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Pericles sabbatical helps school in Suriname

An Elon University professor traveled to Suriname this spring to help its largest university develop a stronger physical therapy program in an impoverished nation with few trained therapists.

Marianne Janssen (left), with two colleagues from other universities, this spring helped Anton de Kom University professors strengthen their PT program.

Marianne Janssen, director of clinical education for the DPT program, visited the South American nation as part of the Project Pericles Service Sabbatical. She spent four weeks reviewing curriculum and assisting Anton de Kom University professors – only one of whom is full-time faculty – in preparing the curriculum for a master’s level program.
“People just don’t get physical therapy,” Janssen said of the shortage of licensed therapists. “In the four weeks I was there I saw only two people in a wheelchair. I don’t know what other people do. They may be limited to their homes or could lack mobility.”
With only 39 therapists in a nation of nearly a half million residents, the demand for trained help is greater than ever, even as numbers stay flat. “They need at least 90 (therapists) to provide adequate care to the population,” Janssen said. “Right now they’re understaffed everywhere.”

The nation provides universal health care, she said. That covers physical therapy, though for most of the impoverished population, the real cost comes trying to find transportation to and from the sessions.

Another issue is the dearth of faculty members to teach. With so few instructors available, the university relies on volunteer professors from overseas, which delays the overall program. The first class of physical therapy students was enrolled for eight years before receiving a degree.
Janssen traveled with Health Volunteers Overseas, a private non-profit organization “dedicated to improving the availability and quality of health care in developing countries through the training and education of local health care providers,” according to its online mission statement.
Part of the difficulty, she said, was the lack of syllabi for most courses. “That made evaluating the program a bit of a challenge,” Janssen said. “It’s not very organized at this point.”
Janssen said that despite the impoverishment she witnessed during the trip, many residents showered her with hospitality. It helped that she speaks Dutch fluently, she said, since Suriname is a former Dutch colony.
“Their kindness and willingness to share was humbling,” she said. “It internalized even more how much we have (in the United States), and how many reasons we have to be grateful.”
Janssen will return to Suriname this fall on an invitation to continue helping the university transition to a master’s program.

Service sabbaticals are open to university employees with two or more years of service. They allow staff to spend up to one month away from their normal duties to work full time for a community organization yet still receive a regular paycheck.
Janssen was one of three sabbatical recipients this spring. Dianne Ford, a Belk librarian, and Brian Chandler, who works as an HVAC mechanic, also received funding through Project Pericles.

Eric Townsend,
5/20/2008 10:18 AM