Photo of students sitting in an auditorium on the Tangier campus

UNE students attend fifth annual occupational therapy conference at Moroccan campus

For the first time in two years, students from the University of New England were able to attend the annual International Conference of the Occupational Therapy Association of Morocco (OTAM) in person on Jan. 7.

OTAM was established in 2016 to promote interests of the occupational therapy profession and improve health care in Morocco, where occupational therapy is a relatively new, yet rapidly growing, field.

The theme for this conference addressed “Intraprofessional and Interprofessional Collaboration and Communication: Embracing our Challenges and Celebrating our Success.” Held on UNE’s Tangier, Morocco, campus, the event drew together academic leaders and occupational therapy professionals representing 13 countries across five continents. 

The day-long event began with introductions from Said Nafai, O.T.D., M.S., OTR/L, CLT, president of OTAM, and Anouar Majid, Ph.D., UNE’s vice president for Global Affairs and founding director of the Center for Global Humanities

Photo of Tara Paradie speaking at the OT conference in Morocco

UNE's Tara Paradie, PT, MSPT, DHSc, speaks at the conference.

While reflecting upon the event, Majid shared that the conference is an annual occasion for OT and PT faculty and students to discover our global campus and develop an understanding of the different ways Moroccans and other global professionals operate in these fields.

“I think it is important for our health care professionals to be exposed to as many international health care systems as possible,” he said.

Kris Winston, Ph.D., OTR/L, FAOTA, program director and associate professor of UNE’s Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (M.S.O.T.) program, explained how the theme for this conference showcases the importance of interprofessional collaboration and communication across a global community of OT and PT practitioners.

“As a whole, the conference highlighted the significance of interprofessional work aimed at providing better services for the clients we collaborate with,” Winston said.

Photo of U N E P T students during a poster session at the O T Morocco conference
Photo of O T and P T research poster session at a conference on the U N E Morocco campus
Photo of O T and P T research poster session at a conference on the U N E Morocco campus
Photo of a speaker at the OT conference in Morocco
Photo of students sitting in an auditorium on the Tangier campus

Elise Parker (M.S.O.T., ’23) was one of the 11 UNE students who went to Tangier to attend the OTAM conference.

Parker shared how the speakers covered a variety of topics related to current and emerging occupational therapy practices.

“The presentations that resonated with me the most included information on wound care modalities, minimal cost assistive technology, and formats for hybrid occupational therapy programs to be utilized in the future,” she said.

In addition to attending the conference, OT and PT students spent a week traveling around Tangier and the surrounding communities where they engaged in occupational and physical therapy work at several establishments. Some of the organizations include:

Watch: video recap of the conference

  • Tangier’s Fraternity Association for People with Disabilities, more commonly referred to as "The Brotherhood," a school for young children
  • The Center for Family Protection, a women and children’s organization in Chefchaouen
  • La Creche’, a governmental sponsored orphanage in Tangier
  • Val Fleury, a local physical therapy outpatient clinic 

Watch: Video recap of a service day in Morocco

Jenny Audette, PT, Ph.D., program director and associate professor of UNE’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Program, believes that intercultural experiences are vitally important to students’ overall PT education.

“Physical therapy is a world profession. We aren’t just a U.S. profession. Our work has a worldwide community, and that’s really important for students to see,” Audette said.

“A lot of times, international experiences like this are really transformational for students who haven’t had the chance to travel.”

Abigail LeBlanc (D.P.T., ’24) had the unique opportunity to observe a total knee replacement surgery and then sit in on a physical therapy session at a local clinic. “I’ve always had an increased interest to learn about the surgical process patients go through before physical therapy,” she said.

LeBlanc, along with classmate Tim Whitney (D.P.T., ’24), shared how impactful it was to visit two separate orphanages and work with the infants and children.

For Whitney, the experience was something he will never forget. “It was awesome to see our own [UNE] faculty teaching the orphanage staff some new physical therapy techniques and therapies through a translator,” Whitney recalled.

Photo of students riding camels in Morocco
Photo of students riding camels in Morocco
Photo of U N E students and staff exploring Morocco
Photo of U N E students and staff exploring Morocco
Photo of U N E students and staff exploring Morocco

In addition to their community engagement activities, the OT and PT students were able to explore the historic medinas and share many new encounters in Morocco. Whether it was the experience of riding camels, belly dancing, or staying with host families, the memories that the students made will last a lifetime. 

M.S.O.T. student Jordan Agabin (’23) documented his journey in Morocco through a social media takeover. For Agabin, the trip broadened his horizons as a student occupational therapist. “Having the ability to see how culture and environment influence the individual and their community was such a fruitful and memorable experience,” he remarked.