Physical therapy bridging program wins national award

UAlberta pilot program to train international physical therapists recognized by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.


(Edmonton) The University of Alberta’s pilot program to train international physical therapists has received national recognition less than a year after its inception.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada presented the 2013 Special Merit Award to the Alberta Internationally Educated Physiotherapists Bridging Program in March, for helping international professionals integrate and be part of the Canadian economy. The one-year bridging program, a partnership between the U of A and Physiotherapy Alberta, helps physiotherapists from abroad meet the requirements to practice in Alberta.

Costas Menegakis, parliamentary secretary to Canada’s citizenship and immigration minister, presented the International Qualifications Network Award to Dianne Millette, registrar with Physiotherapy Alberta, and Bernadette Martin, associate chair of physical therapy with the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, at a ceremony in Gatineau, Que.

“Our government is committed to providing newcomers with the support they need to successfully integrate into Canadian society,” said Menegakis. “We are proud to recognize the winners who are devoted to helping newcomers contribute to the economy and labour market more quickly.”

Titi Akindipe, who just passed her written licensing exam with the help of the bridging program, couldn’t be more thrilled.

“It’s so brilliant that they are being recognized nationally in this way. This program is amazing and has truly made a big difference in my life and career,” said Akindipe.

Originally from Nigeria, Akindipe earned her master’s degree from the National University of Ireland. After practising for more than 10 years in Dublin, she and her husband, a physician, decided to move to Canada.

“I got in touch with the Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators, and they assessed my qualifications and let me know that I was eligible to write the Physiotherapy Competency Exam,” she recalls. “I flew in all the way from Dublin for just the weekend to write the exam, but I didn’t pass. When I asked around, people told me that in order to succeed, I would need to be present for a while. So I looked for options to help me transition.”

“The program is designed to help internationally educated physiotherapists in a number of ways. In addition to preparing them for the exam, more importantly, it provides them with support in managing cultural differences and exposes them to valuable Alberta clinical experience. This program focuses on successful workplace integration,” explained Millette.

The part-time program is made up of three courses delivered in a blended format, online and face-to-face. Each course has several modules that run for two weeks each and include online activities, a weekly half-day clinical mentorship session, and a lab. Students attend the lab component every second Saturday either in Edmonton or Calgary (sites are linked by video conferencing). Finally, the program is capped off with a six-week, full-time clinical internship.

“When I moved to Edmonton to start the program, I didn’t know anyone. I was so grateful that they took the time to pair me with a mentor; it was one less stressor for me,” said Akindipe.

Akindipe highly recommends the bridging program to all international physical therapists who want to live in Canada.

“It’s not just about passing the exam; anyone can study hard and get into the system. It’s about integrating oneself into the system and having as smooth a transition as possible,” Akindipe noted. “The benefits of this bridging program really can’t be quantified. It’s prepared me for things past just the exam and has given me an incredible network of people I now consider my lifelong friends.”

As the first round of students near the end of the program, staff are gearing up to welcome a new group in May.

“The award confirms that our bridging program is on the right track in the innovative work it does,” said Martin. “The faculty and staff know how much the students appreciate the program, but to be externally recognized at the national level within our first year is really a bonus.”