For the love of rehab med: Calgary couple train to become rehab professionals together

Valentine's Day feature: Meet Renette and Nelson Morela-newlyweds and first-years at the Calgary satellite campus.

Caleng Chang - 12 February 2016

(Calgary) You had me at nutrition class.... If their life were a romantic comedy, this would be the famous quote for Renette and Nelson Morela, both first-years in occupational therapy and physical therapy, respectively, at the University of Alberta's Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine Calgary satellite campus-and happily married.

"We met in our second year of kinesiology at the University of Calgary," says Renette. "We would sit next to each other in nutrition class, chatting and studying together. Six months later, we started dating."

Renette was originally from South Africa and moved to Canada when she was six years old. She grew up in Fort McMurray before relocating to Calgary to attend school.

Nelson grew up in Airdrie before moving to Calgary. Physical therapy (PT) was something Nelson had always wanted to pursue after his kinesiology degree. Renette, on the other hand, found her passion in occupational therapy towards the end of her undergrad studies.

"My original plan was to go into medicine," explains Renette. "But in third year, I changed my mind to occupational therapy because it suited the direction I wanted to go in life."

Occupational therapy allowed Renette to make an impact as a health-care professional and improve the quality of life of individuals. The timing was right, and since Renette and Nelson were both interested in rehabilitation medicine, they applied to physical therapy and occupational therapy schools across Canada.

"We chose the U of A because the location worked for us. We didn't have to move and could stay close to our family," says Nelson. "It's great that you can get a U of A degree here in Calgary."

The MSc physical therapy and occupational therapy programs at the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine are offered at the Calgary satellite campus located in the heart of downtown Calgary. The Calgary programs currently have 88 students and 13 staff. The program is a combination of in-person instruction as well as videoconferencing and online instruction delivered from the Edmonton or Calgary campuses. The PT program is also offered in Camrose at the U of A's Augustana Campus.

"I feel like I'm part of a community here in Calgary. I also feel like I'm more connected to the students from the other program because I am married to Nelson," says Renette. "Everyone at campus knows we are married and they don't treat us any differently."

Through all the countless hours of studying, Renette and Nelson manage to strike a balance between their relationship and schoolwork.

"Our schedules are in sync so we're able to spend most of our free time together," says Renette. "It's great that we live in Calgary. We're both very active so our weekend getaways usually involve heading to the mountains.

Because we know what's on each other's plate, no one gets upset if the other needs an extra day to study or complete assignments," she adds. "We actually use each other to practise the skills we learn in class and give each other feedback."

Nelson is thankful that he and Renette can train to be rehabilitation professionals together.

"It's great to have your best friend with you every step of the way," he says. "We're both very like-minded and are supportive of one another. Our goals and what we want in life are very similar."

What relationship advice do Renette and Nelson have for new couples embarking on their academic journeys together?

"If you love each other, you can make it work," says Nelson. "It's important to be clear about what you want so you are both on the same page, you share the same or similar goals. I think that's key to making any relationship work."


The Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta

As the only free-standing faculty of rehabilitation medicine in North America, the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine's vision is to be at the forefront of knowledge generation and scholarship in rehabilitation. Through excellent teaching, research and service to the community, the Faculty is committed to enhancing quality of life, promoting participation and autonomy, and improving function for citizens in Alberta and beyond.

A research leader in musculoskeletal health, spinal cord injuries, common spinal disorders (back pain), seniors and dementia and speech-language disorders, the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine aims to inspire the realization of the full potential of individuals, families and communities. The three departments, Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT) and Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) offer professional entry programs. The Faculty offers thesis-based MSc and PhD programs in Rehabilitation Science, attracting students from a variety of disciplines including OT, PT, SLP, psychology, physical education, medicine and engineering.