In August, a group of students from the Faculty of Health Sciences set off for China’s largest city; the bustling metropolis of Shanghai, population 24 million. The students were part of the faculty’s unique Go Global program, and were set to spend the next four weeks doing fieldwork in Shanghai’s health care system.
The cosmopolitan city of Shanghai, renowned for its delicious cuisine and melting pot of architectural styles – including the pristine art deco buildings of The Bund – had always appealed to Master of Occupational Therapy student, Yan Ming Wong (Ming). As an avid traveller to many Chinese cities, she jumped at the opportunity to return to China and undertake a fieldwork placement in Shanghai.
“I have always been intrigued by the culture and lifestyle in China, and I have been to different cities in China in the past. I have always been interested in cultural exchange programs, and I decided to apply to this program when it was introduced to our class during the first year of my postgraduate study,” said Ming.
For the Go Global students, a typical day in Shanghai began with a morning commute – complex by Perth standards – followed by clinical placements at Sunshine Rehabilitation Hospital, Shanghai, discussions, debriefs and lots of delicious food!
“We’d meet at the lobby of the apartment at 7.40am and walk to the station. We’d take the first train to an interchange station and change for another line to get to our destination station. Very often we had trouble getting on the train because it gets rather packed and crowded during peak hour travelling,” Ming said.
“The entire train ride took about 1.5 hours and this is where I got to bond with other team members. Sometimes on the train ride, I looked through materials in preparation for the practical work we would be doing. If I encountered any problems, I talked to the facilitators and other students to have a discussion around it.”
Once the group arrived at the hospital, the focus was on clinical work in specific areas. Unlike the Australian healthcare system, where allied health practitioners often work with clients in community settings, rehabilitation services are provided solely in the hospital system in China, and the style of therapy can be quite different. Having complex conversations, full of medical jargon, in Mandarin proved to be an additional daily challenge.
“We got to the hospital at around 9.00am and went to our designated areas of practice such as paediatrics, neurology, orthopaedics or spinal cord injury. Before the session, I’d ask the supervisor about the background of the client and, when the client arrived, I’d make small talk with them so that they felt more relaxed during the treatment,” Ming said.
“I started by observing what was being done and asking the supervisor about treatment strategies. I also made notes and had discussions with the supervisor afterwards. If I felt comfortable, and had permission from the supervisor, I’d try out the strategy on the client whilst the supervisor observed and gave feedback afterwards.”
“Conversing in Mandarin and using technical medical terms during clinical time was challenging, as I don’t always speak Mandarin in Perth. Working in a different healthcare system was also demanding at times – things are done differently in China such as the amount of cases each therapist carries and the techniques and equipment used. Chinese therapists utilise a variety of technologies and equipment to facilitate rehabilitation, which is often passive, and it was a learning curve to try to get accustomed to new things.”
“In order to navigate the cultural differences in China, I tried to maintain an open mind towards things that I felt uncomfortable with, and I also spoke with friends about it. We helped to ground each other and learned to be okay with it. I also spoke with the locals, such as my therapist supervisors and local students, about what I found shocking and very often their explanations would clarify my confusion.”
While the group’s clinical placements were the focus of their Shanghai visit, when not working in the hospital they had the opportunity to enjoy the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the vibrant metropolis, and visited many popular tourist attractions.
“We visited famous tourist spots such as City God Temple, Yu Yuan, Disneyland, Jingan Temple, the French Concession, The Bund, Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai Tower and many more! People who were keen for food enjoyed famous food in Shanghai, such as soup dumplings, pan-fried dumplings and hotpot. And, of course, shopping sprees were a rather popular thing to do during our downtime,” said Ming.
Ming’s Go Global placement was challenging at times, however it was an experience she describes as invaluable and would recommend it to other students.
“Go Global is a wonderful and invaluable opportunity to experience a different culture, practise what we learn in university, see how healthcare is delivered in a different country, learn new and innovative techniques and strategies, meet people and expand professional connections, learn great interpersonal and team work skills, form lifelong friendships and develop professionally and personally. This experience forced me to be out of my comfort zone and constantly challenged me to be better,” Ming said.