Many, many American occupational therapists and physical therapists have volunteered in Haiti in clinics, hospitals, and on medical missions. They have come with varying tasks in mind and for various organizations. While Haiti is a very appealing place to work, there is a common regret that therapists express when they return home to the U.S., Canada, or anywhere else; that they had to leave projects and therapy programs unfinished. There won't be any follow-up," I have heard some say. Others regret that they didn't know enough about the lives of the Haitian people; they may have tried, for instance, therapy approaches that did not work, because they didn't realize how they would be received.
Thankfully, things are changing in Haiti! Little by little, big things are happening in the Haitian rehabilitation community!
- Haiti now has a professional PT association, recognized by its government. There are about 24 members, who are Haitian PTs with bachelor's degrees from foreign universities such as the Catholic University of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.
- The government of Haiti now has an agency concerned with the rights of people with disabilities. The French acronym for that group is SIEPH, meaning "the society for integration of persons with handicaps." Work done by SIEPH includes planning for improved accessibility for buildings, and access to jobs.
- The government of Haiti is planning increased public health infrastructure. This will include public health clinics in rural areas and a health insurance system.
- Rehabilitation technician training programs have worked together to form a unified curriculum and have applied to the government of Haiti for a certification process, including a certification exam.
- At the Episcopal University of Haiti, called UNEPH in its French acronym, the first OT and PT academic degrees will be offered, beginning in September of 2014.
UNEPH is an accredited university in Haiti and is able to provide leadership in academic development. In 2005, students there entered the first four-year bachelor's of nursing program in Haiti, which was a success in more than one way. The four years of formation used a curriculum that was internationally recognized and the dean, Hilda Alcindor BA, RN, emphasized the students' role as emerging public health and policy leaders. While classes were taught in French, the students also studied English all four years; English is the official language for all UN staff and learning it allows for easier access to professional journals and conferences. When the new nurses graduated, they were quickly snapped up by NGOs who recognized the crucial usefulness of their skills.
In February of 2014, an advisory board convened with the purpose of starting OT and PT bachelor's degree programs at the Episcopal University of Haiti, UNEPH. Members of the advisory board now include:
- Dr. Lucien Jean Bernard, Rector of the University
- Dr. Robert Joseph, Vice-Rector of the University
- Dean Hilda Alcindor, Dean of FSIL, the nursing school at UNEPH, in Léogâne
- Rev. Dr Frantz Casseus, Canon to the Ordinary of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti, consultant to the Ministry of Education
- Janet O'Flynn, OTR/L, occupational therapist, OT doctoral candidate at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota
The UNEPH Advisory Board made a decision to open the new program in September, 2014. Up to 40 students will be accepted as first year students into a General Health Studies curriculum, meaning they will take basic sciences. They will also have tutorials to begin to learn about the life and work of occupational therapists and physical therapists. (I am planning to ask two local Haitian therapists to assist with that) and at the end of the first year they will declare a major of OT or PT.
Building Blocks of Rehab Education
A small group of U.S. faculty members are working now on building the curriculum for each program that will meet international standards for a bachelor's degree. A four-year bachelor's degree is recommended as the minimum entry-level degree for OT by the World Federation of Occupational Therapy (although a three-year certificate would also meet the international standard for OT). A four-year bachelor's degree is also the minimum for physical therapy, according to the World Confederation of Physical Therapy. The faculty working on the curriculum will be led by:
- Kate Barrett, OTD, OTR/L, OTD program director, St. Catherine University, Minnesota
- Julie Booth, PT, DPT, clinical assistant professor, Quinnipiac University, Connecticut
- Jami Flick, MS, OTR.L, clinical assistant professor, University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center
In the U.S. a nonprofit foundation is now being formed to provide ongoing support for Faculté Science Réhabilitation de Léogâne (FSRL), called "Haiti Rehabilitation Foundation." In addition, Quinnipiac University of Hamden and North Haven, Connecticut, is working on a University Partnership agreement.
Our hope is to hire a Haitian-American or Haitian-Canadian Dean for FSRL in the coming year; being an OT or PT with an advanced degree is required for this position. We also hope to hire a Haitian-American or Haitian-Canadian with an advanced degree as OT Program Director and PT Program Director, so that it will be possible to have many of the courses taught for a full semester by these faculty members. In addition, we expect that we will need to rely on volunteer faculty from the US or Canada at the outset. Volunteer faculty will teach courses in intensive sessions for one to three weeks, followed by longer-term assignments that can be conducted online.
We will also need to develop agreements with fieldwork sites in Haiti, with professional supervision, to meet the WFOT and WCPT standards. We hope that building a positive working relationship with clinical affiliation sites will bear fruit in job openings for the new graduates in 2018. The intention of the UNEPH/FSRL program is to move to an all-Haitian faculty as soon as possible, meaning that master's level OT and PT degrees will need to be developed as well.
The model for these OT and PT programs is the successful nursing program at UNEPH/FSIL (Faculté Science Infirmière de Léogâne). Not only is there a four-year bachelor's degree program at FSIL for nurses, but there is also now a master's degree program for family nurse practitioners. The master's program is in partnership with "Promoting Health in Haiti," an organization in New York formed by nursing faculty from Hunter College. We hope that before long, there will be master's degrees in Haiti for OTs and PTs as well.
Janet O'Flynn, MS, OTR/L, is a pediatric OT working for the Madison-Oneida BOCES in Verona, NY, at the Hamilton Central School. She is working on an OTD at St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minnesota. She is the project coordinator for the U.S. support for the new OT and PT degrees at UNEPH. For more information, to volunteer, to sponsor a student, or to donate to the costs of establishing these programs, please go to www.haitirehab.org.