On Monday, October 17, USC and Peking University, China’s premier college, formalized their partnership to develop one of China’s first graduate programs in occupational therapy, a rehabilitation field with growing demand because of a massive, aging Chinese population.
The alliance between the USC Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy and the Peking University Health Science Center is the result of USC’s China Initiative, which began in 2014 as part of a $20 million naming gift from USC Trustee Ronnie C. Chan and his wife, Barbara.
“Occupational therapy enables people throughout the world to lead healthier, happier, fuller lives,” said Michael Quick, USC provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “By advancing occupational therapy education, research and clinical care in China, this new partnership with Peking University has the potential to transform the quality of life for millions of people.”
The announcement caps more than two years of intercontinental exploration and travel by USC Chan faculty members, including associate dean and chair Florence Clark and the China Initiative’s interim director Julie McLaughlin Gray, to better understand the nuances of occupational therapy within China’s healthcare system and to identify an optimal partner capable of fostering the profession’s growth within the country.
USC’s occupational therapy division is among the top-ranked in the nation. Occupational therapy is a healthcare profession focused on enabling people to better manage chronic disease and disability through sustainable, health-promoting activities and routines in order to live more satisfying and productive lives.
Under the leadership of Qimin Zhan, president of the Peking University Health Science Center, the program’s first Chinese faculty members will be appointed to spend two years learning and sharing ideas at USC Chan while earning both a post-professional master’s degree and a post-professional occupational therapy doctorate. The partnership will result in the development of an occupational therapy curriculum that is relevant to people in China.
After two years, the Chinese professors will head home and launch a master’s in rehabilitation program with an emphasis in occupational therapy at the Peking University Health Science Center. The graduate program will train an inaugural cohort of Chinese occupational therapists to provide high-quality clinical services to the estimated 85 million Chinese living with, or at risk for, a disability.
Additionally, select Peking University Health Science Center students will have the option to come to USC for one year. This model will empower students in China to transplant learning experiences from USC directly to clinical programs and sites back in China.
“This historic partnership with Peking University will dramatically influence rehabilitation practice and research, creating innovative ways to improve quality of life in China,” said Florence Clark, associate dean and chair of USC Chan. “By collaborating to establish a state-of-the-art curriculum for educating Chinese clinicians and by fostering the development of scientists, USC continues to demonstrate its investment in professional excellence throughout the world.”
Compared to Western medical systems, occupational therapy in China is still nascent with fewer than 2,500 practicing therapists in the entire country. Only three programs in mainland China have been accredited by the World Federation for Occupational Therapists, according to a 2015 Occupational Therapy International report.
In 1978, USC was the first American university to send a delegation to China following the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Today USC has strategic partnerships and long-standing alliances with top Chinese universities across a wide range of disciplines. Additionally, six of USC’s eight international offices are located in the Asia-Pacific region, including Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taiwan.