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Teaching physical therapy in Vietnam


The bustling streets of Da Nang, Vietnam, provided the backdrop for a sabbatical project that took Julie Gahimer, professor of physical therapy, to the other side of the world.

Gahimer spent two weeks in December 2018 teaching classes for Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO) at the Da Nang University of Medical Technology and Pharmacy (DUMTP) with plans to return in March 2019 for an additional two weeks. HVO is a nonprofit that focuses on teaching, training and professional development for health workers to strengthen health systems in dozens of countries around the world. HVO members must be an academic for at least five years.

Read The Daily Journal’s story on Gahimer’s work here.

“I always have felt called to serve under-resourced populations,” said Gahimer, who provided lectures for physical therapy students with a focus on neuro-rehabilitation, covering contemporary theories, examination, evaluation and intervention strategies.

With the faculty, Gahimer discussed concepts such as interprofessional education, service-learning and best practices in teaching, which are all areas that receive a lot of attention from western scholars, but are relatively new ideas in Vietnam.

“It was neuro-rehab, which is right up my alley. It’s faculty development and student teaching. It was amazing,” Gahimer said.

The two-week duration of the teaching trip meant that Gahimer had to adjust to cultural challenges quickly, from navigating the motorbikes buzzing up and down busy city streets to dealing with torrential downpours to learning her students’ and faculty members’ names.

Despite the modest classroom space, Gahimer said her students were highly engaged. She communicated through an interpreter, teaching faculty in the mornings and students in the afternoons while faculty sat in on those lessons. One challenge was not knowing exactly where to start her instruction.

“I set objectives based on syllabi from courses I’ve taught at UIndy,” said Gahimer, who explained that she adjusted her strategy after feedback from HVO colleagues. They pointed out that her students lacked access to academic journals and scholarly articles in their native language, which meant less exposure to contemporary concepts and ideas.

“You have to know what you’re going into, and you have to be open and flexible,” Gahimer said.

The goal of Health Volunteers Overseas is to develop long-term solutions “to address the global shortage of health care workers – a shortage that disproportionately affects low- and middle-income countries.” Although Gahimer’s assignments are short-term, her work builds on the work of earlier volunteers.

“Personally, I became aware of the gracious hospitality, rich heritage, and the love of soccer that the Vietnamese people possess.  Professionally, I developed a sense of how important the ‘basic skills’ are to the practice of physical therapy practice in a developing country,” said Gahimer.

“By participating in this experience, I have made many new friends in Vietnam.  In addition, I have realized that physical therapists half-way across the world have the same empathy, compassion and a desire to gain up-to-date knowledge in order to provide the best care for their patients.”

When Gahimer returns to Da Nang in March, she will build on the foundation of content previously presented, assist faculty in incorporating some new content into their curriculum and measure outcomes of her previous assignment through HVO.