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Physical therapy bridging program expands to MHC

July 14, 2015
A University of Alberta bridging program aimed at addressing a skills gap to help internationally trained physical therapists prepare to work in Canada has expanded to a third location.

The Alberta Internationally Educated Physiotherapists Bridging (AIEPB) program has partnered with Medicine Hat College, now the program’s third location in addition to Edmonton and Calgary.

"We are excited to be working with Medicine Hat College and expanding to this third site,” says Colleen Britton, AIEPB’s co-director of administration. “Having a presence in three of Alberta’s largest cities—and with Medicine Hat being so close to Saskatchewan—will help us prepare even more internationally educated physiotherapists for the Canadian workforce, addressing an important need for our aging population.”

Now in its third year, AIEPB is funded by a Health Canada grant with an aim to address the need to integrate physiotherapists certified in other countries into the Canadian health-care system. Students are taught in person and via synchronous learning technology from the U of A’s north campus, the University of Calgary’s downtown campus—home to the U of A’s physical therapy and occupational therapy satellite sites—and now Medicine Hat College.

“This initiative is a natural fit with our occupational/physical therapist assistant program,” says Grace Torrance, program co-ordinator at MHC. “It not only provides students a unique and beneficial experience, but also bridges faculty between the various campuses. It's a true example of how partnerships and technology can provide today’s learners flexible options that ensure they get the most out of their time with us.”

The 14-month bridging program combines hands-on clinical experience with textbook learning, and ensures students have the skills and familiarity with working in a Canadian clinical setting. It also gives students a leg up preparing for the exam administered by the Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators, which accredits all physiotherapists working in Canada.

“Students have taken and failed the exam, then enrolled in our program, rewritten and passed it, and now have jobs. That’s how we measure success," says Barbara Norton, co-director of curriculum.

From Italy to Medicine Hat

Alberto Marchi relocated to British Columbia from Florence, Italy, where he had qualified as a physiotherapist at the University of Florence and had been practising for five years in a home for the elderly.

“You don’t have to be registered as a physiotherapist in Italy. All you need is your university qualification,” explains Marchi.

After learning about the bridging program, Marchi moved to Medicine Hat to take advantage of new enrolment opportunities.

Similar to bridging programs in Toronto and Quebec, the U of A’s program stands out because it mixes distance education with in-person mentoring from practising physiotherapists. In March 2014, the program was recognized by Special Merit Award from Citizenship and Immigration Canada for helping international professionals integrate into the Canadian economy.

“This year we have students from Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Manitoba and Alberta. Our focus is on providing the program in Western Canada,” says Bernadette Martin, associate chair of physical therapy in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine.

Students’ first official day at the Medicine Hat site was May 26, and they go until August 2016, by which time they are ready to write their exams and have a good handle on what it means to be a physiotherapist in a Canadian clinic.

Looking ahead to the end of the program and writing his qualification exam, Marchi thinks he might have better luck finding work if he stays in Alberta rather than going back to B.C.

“The bridging program will help me prepare to work anywhere in Canada, but just being here gives me a greater familiarity with Alberta and the regulatory system here. There is a lot of opportunity to work in this province.”