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Dynamic Chiropractic – October 7, 2009, Vol. 27, Issue 21

Sustainable Partnerships Make the World Go Around

By Guy Riekeman, DC, President, Life University

When Columbus sailed west for India and rammed right into the Americas, he returned home and announced the world was round. When Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Friedman flew to India for a 2004 fact-finding trip, he returned home and announced the world was flat, and becoming ever more so.

In his bestseller The World Is Flat, Friedman explains how barriers of time, geography, culture and economics that previously isolated people in one region from those in another have largely disappeared. He says, "More people can plug in, play, compete, connect and collaborate with more equal power than ever before."

You can argue the pluses or minuses of a more globally connected world, but those who thrive on its new opportunities are already anticipating and adapting to them. Life University is right there with them, reaching out around the world and educating our students to become effective and responsible global citizens.

Many well-intentioned chiropractors and organizations dabble in international outreach, sponsoring brief mission trips to remote areas. Some colleges have even institutionalized these efforts with week-long overseas clinics. However, these efforts do little to meet the legislative and academic challenges of creating recognition of a new profession in a foreign country. Life University is one of the most active chiropractic organizations on the global scene, with ongoing outreach activities in Asia, Africa and Latin America. We are committed to creating sustainable partnerships and will only engage in international efforts we believe will lead to permanent and ongoing services within a region, as well as legislative inroads and future program development.

With the vast majority of the world's population residing outside the U.S. and Europe, but almost all of our chiropractors living within them, the chiropractic frontier is clearly overseas. Realizing the potential of that frontier will only occur if we partner with local leaders to write effective legislation, engage in academic exchange, provide mentors and permanent clinical services and educate local students to grow the profession at home.

Like so many chiropractors, we're motivated to bring care to millions who need it, but we also understand the need to protect the standards and unique identity of the profession to ensure its long-term viability. Simply introducing chiropractic care and then heading home leaves local citizens stranded and encourages those with little training to fill the void. We all have a vested interest in making sure the profession grows responsibly. By partnering with existing educational institutions in the host country, we can serve as invaluable mentors in how to establish and grow an educational program, share legislative expertise, participate in faculty exchange, create economies of scale and engage in interdisciplinary research activities. In this way, we support and promote the advancement of chiropractic based on strong philosophical and educational principles anchored within the local economy and expertise.

As stewards of the profession, we want to advance and safeguard its growth. As educators, we also take a student-centered perspective to deepen the educational experience and better prepare graduates for their roles in society. An overseas immersion quarter proves time and again to be life changing as our students gain an appreciation for other customs, lifestyles, health care approaches and even economic systems. Students also get the chance to see the receptivity to chiropractic from people with no previous bias. Although we continue to engage in conversations in many regions of the world, these outreach activities are available today for students and faculty.

China: Students may spend a quarter abroad in China's Sichuan province in a university-run chiropractic clinic located within a large community hospital in Zigong. Onsite Life employees mentor students in providing direct patient care and interacting with the hospital's clinical staff. Students enjoy total immersion in a city of 4.5 million residents largely unaccustomed to Western people. Translators assist with language barriers so students can interact effectively with patients. Interestingly, the first three translators who worked with our students were so impressed with our vitalistic approach to health that they are now enrolled as undergraduates at Life and intend to proceed into the DC program.

We have also signed agreements within mainland China and Taiwan with three major universities to work more closely together with potential for joint research projects, on-campus clinics and educational program development, perhaps in the form of local students completing undergraduate and pre-chiropractic coursework in China and then traveling to Life for the DC curriculum. In addition, numerous Chinese students have already applied for admission to our campus via ambassadors at our Beijing office. We anticipate that all of these students will return to their hometowns to pioneer a legitimate chiropractic profession in their country.

Costa Rica: Through formal agreements with the Ministry of Sport and the Olympic Committee, Life faculty provide chiropractic to top Costa Rican athletes, with students assisting in assessment and educational activities. Agreements with the University of Costa Rica also allow for cooperative research opportunities in physical performance between students of both institutions.

Ghana: Working directly with Life alumni at established clinics in Ghana, Life students can spend quarter-long rotations immersed in a new culture and country learning alongside seasoned DCs. Students care for numerous patients, experience the beauty of the region, gain an appreciation for the often stark poverty of an emerging nation and help fill the tremendous local need for quality health care. Life University Executive Vice President, Brian McAulay, DC, PhD, has also presented to the country's minister of health and his cabinet about the philosophy, science and art of chiropractic.

India: Ron Kirk, DC, professor of chiropractic science, is involved through his Straighten Up America campaign with Healthy Bangalore, a multidisciplinary group working to improve health and life expectancy in the region. Under the umbrella of the World Health Organization, Kirk has been formally recognized for his outreach efforts. Dr. McAulay also recently visited several universities in Bangalore, meeting with the board of trustees and their deans, and providing curriculum information for their use as they map out a planned chiropractic program.

When we evaluate the many opportunities for chiropractic on the global stage, our first criterion is to ensure we can create a sustainable partnership that provides long-term benefit to the people of the region and sensible expansion of the profession. We work cooperatively with the World Federation of Chiropractic (WFC) and the Federation Internationale de Chiropratique du Sport (FICS), for which John Downes, our director of international programs, serves as a council officer. We want to work cooperatively with any organization that also supports the purposeful and responsible expansion of true chiropractic around the world.

As educators, we often exhort our students to be the change they want to see in the world. Friedman puts it even more powerfully, saying, "The world needs you to be forever the ... generation of strategic optimists, the generation with more dreams than memories, the generation that wakes up each morning and not only imagines that things can be better but also acts on that imagination every day."

Dr. Guy F. Riekeman, current president of Life University in Marietta, Ga., has held leadership positions in chiropractic education essentially since his graduation from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1972. He was appointed vice president of Sherman College in 1975 and has served as president of all three Palmer campuses and as chancellor of the Palmer Chiropractic University System. In 2006, he was elected to the board of directors of the Council on Chiropractic Education.

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