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Northern UBC expansion program aims to keep more Occupational Therapists in the North

With files from Logan Flint, My Bulkley Lakes Now

UBC’s Master of Occupational Therapy program has just wrapped up it’s first year of being expanded into Northern BC.

The expanded program was created with funding from the BC Government and is delivered in partnership with UNBC.

“The hope is that we’ll persuade them to stay and work in the North where we have a huge need,” said Dr. Paul Winwood, Regional Associate Dean for Northern BC’s UBC Faculty of Medicine and Associate Vice President for the Division of Medical Sciences at UNBC.

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Winwood said prior to the expansion, few students would spend time in the North for placements.

“What we now have is 16 students who will spend the whole of their two-year course in Northern BC, based at UNBC, they will do their placements in Northern BC and graduate in Northern BC. It’s about training students in the location where we hope they’re going to settle in to practice.”

Winwood added the program is based out of the Prince George campus, but students have to opportunities to go to other northern communities such as Smithers or Fort St. John to get their clinical experience.

He said there’s a high demand for Occupational Therapists in the North.

“I know from talking to Occupational Therapists in Prince George, that they are turning away work the whole time,” Winwood said.

“We’re talking about people who need rehabilitation after illnesses, things like strokes, or after injuries, and they’re having to turn work away. There’s a huge unmet need, people are not getting the rehabilitation they need, and I suspect the problem is worse outside of Prince George.”

Houston born Carli Wardrop was taking her undergrad in kinesiology at UBC Okanagan and didn’t know where she would go to get her masters. 

“I knew that I liked working with people in a healthcare setting. I have a passion for working with brain injury because I did a lot of sports growing up and I volunteered at Kelowna General in the orthopedic unit and learned a lot about Occupational Therapy and the scope of what it can do.” 

Wardrop said she was excited when the northern program was launched because it was closer to home and closer to where she would like to work. 

“I was willing to go apply and do the Vancouver route but being from Houston, it’s so exciting to go to school up here.” 

She doesn’t have a plan for where she’ll be working after graduation aside from knowing she wants to work in northern BC. 

“The exciting part about the huge demand for occupational therapy up north is you can choose where you want to go. I know I want to be closer to family in the northern area but I’m excited in my placement and for working with a variety of different populations.” 

In working towards graduation, Wardrop said she was placed at St. John Hospital in Vanderhoof which brought a broad scope of what working in long-term care, northern communities, and northern hospitals look like. 

“I hope for my last couple to do them in the Prince George area. Maybe the Smithers area as well.” 

One of the major lessons Wardorp said she learned was building a therapeutic relationship with clients and in the community being served. 

“I’m grateful for this northern program, the opportunity to study closer to home. We’ve been able to build a lot of friendships through our small class size. It’s a career that I really believe in and I’m excited to be closer to home while I do it.”  

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