Physiotherapy in Canada- a personal reflection

Physiotherapy across Canada.
Ontario to Yukon

I have been a registered physiotherapist for 7 years, and I have spent my entire “life as a physio” in Toronto, Ontario. I attended the University of Toronto for my Masters of Physiotherapy. My first job upon graduation was in private practice in Toronto. I opened my first clinic in Toronto. I expanded to a second location in Toronto. I then expanded to a third site in Muskoka, Ontario.  I opened my second clinic in Toronto. I completed a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, and then went on to be a Post Doctoral Fellow at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. I am a lecturer at the University of Toronto, and at McMaster University. I consider myself an Ontario physiotherapist, and that is it. I know the province, I know my Toronto (and greater Toronto) colleagues, I know my patients, I know my referral networks, I know the Ontario education system for physiotherapists, I can navigate the Ontario health care system- I know physiotherapy in Ontario. So when I was asked to travel across the country to the Yukon to treat and consult on orthopaedic patients, I knew it was going to be a professional challenge, that came at a time in my career that I needed just that. However, until sitting on the plane on my way back to Toronto, I didn’t realize how much I needed that challenge, and how it has benefitted my practice, my rehabilitative knowledge  and my outlook on the profession. So, let me attempt to share my personal reflections and professional reflections in this blog.
Physiotherapy in Canada is provincially regulated, so after obtaining my Yukon License and becoming a bona fide registered physiotherapist in the Yukon, I travelled the 5, 474 kms to Whitehorse, Yukon. I then had the privilege and pleasure to spend 28 days working with patients and learning from healthcare practitioners in the Yukon. This experience allowed me to grow not only professionally as a physiotherapist, and rehabilitation provider, but also personally, as I had the opportunity to interact with the incredible people of Whitehorse and the Yukon. I am grateful for the 4 weeks and have spent time reflecting on how this experience has affected me as a physiotherapist.

  1. Provincially Regulated, Nationally Connected

Although the practice of physiotherapy is regulated at the provincial level, physio’s across Canada are connected by their expertise, involvement in their healthcare system, and in the services they provide patients. Each environment has it’s unique challenges, obstacles, and requirements, however at the core of it all, the job as a physio is to get their patient back to function. I was put into situations while practicing in the Yukon with patients whom I did not understand their activities of daily living, having grown up in Toronto. I didn’t always understand the healthcare system of the Yukon to appreciate the their trajectory of care. I was not used to patients driving over 6 hours to be treated by me. But, despite not knowing, I knew my job was to get them back to moving, to living, to functioning. I knew that if I went back to the basics of movement, anatomy, physiology, and if I listened to what the patients goals were, I would be successful in contributing to their rehabilitation journey.
Additionally, having the chance to work with registered physiotherapists who were trained in different countries, and who had varying career histories was a unique experience for me. We all had different backgrounds and experiences, but those differences brought us together to learn, brainstorm and grow personally and professionally. We all had the same goals when it came to what we wished to accomplish with patients, but we had different approaches. That is the beauty of the rehabilitation field- there is not one right way to get to the final destination.

  1. Physiotherapists are the quarterbacks

Being immersed in the health care system in the Yukon, I had to learn quickly how to navigate funding models, referrals, and resources for patients. I learned very quickly that provincial/territorial healthcare operates very differently, and what I knew in Ontario was not the same in the Yukon. Progress reports, insurance forms, communication channels with other healthcare providers was all very different from what I was used to. Although it took me some time, many questions, and many hours to sort through the process, I did come away with the similar feeling as I do with my patients in Toronto- that as a physiotherapist I serve as a quarterback of their healthcare team. I must advocate for the patient, discuss options with the patient, educate the patient on protocols, and options. Regardless of where I am in Canada, I must put my patient first, ask questions, and help them navigate the system, while advancing them in their rehabilitation goals.

  1. The Power of Rehabilitation

Perhaps this opportunity to go practice in the Yukon came at a perfect time in my career. Through the patients I worked with during my time in Whitehorse, I was reminded of the powerful outcomes that come through rehabilitation. I was forced to work with difficult cases, terrifying stories, and hear patients trials and tribulations when it came to their health. I feel fortunate to be in a profession where I can work with people to make them better. To have the opportunity to think outside of the box when it comes to a challenging case. To be (perhaps a small) part of these peoples lives, and to regaining their function. And it is a two way street- I hope that I give hope, functional improvement, and better days to the people I work with. And I know that I gain inspiration, knowledge, and am humbled by the patients who let me be a part of their lives and their healthcare.

  1. Always learning

Being stretched out of my comfort zone, and working in a new environment, with new patients, with complex injuries, I was again reminded of the never ending learning curve of the rehabilitation profession. Although I feel competent in my skills and effective as a physiotherapist, it was a perfect opportunity to be reminded that always learning is a sign of growth, career advancement, and should be viewed as a positive. Continuing to seek out learning opportunities is something I value, and I was reminded of this while practicing on the other side of Canada!

  1. The strength of our profession- physically and emotionally

I often reflect on how physiotherapist are in a unique position to physically rehabilitate a patient, but must be very aware of the patients emotional needs as well. They two go hand in hand. A good physiotherapist is able to find the balance, and navigate through the physical and emotional needs of the patient to rehabilitate them effectively and efficiently. But, this is also important with our colleagues. Connecting with other physiotherapists and supporting each other through challenging cases, difficult work situations, complicated injuries, and frustrations in the healthcare system is critical to the longevity of physiotherapists. I have connected many times with my Toronto colleagues. But having a new professional network in the Yukon allowed me to connect with more brilliant physiotherapists, share stories, ask questions, offer support, and receive support. I feel lucky to be part of a profession where this behaviour is encouraged, and to surround myself with exceptional practitioners who I can collaborate with.
By Charlotte Anderson MSc, PT., PhD
Physiotherapist Charlotte Anderson

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