May 2009 Graduates from Near and Far
May 2009 Master of Rehabilitation Science Graduate Nancy Wellwood and her parents. Colette Widmer Leu was unable to attend but celebrated with her colleagues in Langenhal, Switzerland

Nancy Wellwood from Vancouver, BC joined Colette Widmer Leu from Langenthal, Switzerland to graduate on May 20, 2009 as our 4th graduating class. Nancy and Colette had taken courses together and supported one another in their major project research. They were only an email away, despite the 10-hour time difference.

About the Graduates

Nancy Wellwood is currently the Intake Coordinator and Occupational Therapy Clinical Practice Support in Gerontology in Vancouver Coastal Health's Short Term Assessment and Treatment Program at Vancouver General Hospital. This is a full-time position, yet she also teaches in the Occupational and Physical Therapy Assistant Program at Vancouver Community College. She continued in both these roles while doing her master's, not something we necessarily recommend. Remarkably, with support from her family she was able to complete her program in just over 4 years, beginning in the Fall of 2004.

For Nancy, the biggest impact has been on her work and career. "I have a greater understanding and appreciation for the field of academics and the need for research to advance the profession and practice of occupational therapy. The program has [also] opened up opportunities for me to participate in more clinical research."

In her major project research, Nancy ran a pilot test to investigate the perceived feasibility and usefulness of an Interdisciplinary Risk Assessment Tool to measure risks and outcomes. She feels that investing time, energy and effort to build key relationships yielded discoveries and advances that benefit the people she and her colleagues serve through their practice.

Nancy encourages those who are considering the master's to be prepared for a transformational experience. "You will encounter so much that will challenge your current thinking, your beliefs, your attitudes about yourself, your profession and the world around you. Take it all in, reflect on it and grow from it; you'll be glad did. I know I am."

Read about Nancy's research: Interdisciplinary Risk Assessment Outcome Measure: A Pilot Study 


Colette Widmer Leu is a physical therapist at SRO Spital Langenthal in Langenthal, Switzerland. In this mid-sized hospital she works with both in- and out-patients, and supervises students. Colette began her program in September 2006 while in Vancouver with her husband who was on sabbatical leave and studying in the Forestry Department at UBC. She enrolled knowing she could complete her master's from Switzerland when they returned, which she did.

Her reason for pursuing a master's was "simply to learn more. I was always interested in theoretical background and not just practical techniques. I would read a study and think, 'So what?' I had no idea how to appraise the quality of the study and how to make a difference in my daily practice with the additional knowledge." 

Colette describes how many of the assignments from the courses were projects from her workplace. For example, she implemented an educational component for chronic pulmonary patients in an outpatient pulmonary rehabilitation program, and developed a proposal and then implemented an outpatient cardiac rehabilitation program. She also continued her work in an interest group for assessments in rehabilitation that has resulted in three published books. This coming fall she is presenting a paper at the Physiotherapy in Rehabilitation Conference. 

As with many of our graduates, the master's program, particularly the major project, is just the beginning of their work. Colette's research evaluated the impact of using two standardized assessments, with patients with chronic low back pain on physiotherapists' clinical reasoning. She sees her future role as a knowledge transmitter: linking research to practice. This could be within the hospital by continuing to design rehabilitation programs or educational programs for clients, evaluating existing programs and procedures and reflecting critically on practice decisions. She also sees it happening in close cooperation with a school of physiotherapy or a professional organization. 

Colette's inspiration to others: "If you are a rather unorganized person, you learn to work with frameworks and checklists. If you are used to working in a very structured way, you learn to value intuition, others' ideas, context factors, and personal preferences - the broader view."

Read about Colette's research: The Use of Standardized Assessments for Low Back Patients: Influence on Clinical Reasoning of Physiotherapists