Occupational Therapy placement in Vietnam helps cancer patients

La Trobe students have set up an in-patient music therapy program for cancer patients at Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy Hospital

Imagine studying abroad, but more than making new friends and experiencing the culture, you get the chance to design and deliver a program that improves locals’ lives.

As part of a funded 10-week placement in Vietnam, final year occupational therapy (OT) students Alana Gray and Maddison Burman set up an in-patient music therapy program for cancer patients at Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy Hospital.

“We did lots of observations at the start and found that patients were spending a lot of time in their beds on overcrowded wards, and this was having a negative impact on their physical and mental health,” Maddison said.

“So, we set up a group program where patients walk out of the ward to the OT clinic for a one-hour music session. They’d singalong to Bolero music, which is a type of music they love, play games to get them up and moving, and share stories, helping to build social connectedness.”

As OT students, Alana said they were able to introduce a focus on psychosocial therapy that was previously missing at the hospital.

“Their OTs were physio-based, so working mostly on physical recovery. We were able to build their skills in their providing therapeutic conversations and supporting mental health and wellbeing.”

In terms of impact, the program is ongoing with the hospital’s oncology and rehab leads reporting an overall improvement in patient wellbeing.

Alana said the experience built her communication and project management skills.

“We were able to rally key stakeholders, provide information about why it’s important, enable them to lead and plan, so it’s culturally appropriate, and drive it themselves – so the full package.”

“As a result, I’d be less hesitant to take on projects in healthcare improvement or leadership roles, rather than strictly clinical work. It’s opened my eyes to other areas.”

While Maddison and Alana are both keen to kick start their OT careers in paediatrics, a return visit to Vietnam is on the cards.

Maddy said. “In a couple of years, once we’ve developed our skills, we really want to go back to see how they’re going, provide more upskilling and strengthen that partnership.”

For OT students considering this placement opportunity, Maddison is emphatic.

“Definitely go. The team at Hue is so amazing, welcoming and hospitable. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Alana and Maddison completed their OT studies at La Trobe Rural Health School’s Bendigo campus.

For more information about studying OT see: Occupational Therapy, Degrees & Courses | La Trobe University

For enquiries about the funded placement, contact Associate Professor Tracy Fortune on T.Fortune@latrobe.edu.au