Dr. Sawyer Continues Service Efforts and Interdisciplinary Education in Belize

February 23, 2017 Jennifer Retter

Hoping to facilitate interdisciplinary education among the University’s health science and education professionals, Dr. Karen Sawyer, assistant professor and director of Experiential Learning in the Department of Physical Therapy, is raising funds to expand the ongoing efforts of Arcadia students, faculty, and alumni in Belize.

Dr. Sawyer’s project was initially funded by a grant from the College of Health Sciences that enabled students and faculty to travel to Ambergris Caye, Belize’s largest island. Lara Goldman ’93, CEO of Romantic Travel Belize and owner of several Belizean businesses, requested the assistance of Arcadia faculty, five of whom visited the town of San Pedro in February 2016 to address health and education needs.

When faculty returned to Belize with students in August 2016, six Arcadia University disciplines were represented: Physical Therapy, Genetic Counseling, Public Health, Physician Assistant, Education, and Counseling. The volunteers assisted Belizeans in the wake of a hurricane, provided home visits for stroke victims, and hosted a learning fair to increase public awareness of diabetes, high blood pressure, and communicable diseases.

The project’s primary goal was to facilitate holistic approaches to health and wellness. In addition to observing sessions led by other disciplines, students and faculty were assigned tasks based on their area of expertise, with physical therapists introducing their practice to the island, physician assistants working at a local polyclinic, public health practitioners canvassing Belizean neighborhoods to address various health concerns, mental health practitioners offering individual counseling sessions, and educators providing training for special education teachers.

“Research in interprofessional education suggests that if students from different disciplines understand, trust, and have good rapport with one another, they provide effective, patient-focused care,” said Dr. Sawyer. “Through collaborative practices, they develop efficient ways to improve education and health care, which leads to better patient or student outcomes.”

Though the project’s initial funding was exhausted in August 2016, Dr. Sawyer hopes to offer a 12-day service opportunity this coming July, during which students and faculty will partner with existing organizations in Belize. If the fundraising phase is successful, Dr. Sawyer and Arcadia faculty intend to align genetic counseling students with Belize’s established cancer society, public health students with Red Cross, and physical therapists and educators with Camp Starfish, a nonprofit, two-week camp that supports Belizean children with special needs.

“Part of the fun is that we don't exactly know what we'll be doing in July,” said Dr. Sawyer. “We plan, we get there, we listen, and we follow their lead. There's respect for and knowledge of what each organization does, which helps us step in and address issues the Belizeans have identified more seamlessly.”

“In terms of interprofessional education, last year’s students surpassed my expectations,” said Dr. Sawyer. “The bond that they developed is something that will impact their professional practices and be with them throughout their career. That's pretty exciting.”

17sscounselinggenetic counselingphysical therapyphysician assistantpublic healthschool of education