UNE hosts ‘inspirational’ occupational therapy conference at Moroccan campus

UNE occupational therapy students present at a recent conference at the University's Tangier, Morocco campus
UNE occupational therapy students and Professor Jan Froehlich present a poster at the 2nd Annual Conference of the Occupational Therapy Association of Morocco at the University's Tangier, Morocco campus.

The University of New England, in its continuing efforts to support global education and interprofessional development, recently hosted the 2nd Annual Conference of the Occupational Therapy Association of Morocco (OTAM) at its campus in Tangier, Morocco on Jan. 4.

The conference drew academic leaders and occupational therapy (OT) professionals from around the world to the University’s Tangier Campus for a day of learning and collaboration in support of OTAM, the Moroccan national professional association of occupational therapy practitioners and students.

OTAM was established in 2016 to promote interests of the occupational therapy profession and improve health care in Morocco, where occupational therapy is relatively new. This year’s conference addressed the theme “Advancing Health Care and Education Through Participation in Everyday Occupations.”

The conference originated with a partnership between Said Nafai, O.T.D., M.S., OTR/L, CLT, a professor of occupational therapy at American International College and founder of occupational therapy in Morocco, and UNE Clinical Professor of Occupational Therapy Kathryn Loukas, O.T.D., M.S., OTR/L, FAOTA.

Nafai became acquainted with Loukas following her 2013 sabbatical, during which she studied occupation, the intentional and routine activities in which people engage in daily life, in Tangier. Occupations include eating and feeding, dressing, toileting, self-care, work, play, and leisure.

Loukas and Nafai worked together to bring occupational therapy education to Morocco, starting with service-learning courses through UNE and continuing with the first OTAM conference in Tangier in 2019.

This year, 27 occupational therapy students and four physical therapy students went to Tangier, along with four faculty:

  • Kristin Winston, Ph.D., OTR/L, FAOTA, program director and associate professor of occupational therapy
  • Elizabeth Crampsey, Ed.D, M.S., OTR/L, BCPR, assistant clinical professor and coordinator of the Community Therapy Center
  • Jan Froehlich, M.S., OTR/L, associate professor
  • Sally McCormack-Tutt, Ed.D., M.P.H., PT, D.P.T., associate dean for Academic Affairs, Westbrook College of Health Professions, and clinical professor of physical therapy

Winston said the conference allowed UNE students to gain a deeper understanding of occupational therapy practice by learning from clinicians around the world.

“In the rest of the world, occupational therapists practice with a very different focus due to a variety of factors,” she said.

Winston explained that — while the United States is working to increase the profession’s focus on population-based care — occupational therapy outside the U.S. generally has a greater focus toward working with populations than solely with individuals.

“In thinking about growing OT to have an influence on populations of people, which seems to be more what happens in global practice, our students might take that perspective and use that to facilitate their goals in terms of service to communities,” Winston said. “It holds a different weight if they can see or hear about it from someone other than me.”

Winston said UNE is working to strengthen its relationship with occupational therapy practice in Morocco and continuing to build mutually beneficial partnerships in and around Tangier through service-learning coursework.

In addition to attending the conference, students travel to service sites in Tangier where they engage in occupational therapy work. Among them include local orphanage La Creche de Tanger; Association Wissal Arrahma, a school for children with developmental disabilities; and the DARNA Centre, a site for women to learn work skills.

“We’re definitely supporting the development of the profession in Morocco, and I would love to see us become even more involved,” she said. “We’re helping to promote and move the profession forward. We have a strong commitment to maintaining that connection.”

Anouar Majid, Ph.D., UNE’s vice president for Global Affairs and founding director of the Center for Global Humanities, echoed that sentiment.

“The conference was a tremendous opportunity to showcase UNE’s global engagement,” said Majid. “By hosting the conference and sending our OT delegation of faculty and students to it, UNE is playing a vital role in the nascent field of OT education and awareness in Morocco.”

A global understanding of occupational therapy not only exposes students to the differences between international practices, but it also teaches students to become culturally effective occupational therapists, Loukas said.

“Cultural humility and global initiatives are part of what every graduate student needs to understand and be part of and be comfortable with,” Loukas said. “I think that you don’t really understand your own culture until you participate in everyday occupations with those from another culture.”

UNE student Joshua Pastor (M.S.O.T. ’20) said attending the conference gave him that cultural understanding.

“The importance of being culturally fluid and respecting the multitude of cultures is what stuck out to me because that directly speaks to how we care for our patients in practice,” Pastor said.

Similarly, Kathryn Froning (M.S.O.T. ’21) said the opportunity gave her more insight into the profession and its history.

“The connections I made have inspired me to explore areas of practice which had been unknown to me,” Froning said. “The service-learning experience presented me with a cultural lens other than my own through which to view the core values and tenets of occupational therapy and broadened my horizons as a future occupational therapy practitioner.”

Susan Wehry, UNE’s chief of the Division of Geriatric Medicine in the Department of Primary Care within the College of Osteopathic Medicine, who presented at the conference, said the experience was collaborative, with people from differing geopolitical backgrounds coming together to share their expertise about occupational therapy practice.

“‘Inspirational,’ ‘uplifting,’ ‘reassuring’ are the adjectives that come to mind as I think about how we transcended politics,” said Wehry. “There was an openness to collaboration and an enthusiasm for sharing ideas that was infectious.”

A distinguished guest speaker in Tangier, Wehry presented how dementia can be reimagined as a chronic condition people live with, not just die from — a person-centered emphasis that shifts the focus to what people living with dementia can do, rather than just what they cannot. This, she said, can reduce fear of such a diagnosis and may permit earlier detection of the condition.

Wehry spoke to the interprofessional nature of occupational therapy and how the profession intersects with and can support her discipline of geriatrics.

“Occupational therapists, who are focused on pragmatic and meaningful solutions, are ideally suited for the work of person-centered dementia care,” Wehry said. “OT is going to take off in Morocco. Of this, I am convinced."

The conference was featured in the April 2020 issue of OT Practice magazine, a monthly publication of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

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UNE physical therapy student Grace Laughlin (left) and occupational therapy student Rylee Weinsten
UNE physical therapy student Grace Laughlin (left) and occupational therapy student Rylee Weinsten stand in front of the nonprofit Brotherhood Association, one of several service-learning sites students visited in and around Tangier.
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Susan Wehry, M.D., speaks to the crowd at the 2nd OTAM conference in Morocco
Susan Wehry, M.D., UNE Chief of Geriatrics, addresses the 2nd OTAM conference at UNE Morocco as a distinguished guest speaker.
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UNE physical therapy student Shelby Clare works with a student at the Wissal School.
UNE physical therapy student Shelby Clare works with a student at the Association Wissal Arrahma, a school for children with developmental disabilities.
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UNE OT students pose with Wendy Hildebrand, AOTA president
UNE students pose with Wendy Hildebrand, Ph.D., M.P.H., OTR/L, FAOTA, president of the American Occupational Therapy Association
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Said Nafai, O.T.D., M.S., OTR/L, CLT
Said Nafai, O.T.D., M.S., OTR/L, CLT, a professor of occupational therapy at American International College and founder of occupational therapy in Morocco, speaks at the 2nd OTAM conference at UNE Morocco.
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A group of 27 UNE occupational therapy students, plus four students from physical therapy, in Tangier, Morocco
A group of 27 UNE occupational therapy students, plus four students from physical therapy, traveled to Morocco to participate in an international conference on occupational therapy.

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