Occupational therapy program expands to meet need

(Edmonton) A new pilot program to expand the University of Alberta’s occupational therapy program to Calgary helps address the health-care needs of the province's aging population while following the “Campus Alberta” model.

Twelve students from the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine’s master of occupational therapy program are currently training in Calgary, where they are using innovative learning technology, conducting research with industry partners and receiving hands-on clinical training.

“We know that across the country the population is aging and there is tremendous need for occupational therapy services to help individuals remain in their homes and in their communities as long as possible,” said Lili Liu, chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy. “We operate the only occupational therapy program in Alberta and we need to serve the entire province.”

The two-year pilot will demonstrate an innovative approach to learning, with students receiving classroom instruction via video conferencing and hands-on clinical training with 28 weeks of field placements. Students will also use mobile technology such as tablets to interact outside the classroom. The technology also allows them to be wherever they can be of the most help to clients.

The program is using space at the U of A’s Calgary Centre and at SAIT Polytechnic. Liu said the move to lease space from SAIT allows U of A students to train alongside SAIT’s rehabilitation assistant students—two related occupations that previously have not trained together.

“It’s a fantastic example of how the University of Alberta can work with another post-secondary institution and the two programs can interact and learn from one another and better understand each other’s roles. This all fits with the Campus Alberta model.”

Generating ideas that serve Albertans

The program also uses space in TRLabs in Calgary, which Liu said enhances the department’s research and training in home-health technologies with industry partners.

“We want to encourage opportunities for students and engineers to mingle and come up with ideas that flow together, that serve the health needs of Albertans.”

Jutta Hinrichs, Calgary and southern Alberta clinical educator co-ordinator, said the program has been warmly received by the local occupational therapy community that works with students during their field placements. The area requires more occupational therapists, which along with physical therapy is a fast-growing discipline, she said.

“Many of the clinicians are looking forward to being involved with the program and teaching students, and they’re also looking forward to having students here on placements who want to be in Calgary.”

Innovative, interactive practice

The new pilot program started two weeks ago, with students using a variety of learning methods. Susan Mulholland, an occupational therapist and instructor overseeing the linkages between the Calgary and Edmonton sites, said the technology allows students and professors to interact no matter their location but the Calgary site provides a unique learning opportunity for both.

“I have 12 students here, so there’s a wonderful opportunity to get to know the students, know their personalities,” she said. “Occupational therapy is very much a people-based profession, so this is a great way to work with the students.”

First-year master’s student Sandra Rusu of Toronto said the opportunity for more hands-on learning was a major factor in choosing the U of A. Students have already formed a strong bond while the real-time technology used in the classroom offers the same interaction as a regular classroom.

“Occupational therapy is a program where you require hands-on practice,” she said. “Being taught by clinicians with experience in the outside world has been a very, very enriching experience.”