UAlberta expands rehabilitation education to rural and southern Alberta

Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine marks permanent operation of occupational therapy and physical therapy teaching satellite facilities in Calgary and Camrose.


(Edmonton) A whole new generation of occupational therapists and physical therapists will help meet the rehabilitation needs of the entire province, thanks to the University of Alberta’s permanent presence in southern and rural Alberta.

The Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine held a grand opening Sept. 10 to mark the permanent operation of the faculty’s Calgary and Camrose satellite sites, home to master’s-level programs in occupational therapy (Calgary) and physical therapy (Camrose and Calgary). The two satellite sites had previously operated as pilot projects.

“Today marks a new chapter for the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine in how we educate the rehabilitation professionals of tomorrow,” said Bob Haennel, interim dean. “We take pride in being the only free-standing Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine in North America, but we also take seriously our responsibility to ensure Albertans have access to the rehabilitation services that are vital to quality of life, function and participation in an inclusive society.”

Students and professors from all three cities interact using real-time synchronous video conferencing technology.

“Just as technological advances continually change and improve how we deliver rehabilitation treatments, technology is changing how we teach our students,” Haennel added. “We can educate more students at the same time without sacrificing the learning experience or watering down opportunities for hands-on training.”

“Expanding the physical and occupational therapy programs in Calgary and rural areas enhances access for students and patients throughout Alberta,” said Lori Sigurdson, minister of innovation and advanced education and minister of jobs, skills, training and labour. “Our government is making this investment because we recognize the value of students gaining the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in their future careers, while also making a difference in the quality of life of Albertans who need this care.”

The Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine launched its first satellite site in 2010 at the U of A’s Augustana Campus in Camrose with an initial enrolment of 12 master’s students in physical therapy. The model was later adopted to launch Calgary satellite sites for physical therapy (at the U of C’s Downtown Campus) and occupational therapy (initially in leased office space) in the fall of 2012.

Permanent enrolment funding from the Government of Alberta and an additional capital investment have allowed for ongoing operations in newly renovated space at the U of C’s Downtown Campus, where both programs now reside.

“The University of Calgary has been an invaluable partner in making our Calgary satellite a reality and a great example of the types of co-operation that routinely happen between post-secondary institutions in Alberta,” Haennel said. “Without their support, we would not be able to deliver the first-class educational experience our students need and deserve.”

Allen Berger, dean of Augustana Campus, said the physical therapy program has been a proud and welcome addition to the campus and local communities.

“We are excited at Augustana to be celebrating the permanent funding of the multi-site physical therapy program, and particularly proud that Augustana is uniquely positioned to assist the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine in addressing the Province of Alberta’s needs in rural health care.”

Learning from city to city to city


Students in Calgary, Camrose and the faculty’s primary home at Corbett Hall in Edmonton use a variety of learning methods, from traditional face-to-face instruction and hands-on practical sessions to video conferencing and use of mobile devices. Video conferencing allows students from all three locations to interact with professors and each other.

In total, 217 students are enrolled in the physical therapy program—154 in Edmonton, 39 in Calgary and 24 in Camrose. A total of 245 students are enrolled in occupational therapy—198 in Edmonton and 47 in Calgary.

The smaller class sizes provided an exceptional learning experience and drew classmates closer together, said Shauna Panton, who this past August successfully completed the occupational therapy program in Calgary and graduates this fall.

“We got to know each other really well, and an important thing is we got to know how different classmates worked and about everyone’s learning style,” said Panton.

Classmates developed strong teamwork skills from working closely on group projects—collaborations that will pay off down the road as each moves into practice in the community.

Being in southern Alberta also offers advantages in finding employment, she added.

The opportunities to live and study in Camrose were significant reasons for choosing the physical therapy program at the U of A, said Nolan Roesch, a second-year physical therapy student based at Augustana. Roesch grew up in Leduc, a city of comparable size to Camrose, and enjoys the sense of community that comes with living in a smaller city.

“There’s a certain comfort level for me,” says Roesch, who did his undergrad in Edmonton and had the downtown experience, and is now enjoying the benefits of living in a smaller centre. He’s now involved with Augustana’s cross-country running team and is helping as a trainer for a local hockey team.

“I definitely see myself working in that smaller-city type atmosphere down the road, whether it’s a hospital or in a private practice. A lot of doors have opened up for me here in Camrose.”