A group of final year Speech Pathology students recently returned from a three-week clinical placement in Vietnam. The trip is the result of collaboration between the University of Newcastle and Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine and two Foundations that support the development and health of children in Vietnam – the Trinh Foundation Australia and the UK-based Kianh Foundation.
Head of Speech Pathology, Dr Sally Hewat, visited Vietnam last year to support the delivery of the country’s first speech therapy training program, and accompanied the students on this trip, supervising their work with Director of Clinical Education in Speech Pathology, Jo Walters.
The students, Sophia Thibaadeau, Lauren Woodbridge, Emma Whalley, Erin Fraser, Tabitha Pethybridge, and Kate Connolly worked in hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City delivering speech therapy services and participated in a joint education session with Vietnamese students at the Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine.
The group then travelled to Vung Tau and worked with infants and toddlers in an orphanage.
“The students integrated into the facility to support the carers of the children, and worked with the orphanage’s psychologist to help facilitate language for the children,” said Sally.
“We did not have anywhere near the resources that we have in Australia, yet we managed to make huge therapy gains for the children and their teachers in the short time that we were there,” said Erin Fraser.
The students then spent two weeks in Hoi An at the Centre for Development of Children with Special Needs, a facility supported by the Kianh Foundation.
The Centre has Vietnamese teachers, special education teachers, Australian volunteers, but until now, no speech therapy input.
“The students spent two weeks assessing the children and preparing communications plans for each child. They basically provided much needed speech therapy services under supervision in a very short time,” Sally said. “Staff education, continuity and sustainability were top priorities and the students worked with children in the classrooms and provided training sessions for the special education teachers and physiotherapists employed at the Centre.”
“Challenges such as the language barrier and using an interpreter, were overcome with rewards in recognition, progress made and smiles on children’s faces,” said Kate Connolly.
It was a completely different clinical placement to what the students would have experienced in Australia with a broad ranging spectrum of disorders to contend with.
“The students saw a level and severity of disease, disability and disorders that we just don’t have in Australia,” Sally said.
“We worked with some very complex caseloads. Some of the children not only had a disability but a lot of other things going on as well,” said Lauren Woodbridge. “Our clinical reasoning skills were really challenged, and I think how we have learnt to adapt them to different settings will really assist us when out working.”
Tabitha Pethybridge found the experience to be life changing. “I feel that I learned more in the three weeks here than I would have in five weeks at home,” she said. “Great experiences, great people – and it was fantastic to work with children with disabilities within a different culture.”
Sally is planning to take another group of students to Vietnam at the end of the year and has recently applied for a grant to enable the trial of an innovative joint clinical placement model with the students from UoN and Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine.