Grad grows up in Corbett Hall

Physical Therapy grad Devin McFarlane follows in her mother's footsteps in rehabilitation medicine.

Bryan Alary - 10 July 2015

(Edmonton) Corbett Hall is familiar ground for Devin McFarlane-and not just because she's a new graduate of the University of Alberta's physical therapy program.

"I grew up a Corbett Hall kid," she says, while sitting in the third-floor office of Communications Science and Disorders associate professor Lu-Anne McFarlane, a.k.a. "Mom."

Devin was in Grade 2 the first time she remembers entering the historic 1930 building, after she came down with a sudden illness.

"Both my parents were working and nobody could stay home with me, so I got set up here with a video and sat in this office watching a movie," Devin remembers, gesturing toward her mom. "You didn't want to leave me alone in your office all day, so I sat in the back of a speech class at age seven or eight."

Devin became a familiar face in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine even earlier, Lu-Anne adds. As a preschooler, her daughter appeared in a speech mechanism exam video and participated in several research studies-now just a vague memory.

"That comes with the territory-being a good volunteer daughter of normal developmental skills," Devin laughs.

Devin's own academic journey at Corbett Hall of course came much later. After completing an undergrad in psychology at the U of A, she sought a career that combined two of her passions-people and movement.

"The human body is really cool in both how it works in it's most perfect form and all of the things that can go wrong and how quickly and easily things can get broken down." -Devin McFarlane, PT grad

A product of the Edmonton School of Ballet who has studied intensive, competitive dance since early childhood, Devin found a natural fit with physical therapy.

"The human body is really cool in both how it works in it's most perfect form and all of the things that can go wrong and how quickly and easily things can get broken down," says Devin.

Despite training 25 to 30 hours a week in her teens, Devin managed to avoid physical breakdowns, requiring physical therapy for less severe injuries and strains. Some of her earliest memories of the profession were her 6 a.m. appointments with David Magee in the basement of Corbett Hall.

"Anybody's body, when you dance, you're pushing it to the extremes. There's not a lot of bodies in the world that are set up to deal with that," says Devin, still involved with dance as a part-time instructor. "Sometimes you just need a little help from some tape or a few exercises to correct some imbalances that tend to develop as a result of dance."

When it came time to apply for a program, there was never any doubt about where to study.

Devin McFarlane

Devin McFarlane studied dance intensely throughout her childhood and teen years and still teaches today.

"I put all my eggs in one basket-I didn't apply anywhere else, I just applied here. I know it's such a great program and I grew up knowing some of the faculty here."

Even though people throughout her education tell her she speaks like a speech-language pathologist's daughter, Devin says she was adamant about following her own path. But in a small faculty with only three departments, the apple did not stray far.

"We've joked that I got about as close as I possibly could without actually being in speech," Devin laughs.

Mom says she'd be proud no matter the program.

"You want your kids to be doing something that they are going to enjoy and that's of high quality," Lu-Anne says. "And that's absolutely a known commodity here-I know the quality of the program, and the quality of the people who teach. There's just no doubt that this is the place in rehab if you're going to do that kind of training in Canada. It's amazing here."

Going to school in the same faculty as a parent has upsides and downsides, Devin says. On one hand, it was great having mom around to vent after a tough exam or class, or even to stop by for a quick visit and snack.

"As much as you get great support from your instructors, it's a different experience having mom in the building. It was great to have that support here."

Though many of her friends and some instructors knew who her mother is, Devin went out of her way not to advertise the family-faculty connection. She didn't want the attention or possible perception that anyone was playing favourites.

"She managed to fly under the radar. A couple of instructors didn't figure out who she was until convocation day," Lu-Anne says. "I would have loved to do something hugely embarrassing at one point, but I didn't."

McFarlane video

A screen capture of a speech exam video featuring Lu-Anne and Devin McFarlane. The video was shot in 1992.

As a member of the faculty, Lu-Anne regularly attends convocation with a view of graduands from the Jubilee stage. When Devin convocated on June 5, her mom was more than happy to take a seat in the audience.

"Some people asked me why I wasn't on the stage, but on that day I was a parent. That was my job, to be back in the audience, watching as a proud parent. It was nice to be there."

Immediately after her studies ended last fall, Devin moved into the next act of her career working as a pediatric physical therapist at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital (she landed an interview while on a student placement). Eight months in and she's loving every minute of it.

"In pediatrics, there's never a dull moment. You're working with kids so they're unpredictable and just new techniques and new ideas and treatments to try. It's a very interesting field to be in."