Wendy Campbell, Creative Forces –
Welcoming immigrants has long been an important part of the Canadian landscape — their contributions to all aspects of our culture and our lives help make this country the rich and varied place we love. Helping internationally educated professionals adjust to life and work here is an ongoing and important part of the picture. With the Ontario Internationally Educated Physical Therapy Bridging Program, (OIEPB) physiotherapy plays its part, offering both educational and practical opportunities for PT’s from all parts of the world to contribute to the Canadian health care system.
The programs exist in several provinces and the Ontario version had its first graduates in 2013 with a total of 234 to date. It was the brainchild of Sharon Switzer-McIntyre who continues to be its Director and driving force, in addition to her many other responsibilities in the Department of Physical Therapy in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto .
Two of the graduates of the 2020 class, Booma Anandhan and Ellen Henn came to Canada from very different corners of the globe. The photo above shows the 21 members of the 2020 OIEBP graduating class with their instructors. SSM is on the right end of the middle row in the patterned sweater, Booma is in front of her wearing grey and Ellen is second from the left in the back row.
Booma and Ellen were qualified physiotherapists in their own countries with a variety of experiences, keen to continue their professional lives here. The Bridging Program provided them with opportunities to complement their training, knowledge and skills in order to meet the Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators entry-to-practice requirements. They also had access to supervised clinical internships and support to integrate into the Canadian workplace. They were both particularly grateful for the excellent mentoring they received during their time in the program. Their stories reflect a system that works well to prepare internationally educated professionals to contribute their expertise to their new and chosen country.
Tamil Nadu is one of the most beautiful areas of India, with historic temples and stunning beaches along the Indian Ocean. In 2015, Booma, her husband and two young children left their families and friends there to come to Canada. Booma graduated with a BSc in Physiotherapy in 1998, and MSc in 2002. She practiced extensively in her country and in Malaysia, combining clinical work with teaching and research. From 2005- 2008 she held the position as Head of the Department of Physiotherapy at the College of Physiotherapy in Tamil Nadu. Her interests and experience span a wide range and include neuromuscular issues, women’s health and geriatrics…she also has a flair for telling stories.
Since coming to Canada, she has worked in a Toronto clinic as a physiotherapy assistant to learn about Canadian customs and culture, collaborating with multidisciplinary team members and administering modalities including Ultrasound, hot/cold therapy and Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). She entered the Bridging Program in April 2019 and completed it in March 2020, meeting all the requirements except the clinical examination which has been delayed due to the pandemic. Her dream is to continue studying and eventually pursue a doctorate, all while she and her husband bring up a young family.
Ellen and her husband came on holiday to Canada in 2013 and were intrigued by the safety, the quality of life, the diversity and the beauty of nature here. Ellen had completed a Bachelor of Physiotherapy in 2006, starting a physio clinic with three staff shortly after graduating. She also worked as part of a health team in an international company with 1,500 employees. Her husband worked in Information Technology and was looking for expanded opportunities beyond those existing in Santa Cruz, the lovely small town where they lived in the south of Brazil. Upon returning home, they decided to bring their skills to Canada and moved here in 2015. Although they found it extremely hard to leave behind the life they shared with family, friends and professional connections, they’ve settled happily here in Richmond Hill, and added a baby boy to their family.
Ellen entered the Bridging Program in 2019 and completed the course and clinical work early in 2020. She has passed the written exam, has her provisional license however due to COVID delays is still waiting to challenge the clinical exam. She is working in a support capacity in a clinic where her language skills help her to communicate with patients speaking Portuguese and Spanish as well as Italian. The owner and staff of the clinic are warm and welcoming and Ellen hopes to continue there after completing her clinical exam.
Booma and Ellen both applied for financial support from Access Community Capital Fund towards their participation in the Bridging Program and received small loans with reasonable interest and payback plans.
The concept of microfinancing first appeared in 1976 with Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus. Observing poor people on a trip in 1976 to a rural district of his country, Yunus discovered that very small amounts of money could make a huge difference in their lives. He implemented his plan by founding the Grameen Bank, offering to help people unable to qualify for traditional bank loans and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. The success of the micro financing model inspired similar efforts in over 100 countries, including Canada.
Access Community Capital Fund is a Toronto based nonprofit agency, established in 1999 to help individuals facing financial barriers to obtain affordable loans for small businesses and professional development. Their Foreign Credential Recognition Loan Program assists individuals who want to get back into their field or re-train for an alternative career in Canada. Loans up to $15,000 pay for career related expenses such as professional accreditation and certification exams, courses and bridging programs, travel and living expenses.
This program, along with the OIEBP, has enabled Booma and Ellen to pursue their goals of becoming fully qualified physiotherapists, ready to contribute to the health care of Canadians.
Inspiration for this piece came from a conversation with my friend Michael Fliess, Coordinator of Volunteer Engagement at ACCF, who mentioned that the agency had recently supported two physiotherapists from abroad to qualify for practice in Canada. I knew of the Bridging Program from a profile of Sharon Switzer – McIntyre I’d done for our alumni website, had the pleasure of meeting Booma and Ellen virtually and the article emerged. I’m confident that when the pandemic situation permits, they will pass the clinical exam and be fully registered physiotherapists here…we look forward to congratulating and welcoming them warmly!