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Reading week in Japan: A cultural and clinical exchange for rehab therapy students

The following is a guest blog by three Occupational Therapy students who recently represented the Queen’s School of Rehabilitation Therapy in Japan. Faculty member Setareh Ghahari and students Casandra Boushey, Charlotte Larry and Gowshia Visuvalingam travelled to the Niigata University of Health and Welfare as part of a formalized a relationship between the two schools to foster cultural and academic exchange and research collaboration between the two institutions. 

For occupational therapy students, each encounter broadens horizons whether it is through assessing a new client, a case discussion with colleagues and preceptors, or a conference keynote presentation. The School of Rehabilitation Therapy, however, provided us with a chance to gain unique perspectives by fully immersing ourselves in the health care system of another country, halfway across the globe. Over the reading week in February, an invaluable opportunity was given to three students -Charlotte Larry, Casandra Boushey and Gowshia Visuvalingam. We were selected as members of the occupational therapy student delegation to visit Niigata University of Health and Welfare (NUHW) in Japan, along with Dr. Setareh Ghahari, Assistant Professor from the Occupational Therapy Department at the School of Rehabilitation Therapy. The purpose of the trip was to exchange information about occupational therapy practice between students and faculty of Queen’s University and NUHW. Currently, there is a memorandum of understanding between the two universities that supports an open exchange of education, research and administrative knowledge for students and faculty through visits in both directions. We were excited to embark on an opportunity to expand our perspectives of occupational therapy by exploring how our future profession is practiced around the world. In fact, contrary to a 2-year Master’s program offered at Queen’s University, NUHW has a four-year undergraduate program in Occupational Therapy. We were therefore keen to witness and experience first hand the learning similarities and differences this would have from a curricular perspective.

We spent seven days in Niigata, a rural region facing the Sea of Japan on the northwest coast of the country. The trip included meetings with faculty members, lunchtime events with traditional Japanese food prepared by students, a reputable visit to meet NUHW President Yamamoto to discuss future collaborations with students and faculty between the universities, and a mini-symposium to learn about ongoing faculty research in occupational therapy at NUHW.

Our knowledge and understanding of occupational therapy practice in Japan was greatly enhanced by the opportunity to visit diverse practice settings, including a skilled nursing facility, the Nagaoka Children’s Hospital, an outpatient rehabilitation hospital, and a psychiatric hospital. Throughout our visits to clinical sites, we were fortunate to connect, observe, and engage with occupational therapists, doctors, and patients to enhance our understanding of occupational therapy practice in Japan. We were able to see many treatment modalities used, such as splints for musculoskeletal injuries, driving simulation for retraining after critical illness, and music and art based groups.

Being immersed in classroom and clinical settings was an invaluable learning experience to understanding the scope of occupational therapy in Japan. This experience furthered our understanding of the Japanese healthcare system, the models that govern occupational therapy practice in Japan, and how occupational therapists advocate for their clients to receive required services. Although they had different approaches to some of their interventions, this yielded similar results to approaches used in Canada.

Our enriching week long exchange visit to NUHW not only expanded our perspectives of occupational therapy, but deepened our admiration and dedication to this profession. As future clinicians, this journey taught us to always be inclusive of cultural preferences!

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