One Year. One Physical Therapist in Trujillo, Peru.

Combining passions of global public health with travel and cultural immersion... With the help of the Catholic Medical Mission Board, I was afforded the opportunity to live outside of Trujillo, Peru for one year's time (2010-2011). Check out old posts about my experiences as a PT working in hospitals, a school, an outpatient clinic, doing research/community based rehabilitation, and a little teaching too. And my experiences with an entire calendar year of holidays, cultural customs and new culinary experiences!

I make it back about once a year with university students/CMMB projects, so I will periodically provide updates :)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

An International Event is Born!

This story begins some time ago… about ten months ago, to be exact. In my first few weeks here in Peru, one of the doctors at the clinic I work at invited me out to see a hospital in Chocope, a small town about an hour from Trujillo. In a few hours, despite my broken Spanish, I got to know a great group of PT’s in Hospital Chocope – I was able to observe how they practiced, share ideas and patient treatments, and teach some basic manual therapy principles and techniques. As I was leaving, the PT’s asked me if I’d be willing to teach a course on scoliosis in a few weeks for a small group of 5 people. Next thing I knew, the day of the course arrived – and there was standing room only! I stared out like a deer in the headlights at the 40+ crowd of PT’s who had shown up for the lecture!

I was amazed at the interest in continuing education. I was getting requests from all angles to teach, despite the language barrier. I soon discovered that PT’s in the north of Peru have very few continuing education opportunities, and employers don’t have any sort of requirements. Furthermore, work in a variety of settings was showing me that the foundational education received by PT’s/aids here was very basic and focused on modalities and passive treatment. I decided to teach a course of varying themes once-twice a month in different local hospitals.

Since the first lecture back in October, it’s been much of a snowball effect. I’ve taught 13 different classes in a variety of themes and locations– some of which had labs. I’ll never forget a lecture I did on postural analysis where 125 people showed up! It was intimidating at first but I found it was a lot less nerve-wracking to speak in front of people in Spanish – I was so busy trying to say everything correctly that I “forgot” to be nervous! I also found that by March I could teach the classes without reading off any notes, which was encouraging.

Practicing techniques in one of the physical therapy courses
The prep time was often overwhelming, as on top of work in the clinic, hospital and school each day, in my free time I was constantly creating, translating or practicing a different powerpoint. But the rewards were abundant – over time I was able to network with several hundred physical therapists/students and I’ve learned so much about culture in the process, and made some great friends. After a few months (maybe even less time!) I felt that I was being called to plan a bigger event. Fresh out of PT school, I’m certainly no expert in my field.  I connected with some faculty at Regis University and some PT’s I know and the next thing I knew – We’ve had an international event in the works!

Before Peru, the biggest event I’ve ever planned was my friend Loren’s bachelorette party held all over town in my parents motor-home in Anchorage, Alaska. (Which was a hit, by the way!) Needless to say, event planning for 200 participants was a first for me. Event planning in South America is a whole additional dimension. I’ve spent the last 8 months or so in a sort of “conference haze.” It’s been challenging to communicate mainly via email. The to-do lists are endless. In Peru, forget the double-check – you seriously need to quadruple-check everything. The other day I had a phone conversation with a colleague confirming – for the third time in a month- that my group of volunteers could tour her facility when they are here. At the end of the call, she said, “okay, we’ll be in touch, I’ll confirm the visit later.” There’s also been a lot of “red tape” to get through – official approval from so and so, official letters and stamps, etc.

Luckily, I’ve had the help of Claudia Llanten who is CMMB’s program director for Peru – without her this all would not be possible. I also started meeting regularly with “focus groups” of PT’s in Trujillo and Lima back in January to get a good feel for exactly what Peruvians are looking for in an event like this. I did a survey to gather which conditions are most commonly seen by PT’s in Trujillo, and determined that neck pain and knee arthritis are most frequent on the list – thus our themes for the 2-day conference.

I’m really excited for the event. The 200 spots are nearly paid and full, which I think it pretty great considering we’re in Peru and everything here is last-minute. We’ve rented out three auditoriums in a nice event center in town. We are covering everything from exam (non-existent here) to evidence-based treatment and will also include “labs” in the afternoons to practice skills with actual patients. In efforts to mesh CMMB’s public health work within the event, we’ll also have some guest lectures in the theme of disability, visitors from the Ministry of Health, and a dynamic lunch in small groups. We’re planning another lunch with the academic institutions here to talk about sustainability between Peru and the US/Regis University. We’ll have a reception Saturday night with music and cocktails –something social to bring the PT’s together. We’ll have catering for breaks and a patio of vendors/businesses for participants to explore. We’re giving each participant an embroidered bag complete with conference info. and a DVD of material, plus small rehab equipment that is not normally available here – goniometers, theraband, reflex hammers, tape measure, etc!

I’d like to recognize our extremely generous donors of equipment and/or money:
Dr. Michael Mulligan Memorial Fund
Ola Grimsby Institute
Aureus Medical Group
Beth Calder
David Paz & family
Providence PT (Denver, CO): Michele Wesley, Cynthia Molloy, Jessica Winkel, Angie Mueller, Laura Krum
Dennis O’Connell
Chuck Riddle and Rehab Authority (Boise, ID)
Rehab Care
Physiotherapy Associates – Colorado
(Apologies if I missed anyone – some of the packages were un-marked so let me know if you are missing from the list!)

And, of course, everyone at Catholic Medical Mission Board ( who have been
an incredible source of moral and financial support from the start.

Also, my physical therapist volunteers who have donated their time and savings to make the event happen:
Alec Kay – Anchorage, Alaska
Ommar Ortuvia – Houston, Texas
Michelle Madron – Houston, Texas
Kristin Carpenter – Boulder, Colorado
Ana Herrera – Lima, Peru
Pedro Rojas – Trujillo, Peru
Pedro Romero – Lima, Peru

And I’m extremely grateful for the bright group of Regis students who are coming down for an “alternative experience” trip to support us:
John Zapanta, Megan Kelly, Jenna Neff, Megan Daly, Erin Carpenter, Laurel Proulx

In addition, a HUGE thanks to Nancy Mulligan at Regis for all of her countless hours in helping organize the group and event.

Laslty, our official event sponsors - Regis University, Perú Ministry of Health, Colegio Tecnólogo Médico Consejo Regional V, Universidad ALAS Peruanas, CMMB and Las Hermanas Del Buen Soccorro who are offering the students lodging and meals.

As I write this, I’m about to get on a bus to head to Lima where I’ll soon meet the Regis group. Our next week will be a whirlwind of visits to hospitals, schools, clinics, rural areas, the Peru Ministry of Health, etc. In addition to tours, we’re planning a screening fair for older adults, an exercise class, home health visits, and of course some down time to explore the great tourist sites around Trujillo. At the end of the week, we all unite together to begin the conference. I've learned so much from this entire process and though it's been a mountain of work it's also pushed me out of my comfort zone in so many good ways. Thanks again to all who have supported this goal from near and far. I can hardly believe the event is finally here!


  1. Amber, you are a freaking rock star! This event sounds so amazing, I'm so proud of you! Good work. Peru and it's PT's are so UNBELIEVABLY lucky to have you. :) I hope everything goes amazingly! -AMY Merrill

  2. amber! good luck and congratulations on all of this! you are amazing!!