Canada recognizes UAlberta physical therapy bridging program with prestigious national award

The University of Alberta's pilot program to train international physical therapists has received national recognition less than a year after its inception.

Jeannine Guérette - 23 April 2014

The University of Alberta's pilot program to train international physical therapists has received national recognition less than a year after its inception.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada presented the 2013 Special Merit Award to the Alberta Internationally Educated Physiotherapists Bridging (AIEPB) program in March, for helping international professionals integrate and be part of the Canadian economy. AIEPB, a partnership between UAlberta and Physiotherapy Alberta, is a one-year program that helps physiotherapists from abroad meet the requirements to practice in Alberta.

Costas Menegakis, Parliamentary Secretary to Canada's Citizenship and Immigration Minister, presented the International Qualifications Network Award to Dianne Millette, registrar, Physiotherapy Alberta, and Bernadette Martin, associate chair of physical therapy, Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, in Gatineau.

"Our government is committed to providing newcomers with the support they need to successfully integrate into Canadian society," says Menegakis. "We are proud to recognize the winners who are devoted to helping newcomers contribute to the economy and labour market more quickly."

Titi Akindipe, who just passed her written licensing exam with the help of the AIEPB program, couldn't be more thrilled.

"It's so brilliant that they are being recognized nationally in this way. This program is amazing and has truly made a big difference in my life and career," says Akindipe.

Originally from Nigeria, Akindipe earned her Master degree from the National University of Ireland. After practicing for more than 10 years in Dublin, she and her husband, a physician, decided to move to Canada.

"I got in touch with the Alliance (Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators) and they assessed my qualifications and let me know that I was eligible to write the Physiotherapy Competency Exam (PCE)," she recalls. "I flew in - all the way from Dublin - for just the weekend to write the exam, but I didn't pass. When I asked around, people told me that in order to succeed, I would need to be present for a while. So I looked for options to help me transition."

"The AIEPB program is designed to help internationally education physiotherapists in a number of ways. In addition to preparing them for the exam, more importantly, it provides them with support in managing cultural differences and exposes them to valuable Alberta clinical experience. This program focuses on successful workplace integration," explains Millette.

This part-time program is made up of three courses delivered in a blended format, online and face-to-face. Each course has several modules that run for two weeks each and include online activities, a weekly, half-day clinical mentorship session, and a lab. The lab component is offered every second Saturday and students attend either in Edmonton or Calgary (sites are linked by video-conferencing). Finally, the program is capped off with a six-week full-time clinical internship.

"When I moved to Edmonton to start the program, I didn't know anyone. I was so grateful that they took the time to pair me with a mentor; it was one less stressor for me," says Akindipe. "My mentor is at the Misericordia Hospital and she's amazing!"

Akindipe highly recommends the bridging program to all international physical therapists who want to live in Canada.

"Maybe it's my personality, but I like being thorough. It's not just about passing the exam; anyone can study hard and get into the system. It's about integrating oneself into the system and having as smooth of a transition as possible," Akindipe explains. "The benefits of this bridging program really can't be quantified. It's prepared me for things past just the exam and has given me an incredible network of people I now consider my lifelong friends," she adds.

As the first round of AIEPB students near the end of the program, staff are gearing up to welcome a new group in May. This time around though, they'll have a little extra pep from winning the IQN award.

"The award confirms that our bridging program is on the right track in the innovative work it does," says Martin. "The AIEPB faculty and staff know how much the students appreciate the program but to be externally recognized at the national level within our first year is really a bonus!"