postgraduate program and either for credit point recognition or as an extra curricular activity. The seven weeks includes an orientation program, a four week in country work based learning experience and a debrief process.


An inter-disciplinary clinical education program growing across the university. 2008 Participants include Faculty of Health Sciences, Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy, Human Communication Science (Speech Therapy), Pharmacy and Humanities; Film and Television students. The program also includes a partnership with staff and students from the School of Health Sciences and Health Care, Brunel University, London who will attend the China program.

Employment sector

Allied health professionals (Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy, Speech Therapy and Pharmacy).
Film and television (documentary making).

Student numbers

85 students per year currently.
Travelling across 10 placements conducted in the four international host sites.


This is an optional program.

Credit bearing

Students who participate can enrol in the unit for credit points towards their degree program or participate as a voluntary student dependent on their major within the faculty program.


Students apply to the competitively selected program by writing to a series of selection criteria.
Assessment is conducted across this range of individual and team based activities:

  • Language and cultural orientation sessions
  • Daily reflective learning journal
  • Clinical placement notes and project outcome report
  • Debrief sessions
  • Professional practice in all phases of the 7 week program


Students are not paid.

Up until 2007 students actually paid for the experience, reflecting an international placement in a volunteer program.

In 2009 a University funded scholarships program will allow for students to present real project proposals for consideration. These will then be judged and the best interdisciplinary projects will be awarded full funding (payment) of the students costs and students will receive funding for their project, again reflecting a real life aid and/or development program.

Number of staff involved

  • Director of International Relations, School of Occupational Therapy
  • Director of Fieldwork, School of Occupational Therapy
  • Occupational Therapy Abroad Program Administrator
  • Four country team leaders and clinical supervisors
  • Steering committee five Faculty School representatives
  • Faculty Director of International Liaison
  • Faculty of Health Sciences Dean of Teaching and Learning

The diversity of the staff involved reflects the complexity of conducting this international placement. Approximately 13-15 Curtin staff have a direct involvement in the planning, coordination and delivery of this program, which does not include the other primary and secondary partners (approximately 15 international host site staff)


The program is in the process on creating its own website. For any publicity information, or further information about the program please contact Trevor Goddard as listed above.

Key Words

Inter-professional education, project management, international community development, cross cultural competency, life long learning, Global citizenship and community based rehabilitation.

In 2008 over eighty students from pharmacy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and human communication science will attend ten placements across four host sites in:

China Shanghai BoAi Childrens Rehabilitation Centre (partner since 2001)
India Anandaniketan Society for Mental Health (partner since 2004)
South Africa Uttenage Provincial Hospital (partner since 2006)
Ukraine Brovary Hospital and Boyarka Childrens Home (partner since 2007)

They will work towards locally generated work integrated projects that are of relevance to the host sites and the clients and patients with whom they work. The depth, longevity and strength of these relationships enables students to build on the work previously carried out by previous groups who have travelled to our host sites. We do this because there is an urgency exists for innovative interdisciplinary education approaches that mimic life in the community and the natural environment so that the boundaries between education and community life become less defined and therefore, more integrated (Flint, McCarter & Bonniwell, 2001)

Physiotherapy student: I hope I have made it clear to the OT girls that if they feel they need any of their clients to have physio input to just let me know. I have been really happy with our teamwork, as everyone is so positive, full of great ideas and so receptive to each other. (India, 2007)

Current and historical achievements

2008 Two program graduates (from 2005) returned to India as volunteers with Equal Health (a local NGO working in India).

2008 Pharmacy student travel to India for the first time as part of an OT/PT/Speech/Pharmacy team

2008 Brunel University Occupational Therapy program staff and student participate in the China program as an international partner and to moderate the program as we work to define best practice

2008 Program used as a case study in the Curtin portfolio submitted for the AUQA audit

2007 China students are the subject of television documentary aired on Shanghai Oriental TV

2007 The Occupational Therapy Abroad Team was awarded a VC Excellence Award

The Occupational Therapy Abroad team has, since 2001, coordinated and grown a unique innovative international multidisciplinary fieldwork program for occupational therapy, physiotherapy and human communication science students. From a base of one country this program has now extended to include China, India, and South Africa and in 2008 will extend to the Ukraine. This program provides participating students with unique innovative cross cultural experiences.

These service learning clinical placements with Curtins Asia Pacific and African neighbours assist Curtin in its achievement of its vision of Curtin will be a leading university.serving its wider region. The OT Abroad strategic plan details the teams commitment to deliver services to the host sites until 2012 and beyond.

This program is a benchmark not only for the Faculty of Health Sciences but for the entire university and educational sector.

2006 Carrick citation awarded for

enabling an international multidisciplinary health and development learning experience that enhances personal, professional and clinical skills and cultural awareness of health science students

2006 Director Gao YaLi from Shanghai BoAi Centre visits Perth for professional exchange and relationship building

2005 Australian Consul General to Shanghai presents plaque to Director Gao on behalf of Curtin VC and Executive Dean of Health Sciences

Philosophy and guiding principles

Structure of program
Occupational Therapy student: I find working with the physio student in therapy sessions very enjoyable and beneficial to my learning. We continually share our knowledge and bounced ideas off each other. (China, 2007)

In service learning, primacy of experience is the source of learning, with the immediacy and closeness of experience to the individual facilitated through the connection between education and personal experience . Students across the disciplines undertake a cultural and language orientation program prior to travelling to the host site where they then live and work for a period of four to five weeks. Students are accompanied by a School of Occupational Therapy academic staff member, who facilitates learning and orientation for the first 10 days after which time the staff member returns to Perth to conduct remote supervision and students remain to work independently with direction from the host site. Students experience learning seven days a week, living and practicing in the same environment as the clients they work with. The total length of the cultural orientation and immersion program is seven weeks.

The Occupational Therapy Abroad program is currently built around educational partnerships and collaborations with Australian, Indian and Chinese health care providers, community based organisations, industry and university partners. These host partners form the basis of the program using partnerships between universities, and universities and other organisations such as schools, professional bodies, businesses and industries in collaborative approaches to learning and teaching. The program is committed to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Health Agenda which highlights the need for global partnerships that tackle health issues including health related to human rights and investment in health to reduce poverty . In this way the Occupational Therapy Abroad program brings to life Objective Six of the Curtin Teaching and Learning Enabling plan initiative by (e) establishing international partnerships to assist in the internationalisation of the curriculum. International service learning provides opportunity for students to develop cultural competence through practice in the alternative social, cultural and health service milieu provided by our partner sites.

The program exemplifies Curtin University values through our service learning partnerships activities. These values are also upheld as we enable Curtin, under the policies provision of education, to ensure that teaching and learning activities including cross-cultural content value diversity and encompass a variety of learning styles .

Integrity: through consistent, sustained and honest engagement with our partners, acknowledging the value of each partnership to the program.
Respect: having regard for ourselves and others by ensuring we reflect the educational philosophy of service learning, with sustainable outcomes and identifiable value to the partners that choose to work with us.
Fairness: ensuring just decisions through open decision making that is transparent and involves each partner in our decision making processes; and
Care: ensure the welfare of others by being sensitive to the cultural diversity between Curtin staff and students, host organisation staff and clients and our other national and international partners.

This exemplar program internationalises the curriculum through service learning, allowing the practical application of cross-cultural and global citizenry issues taught in coursework modules to be directly applied in the international context. Edgar Morin claims education should not only contribute to an awareness of our Earth-Homeland, it should help this awareness find expression in the will to realize our earth citizenship (p. 4). Morin and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in their 1999 Seven Complex Lessons in Education for the Future, composed the facets of essential knowledge that higher education educators should incorporate into their curricula in order to train global citizens, which this program supports. International fieldwork service learning inherently brings Morins lessons to life, where the social and practice milieu becomes the learning space for students.

Speech therapy student: Chelsea was a fantastic supervisor considering she was from an OT background. While she only spent one week with us she provided the essential support I required to complete the placement. (India, 2007)

Special features
The project related work is directed by the host site and staff so enables students to make not only a valuable contribution to a wok place but develop a product that is culturally relevant and within the confines of resources available locally so that what they leave behind is sustainable. The ability to return to host sites and for students to build on each others work is a unique characteristic that adds greater value to the host site for each returning group. The interdisciplinary nature of the students experience and the opportunity for them to teach each other is also unique.

Physiotherapy student: I learnt a lot more with OT supervisor and OT student this morning with the little boy with spastic quadriplegia and remain fascinated how their handling of the client can affect tone... cant wait to get more experience. (India, 2006)

Current and future work

During 2007 and 2008 a Physiotherapy honours student is conducting a project assessing the Development of cross cultural competency through clinical placements program

Prior to departure students undertake an environmental scan; requiring an analysis of the Social, Technological, Environmental, Economic, and Political (STEEP) influences over health and disability. The continue to develop this document throughout the placement, they then add to it as they gain experience and see theory coming to life (e.g. examining the role extended families play in caring for children with a disability). This activity promotes awareness and respect for culture and the learning process becomes reflective as the external environment is used to enhance both group process and individual students social and cultural experiences. The student STEEP report is submitted prior to departure for formative feedback and serves as another form of student orientation for future groups. Students have provided feedback in relation to the organisation of the orientation session
...he went out of his way to facilitate our learning.
The independent thinking and development in students is applied through meaningful projects that frequently have potential benefit for the community.

Future work
2010 The program intends to submit a Carrick Leadership grant application to consolidate the International service learning models and enable this to be applied to other programs
2010 AusAid applications will be developed for full time therapists to be employed at host sites in India and China to act as clinical supervisors and professional support and development officers for local staff.
2011 An ARC industry Linkage grant application will be submitted to assess and determine the value of work integrated learning as a means to deliver health care services in developing contexts.

The program would like to work towards a position where we can maintain a working allied health professional in each site so that students can be sent to complete project work across a 48 weeks of the year time span.

Additional Insights
The placement combines the aspects of a study tour and cross cultural experience with a more formal multidisciplinary clinical placement. It involves partners across the higher education, non government, private and community sectors. We return to the same host site and build on previous project work undertaken so that the previous project work forms part of the student orientation and in the debrief process students are increasingly involved in the orientation of future groups.

The discussion you generated and encouraged us to generate as students regarding the capacity of Occupational Therapy to influence and expand our horizons outside traditional clinical boundaries has opened up significant opportunities which extend beyond what might be available to a new graduate or experienced therapist (2005 China OT Abroad graduate)

Godfrey, P., Illes, L., & Berry, G. (2005). Creating Breadth in Business Education Through Service Learning. Academy of Management Leaning and Education, 4(3), 309-323

World Health Organization. (2006). A Global Health Agenda. Retrieved from on line on 21 July 2006 from http://www.who.int/about/finance/en/index.html

Curtin University of Technology (2006). Curtin University Strategic Plan. Curtin University of Technology. Access on line 23rd February 2006 http://strategic.curtin.edu.au/documents/plans/plan_corp_strat.pdf


Morin, E. (1999). Seven complex lessons in education for the future Retrieved 18 September, 2006, from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0011/001177/117740eo.pdf#search=


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