Recognizing the “mother of occupational therapy” for her distinguished 54-year career
In acknowledgement of her global leadership in the field of occupational therapy, the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine is establishing a lectureship in her honour
A trailblazer in the field of occupational therapy, E. S. (Sharon) Brintnell has spent her 54-year career advancing, developing, expanding and advocating for the profession. An educator and mentor to countless occupational therapy professionals world-wide, Brintnell’s international accomplishments include the development of the profession in Kuwait and Indonesia, which resulted in the Indonesian reference to her as the “mother of occupational therapy.” Her commitment goes beyond projects, as her personal undertakings involve supporting and mentoring emerging professionals as they take on the responsibilities for academic leadership.
With the aim of getting people back to the everyday activities that are meaningful to their lives, occupational therapists work with people of all ages who have experienced an illness affecting physical or mental health, an injury or a disability. They also work with families, communities and organizations in a supportive capacity. Throughout her career, Brintnell has focused her research on supporting and understanding the occupational (life tasks) performance of individuals with persistent mental illnesses, prenatal exposure to alcohol, those within the prison system, veterans and First Nation communities.
During her time with the University of Alberta's Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, Brintnell has been vital to the advancement of the occupational therapy program. In the 1980s, she helped guide the program’s accreditation, developing a curriculum based on theoretical models. She designed and led the introduction of an accelerated program, which addressed a critical provincial human-resource shortage by turning out an additional 120 occupational therapists in just four years. The accelerated program also opened up a number of community-based experiences for students. These were in non-governmental organizations and faith-based service agencies in the inner city through an indirect supervisory approach with an offsite occupational therapist hired by the university. She was instrumental in promoting occupational therapy education in Saskatchewan and negotiating a contract with the Government of Saskatchewan to send students to the University of Alberta where seats were allocated for them in the accelerated program, an agreement which continues today with the master’s program.
She also pioneered a fee-for-service, not-for-profit interdisciplinary model of community-based rehabilitation services with the introduction of the Occupational Performance Analysis Unit (OPAU) to the faculty, which she has directed since its inception. It successfully demonstrated a role for occupational therapists in medicolegal assessments and offering expert services to special populations (veterans and 16 First Nation communities). It also proved that occupational therapists could support themselves in private practice.
There is always another opportunity to serve the community, and after retirement, professor Brintnell intends to continue with her collaboration with indigenous communities in development of local services and supports for their Community members, particularly those with disabilities and in contact with the justice system. She also serves on a number of provincial health and professional advisory committees.
She is happiest at the Brintnell cottage on Lake Wabamun, which has been in her family for over 75 years. She is looking forward to spending more time there with friends, family and her five grandchildren.
In honour of her foundational work within the faculty, the department and the field of occupational therapy, the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine is creating the Sharon Brintnell Lectureship Award in Advancing Occupational Therapy.
Donations and philanthropic gifts are being sought to help establish an endowment to support the lectureship award, which will recognize an individual who has made a significant contribution to advancing the profession of occupational therapy locally, nationally or internationally. Each award recipient will provide a lecture as a means to engage students, alumni, faculty and staff in the Department of Occupational Therapy and the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, the broader academic community and the general public.
Brintnell’s dedication to the field has enhanced the visibility and recognition of occupational therapy as an essential health and social service internationally, and her legacy at the University of Alberta will continue with this lectureship and with future occupational therapy graduates.