Field journal: Providing occupational therapy to Bahamians

By Meagan Osteen, occupational therapy student

Before last summer, I’d never traveled outside of the country, much less to the beautiful Caribbean islands of the Bahamas. Enter my first Level I fieldwork experience. The FIU MSOT program has changed my life in many ways, but providing the opportunity to travel abroad for fieldwork is something I will always cherish. I get an overwhelming sense of pride to have represented my institution in a foreign country and to have been given the opportunity to travel and work within the Bahamian culture.

Bahamian culture has a rich and deep history. From the delicious, native cuisine that is available everywhere to the bright, beautiful colors and sounds of the island, there was something new and exciting to be learned every day of my stay. The mixture of mostly African culture and some British and American influences has developed into a unique and colorful style of self-expression and pride.

The Bahamas have a distinct culture that has evolved over several generations, and yet, one aspect has remained constant throughout time: their unwavering hospitality. Not only were the therapists hospitable, but the clients would also share wisdom and advice of their own with me, almost as if it were a pleasant exchange between friends.

Another notable quality of this culture is “island time.” Bahamians seem to have an unspoken rule that time should be slowed down and embraced, as was often displayed in the clinic. Clients would often come to appointments later than scheduled or not at all, but there was always a calm, relaxed atmosphere in the clinic despite unexpected changes. And whenever that client would mosey into the clinic later in the day, he would be met with the same welcoming enthusiasm and professionalism.

At the clinic, I observed many patients with common overuse injuries of the shoulder, hands and back as well as a client recovering from a stroke. I had the opportunity to observe and provide many physical agent modalities to clients, like hot packs, cryotherapy and therapeutic ultrasound, as well as perform therapeutic exercises and activities with the work-hardening clients. Because my professors prepared me well and introduced me to the art of splinting prior to fieldwork, I was able to participate in the construction of a dynamic wrist splint that remediated a client’s ability to lift his wrist and fingers. 

Whether it was witnessing the extra care and time given to clients every single day at my fieldwork site or the dedication and friendliness of the people on the island, it was easy to see that the Bahamian people genuinely care about the quality of their relationships and services. The core values of occupational therapy are closely related to the hospitality that is so deeply rooted in the Bahamian culture. By going to the Bahamas for my first fieldwork experience, I was able to solidify just how important empathy, cultural competence and client-centeredness are in this profession as well as in society and our personal lives.

The overall experience of traveling and being immersed into another culture is vital for not only personal growth, but one’s professional growth as well. As cliché as this may sound, traveling truly does something to you; it awakens the soul and gives you a glimpse of just how vast and unique the world is. I came back from the Bahamas with a new sense of self and an invigorated enthusiasm for my future career. If anyone is considering traveling or taking an opportunity like this while in school, my advice is to go for it and don’t look back. Your future self will thank you, and it will be an experience you treasure for years to come.

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