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In perspective - New horizons: working overseas

Hannah Steadman explains how working or volunteering overseas brings all-round benefits

Volunteering or working in a low or middle income country can be an exciting opportunity for physiotherapists at any stage in their career, and can help develop a broad set of skills, benefiting their work back in the UK.

However, physios interested in this area must be fully prepared for the road ahead to ensure the work they carry out is efficacious.

It is becoming ever more popular for UK trained therapists to work overseas. Many experienced therapists choose to take time away from their work in the UK to volunteer or work in a low or middle income country and a growing number of universities are offering overseas elective placements to broaden students’ knowledge of how physiotherapy fits into the global health picture.

However experienced you are as a clinician, there will always be a steep learning curve and a period of adjustment when working in a foreign country.

Before imparting your knowledge, it is sensible to take time to learn about the culture and context in which you are working.

How is rehabilitation and disability perceived by the community and other healthcare providers? How well does the rehabilitation service integrate into the health system?

There is very little research in rehabilitation and disability carried out in low and middle income countries, and we should not always assume that our clinical knowledge can be directly applied to a population group different from which we get our evidence base.

Getting to know locals will enrich your ‘personal practical knowledge’ (Higgs and Tichen, 1995) by helping you to understand the cultural values and what impact this has on health beliefs.

Rehabilitation in the context of global health is most commonly recognised for its place after natural disasters and in areas of conflict, and with the recent addition of physios on to the UK International Trauma Register it is now quicker and easier for physiotherapists to be deployed to emergency situations.

What is often under-recognised, however, is the essential work in creating sustainable solutions, such as training and development of local therapists, advocacy and enforcement of disability rights, and the inclusion of people with disabilities into society.

Anyone interested in finding out more about volunteering or working overseas is encouraged to join the CSP professional network, ADAPT (Chartered Physiotherapists Interested in International Health and Development).

Members can access a range of resources and international job advertisements. They can also network with those with experience in overseas work.  

ADAPT occasionally runs study days on working abroad. If you are interested in becoming a member or attending a study day, email Ruth Murphy at: adaptenquiries@gmail.com or visit the ADAPT website

Hannah Steadman is the volunteer coordinator, Haiti Village Health, and the public relations officer for ADAPT

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