Building relationships with overseas colleagues

I was invited by my friend and colleague, Dr. Fei Sun, to work with a university in Wuhan, China, in June. I gave a short course (8 lectures) on aging, geriatric clinical skills, and dementia at Huazhong Agricultural University, College of Law & Humanities; I also gave a lecture with Dr. Sun at another nearby university- Huazhong University of Science & Technology, then joined him and esteemed colleague Dr. Nancy Hooyman from the US at an international conference on dementia in Nanjing, China, hosted by the Amity Foundation- a large non-profit, faith-based charity that operates training programs for differently-abled individuals, nursing homes, and dementia caregiving programs across the nation.

I am so pleased to have met so many amazing people. It was truly a fascinating trip- there is so much that is different between the Chinese and American cultures, but there was also a great deal that was the same. Families struggling to plan for caregiving, trying to raise children and care for aging parents, get a proper diagnosis and understand what is happening and what to expect, learning to communicate with adults who are disappearing into a horrible disease that robs them of their memory and their words– these things are the same across all cultural boundaries. We shared experiences, knowledge, and strategies to help our communities, and set the foundation for possible future collaborations in research and practice.

Here is a picture of Fei Sun and me at the Amity Foundation home office in Nanjing:


Here I am with students and colleagues in Wuhan at HZUA (I met a retired Philosophy Professor and his retired wife- he was turning 101 years old! He said he loved seeing such young enthusiastic college professors!):

Here are a few pictures from the lecture that I did with Dr. Sun for local physicians, psychiatrists, neurologists, researchers, and students at HZAU:

I had the privilege of speaking after Dr. Nancy Hooyman, former Dean of Social Work at University of Washington in the US, and an expert in dementia and caregiving at the 4th Amity International Conference on Senior Service & Training for Elderly Chronic Disease Management conference in Nanjing. Turns out that a colleague from Germany was not able to get his visa at the last minute, so I was asked to do a workshop on behaviors in dementia for practitioners from across China and Mongolia the next day, which of course I was thrilled to do! Our hosts from the Amity Foundation were very kind and we had a wonderful experience at the conference and for the workshop. Dr. Sun and I were interviewed by the regional Jiangsu Province television station for a special on the topic, and we got to do some sightseeing with our hosts!



I’ve had the privilege of having both amazing and anti-mentors (yes, it’s a word- ask around!), so it’s both my responsibility and great pleasure to pass on the great mentorship that I’ve had (and never become those things that were harmful!). I have the opportunity to mentor students in a number of ways at UCF, and my students are now graduated and out in the world, so I hope our relationships continue as they grow as colleagues and friends.

Here are a few of the mentoring relationships that I am so proud to have built here, and some of the students that I have the privilege of working with in this phase of their professional development:

The Social Work Healthcare Education And Leadership (HEALS) scholars we’re on our 4th cohort, and every year I get to spend time with extraordinary social work students who are becoming amazing advocates for healthcare and social justice related issues. They visit Tallahassee and Washington D.C. for advocacy trips, and together we have hosted several public forums on healthcare and policy related issues- in particular, one on cultural barriers to care (in partnership with our med school colleagues), and one on aging and healthcare policy (in partnership with our Barry Law School & 9th Circuit court colleagues). Together, we have started some great conversations about important issues in our community!

The Apopka clinic student leadership team and the social work students and colleagues who join the clinic: Three times a year, we work with colleagues in medicine, nursing, PT, pharmacy, and the local Farmworkers Association to open a pop-up clinic that provides outpatient primary care, counseling, and referrals to people in the healthcare desert area of Apopka, FL. Most of our clients (50-150 each time) are uninsured or underinsured, and we increasingly see people who speak Spanish or Creole and are afraid to go to normal healthcare settings out of fear of arrest, even if they are legally present in the state. It’s a rough introduction for some students to the realities of life for those who make a living in low-income jobs/careers such as farmwork or housekeeping, who may not have health insurance, who may or may not have a stable citizenship or immigration status, and who may be living with tremendous stress and fear related to these and other family, health related, or financial pressures. The learning opportunity for students is tremendous, the care provided to patients at the clinic is excellent (and free), and the mentorship opportunities with the students before, during, and after this experience has given me new chances to grow and learn. I am better for having done this, and for having worked with these people.

I have the opportunity to take on a few medical students each year, as they work their way through the Focused Inquiry Research Experience (FIRE) in their first and second year of med school at UCF. Along the way, I’ve also picked up a few med students who just wanted to write together, and it’s been a great privilege to get to know them and support them as they develop into amazing physicians.

My students in social work occasionally get to do service learning or initiate general awesomeness in the community. I’ve worked with Macro classes in producing a health fair for our local homeless population, and the Phi Alpha honor society to raise funds, awareness, and supplies for local organizations. I love my Phi Alpha leadership team and each year, it’s a blast to see what they’ll plan next!


Those of us who have had career success have gotten where we are with the help of mentors, colleagues, and friends who lift us up, help us see things in new ways, and open doors. It is our responsibility to hold that door open for someone else.

Building relationships

Good research is not very useful unless it manages to get out into the world. The best way for that to happen is through building relationships with community partners and colleagues in the field.

I’ve been working with some colleagues in the Orlando area to adapt well-established evidence-based interventions for dementia caregivers/care partners to better meet the needs of our local folks. We are working on that slow-but-steady shuffle towards that magical “translation” of research- moving it from books into real life practice settings.

Together with colleagues in the northern part of the state, I engaged with the Rosalynn Carter Center for Caregiving to add another tool to our toolbox- the Dealing with Dementia program. This is a whole different approach to CG interventions, but I think it has promise. The 4-hour workshop gives an orientation and practice time in using a giant resource and skills book. This may be the elusive answer to what we can do when the family that we meet lives in an area where there isn’t a referral to make for support or training. Data are being collected now by RCI, and I’ll be doing two public workshops in the next year in Orlando or the surrounding area, so stay tuned!