It will still be another year before Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences professor Kai Kennedy takes graduate students to Haiti, but her new elective course is coming to fruition.

Transfer lab 051“It was important for me to make sure I developed the right program for the students here,” said Kennedy, director of clinical education for the physical therapy program and assistant professor. “I wanted them to come right back to rural Virginia and be able to effect change.”

Kennedy said it has been critical to keep an open mind while developing the course, as the scope has changed quite a bit since her first Mary Baldwin-related trip to Haiti in early 2013.

“Initially, we thought that the area we visited around Cherident would benefit from rehabilitative services, but its health care system does not support that yet,” she said. “They are seeking more primary care services and ongoing management of chronic diseases. I hope to revisit the possibility of working with the medical community in Cherident when the physician assistant program is up and running.”

Kennedy’s most recent trip in February took her to a new nursing school on the Haitian island of La Gonave. At Wesleyan University of Haiti, she found ideal opportunities for physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT) graduate students to work with undergraduate nursing students.

Slated for summer 2016, Perspectives in Global Health Care will encourage PT and OT students — and those in the physician assistant program in coming years — to analyze a health care system in another part of the world and share ideas about how rehabilitative services are both taught and carried out in clinical settings. Kennedy is carefully crafting the syllabus to ensure that students approach the course as a genuine exchange of ideas. She also wants the trip to take place as students finish their second year at Murphy Deming, after they complete a required community service practicum. Upon their return, Kennedy envisions students giving collaborative presentations to the Mary Baldwin community as well as to local organizations and church groups that have established partnerships in Haiti.

Mary Baldwin’s relationship with Haiti has strengthened since the country’s devastating earthquake in January 2010, and students, faculty, and staff members have made meaningful connections in the small Caribbean nation. Several factors make the country a powerful learning laboratory.

“We have finally connected with a partner community with an expressed interest in rehab skills and a definite need,” Kennedy said.