Students’ Bangladesh placement cut short by pandemic

Published: 8/06/2020

Second year physiotherapy students Imogen Clowes and Aaliyah Allen were on a ten-week elective placement in Bangladesh when the Covid-19 pandemic was declared.

Physiotherapy students with rehabilitation centre Wheelchair Basketball team

CRP Wheelchair Basketball team with Imogen (fifth from left) and Aaliyah (third from right)

In the face of increasing restrictions, the students continued working at a rehabilitation centre through a desire to fulfil their placement for as long as they could. 

Imogen and Aaliyah travelled out to Bangladesh in March 2020 to work in the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP)They were based in Savar at the main training hospital and rehabilitation centre which provides medical treatment, rehabilitation and support services focusing on physical, emotional, social, psychological and economic empowerment.  

Imogen opted to work in the Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) unit, whilst Aaliyah was based in the Neurology department. Both students had the opportunity to work alongside the physiotherapists and also provide treatments themselves for the patients based at the Centre. They also took part in group therapy sessions and sports activities with patients.   

Part-way through their placement, the Covid-19 pandemic began to develop a pace across the world and many of the CRP’s departments were closed and staff numbers reduced. This saw increased responsibilities for Imogen, who was given responsibility to manage patients and wards on her own. Personal protective equipment (PPE) was introduced, however it was in short supply so the students were required to wear washable rather than disposable aprons, and frequently wore the same pair of gloves for a whole day. 

Commenting on theitime spent in Bangladesh, Aaliyah and Imogen said: “This incredible experience was both educational and humbling. The trust and support the staff gave us was invaluable in developing our clinical knowledge and in learning to trust our own instincts. The patients at the centre are living, socialising and recovering there, so being their therapist made you vital part of their physical and mental health. 

“When the pandemic was declared, York St John worked hard to ensure our safety and arrange for us to return home as soon as possible. Whilst we were disappointed to leave three weeks early, we are so grateful to the CRP for our new outlook and perspective on physiotherapy. We hope to return one day to help the cause by offering our experiences from the NHS.” 

Dr Jon Thompson, Senior Lecturer and Professional Course Lead for Physiotherapy, added: “'Our physiotherapy programme provides the opportunity for students to undertake one of a range of unique international placements as part of their studies. Imogen and Aaliyah and found this to be an immensely rewarding and enriching experience, despite the development of the global pandemic and we are very proud of the way they have dealt with this, represented York St John University and been able to support the work of the CRP unit in Bangladesh.” 

York St John University has a long-established relationship with the CRP. Valerie Taylor, a British physiotherapist, founded the CRP in 1979 after finding nowhere in the country was able to provide adequate care to people with spinal injuries. From just four patients in the early days, the centre has grown to treat hundreds of thousands. The centre has built an international reputation for excellence and regularly welcomes volunteers from overseas, including students on placement from York St John. In 2010 Valerie was awarded an Honorary Degree from York St John in recognition of her long and distinguished career and service to the poor and disabled people of Bangladesh. 

Imogen has documented her experience in an article published by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. She has also written a blog which goes into greater detail of her time on placement. 

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