Posted on January 19, 2011 by Tia Lalani

Laurie Wang explores the need and opportunities for rural physical therapy practitioners, and a program that is tailor-made for them.

By Laurie Wang –

There is a shortage of physical therapists in Alberta’s rural communities, and the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine has found a way to meet the need.

The Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine and the Department of Physical Therapy have received funding from Alberta Advanced Education and Technology to enrol another cohort into the master of science physical therapy (MSc PT) rural satellite program at the U of A’s Augustana Campus in Camrose.

The physical therapy program is currently accepting applications for fall 2011, and 10 students will be admitted to the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine’s MSc PT program at the Augustana campus. Augustana students “attend” most classes via real-time, high-definition video conferencing. Along with the Edmonton instructors connected via technology from Corbett Hall on the university’s North Campus, the Augustana students have a local instructor/teaching assistant for each course. Students from both cohorts can see and interact with each other simply by talking to the large television screens in classrooms and laboratories and cameras at both sites allow for zooming in for a close view of hands-on skill techniques. Ten students started the MSc PT program in September 2010 and have embraced the format.

“I would definitely recommend [this style of instruction]. Using the synchronized distance learning technology every day to attend classes doesn’t feel any different and we receive the same excellent clinical teaching and attention from our instructors,” says Alaina Risi, a first year physical therapy student in the Camrose program.

Risi saw the need for physical therapists when she worked with the Augustana Vikings and helped in their training. “They had to drive to all the way to Wetaskiwin to receive physiotherapy,” she said.

Risi says being in Camrose has helped her see how physical therapy in rural Alberta works, and she’s surrounded by the very people she could be helping. “When I talk to people about the physical therapy program in Camrose, they’re very excited. They can’t wait for us to open up a student clinic here. I’m excited for the clinical experience in a rural community.”

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Statistics Canada, as of 2009, there were 1,722 practicing physical therapists in Alberta and only 187 work in rural or remote areas. 90.2 per cent of physical therapists work in urban centres, while only 9.8 per cent work in rural communities.

“We know there is a need for more rehabilitation professionals in rural Alberta. We launched this pilot project in partnership with former dean Roger Epp from Augustana Campus this past fall and we are pleased to know we are continuing the program for a second year,” says Martin Ferguson-Pell, dean of Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine.

The vision to start the pilot program began with Ferguson-Pell, Epp, former dean of Rehabilitation Medicine Al Cook and chair of physical therapy Bob Haennel. The IT teams in Rehab Med, Augustana and the U of A’s Academic Information and Communications Technology group helped make the unique distance learning technology possible.

How to apply for MSc PT program
Read more about the PT program in Camrose – DEADLINE FEBRUARY 1, 2011

About the University of Alberta Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine

As the only free standing faculty of rehabilitation in Canada, the University of Alberta Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine balances its activities among learning, discovery and citizenship (including clinical practice). A research leader in musculoskeletal health, spinal cord injuries and common spinal disorders (back pain), the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine aims to improve the quality of life of citizens in our community. The three departments, Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT) and Speech Pathology and Audiology (SPA) offer professional entry programs. The Faculty offers thesis-based MSc and PhD programs in Rehabilitation Science, attracting students from a variety of disciplines including OT, PT, SLP, psychology, physical education, medicine and engineering.

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