The sky's the limit: Physical therapy '61 grads demonstrate the profession's diversity

The choice was easy for the women who enrolled in the University of Alberta's Physical Therapy program in 1959.

Amy Knezevich - 19 May 2016

(Edmonton) The choice was easy for the women who enrolled in the University of Alberta's Physical Therapy program in 1959. "There were not many choices for women at the time. We knew we didn't want to be teachers, nurses or secretaries. This was another option," explained Barbara Moore, an alumna from the class of '61.

"I knew I wanted to help people. When the school counsellor showed me a brochure about physiotherapy, I immediately felt excited," said Janet Heaps, "and I've been lucky to face diverse challenges throughout my 44 years as a physio."

Frances Ann Hayes added to this sentiment. "I think that something I've learned and would advise young physical therapists of is not to limit their options. Most people think 'I'll be working at a hospital or clinic,' but there are so many other options. Don't limit what you're going to do, and don't think you have to stay at home! One grad from our program worked overseas in Papua New Guinea. Don't limit your options geographically or professionally."

Heaps also had advice to share: "Use the journalists' five W's, 'who, what, where, when, why and how,' so you remain inquisitive and enjoy life-long learning. Also, share ideas and questions with colleagues to develop research potential. What I learned quickly is that patients and clients need to help develop and set goals for their success."

The UAlberta Physical Therapy Class of '61 gathered in Vancouver, BC for their 55th reunion last month, and it was the perfect time to reflect on what drew them to physical therapy, their time with the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, their bond and their successful careers.

"We reminisced and shared our stories. We're still busy people with active minds. No one is sitting in a rocking chair waiting to get old! It's so important to re-experience and reinforce the caring and sharing that bonded us together more than 55 years ago," said Heaps.

In the early 1960s, physiotherapists were in high demand in Canada. That meant a fast-tracked program for the class of '61. Remembering their time in the program, the women describe a high-pressure experience. "It was a really intense program. I remember going to class morning to night and working really hard, even on Saturdays," said Hayes.

"Our course was compressed into 22 months in order to graduate the needed physiotherapists quickly. As part of our 40-hour weeks, including the clinical placement hours, we had classes on Saturday mornings from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. At mid-morning, some of us would dash to SUB to get coffee! It left us breathless but invigorated," recalled Heaps.

The intensity of the program, combined with long hours spent together, away from other UAlberta students meant the women formed a close-knit group. "Most of our classes were held in a war-time quonset hut behind the men's residence, so we were isolated from most of the U of A students, but we became a very cohesive group," said Heaps. "Classes really bonded, we spent every waking moment together for 2 years-we were together 24x6! We got to know each other really well," added Hayes.

Twenty-eight women from Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia completed the diploma in '61. Fourteen classmates were present at the reunion, and of those, 11 had practiced physiotherapy for 20 or more years with four of them running private practices.

Employment has taken some as far away as England, Germany, Austria, Nepal, New Guinea and Uganda. Some have had a change of career to medicine, nursing or art. The classmates are now retired and scattered throughout British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, New Mexico and Washington State.

Hayes credits Janet Heaps, the still-acting class president, for keeping the class close. "Janet should get accolades for this. She kept us together through newsletters, keeping us up-to-date with what's happening in people lives. Without her, we wouldn't have kept in touch. She deserves more than a pat on the back!"

"It is amazing that after 55 years we still connect with depth, warmth and so much humour," said Moore, quoting classmate Regine Kutzner.

"We've known each other for 57 years! That's amazing! And I know it doesn't always happen-keeping in touch. There was something special about this class that we have stayed in touch," added Hayes.

Join us for Family Fun Day - FREE event for alumni and community

Reconnect with your class at our upcoming alumni event!

Join alumni and staff for our Family Fun Day event on June 4th from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. on the Corbett Hall front lawn (8205 114 Street, University of Alberta). This free alumni and community event will allow people of all ages to learn about what occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists and rehabilitation scientist do.


  • Face painting and balloon animals
  • Rehabilitation medicine booths
  • Free t-shirt for each child
  • Games, snacks and draw prizes
  • Photo booth with Guba, Patches and Disney Princesses

RSVP by June 1: