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Talking Clinical Education with Sarah Wojkowski

What's your area of work?

I'm the Director of Clinical Education for Physiotherapy at McMaster University. In this role, I help coordinate student placements in the Masters of Science (Physiotherapy) program. I also teach parts of the introduction to practice courses, as well as the community-based physiotherapy unit where the students look at integrating services from within the community to address population health needs.

What's something you've recently learned that you're really excited to implement into your work?

You're going to laugh but it's the use of technology. We had some funds this year from the Ontario Online Institute that has allowed us to develop an online learning course. We're in the process of finishing up 5 e-learning modules specific to physiotherapists. It's been quite a process to learn how to use the technology and to understand how to best harness an online platform to help students learn and solidify concepts. We're looking forward to rolling them out in the fall and following this up with focus groups to improve upon the e-modules. Anyone who wants to participate in the e-modules can access them because the Ontario Online Institute is a public resource.


"Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important"   - Bill Gates


What does the next year of your professional life look like?

I hope to finish my Ph.D. - my target is the Spring of 2016.

One of my goals in the clinical education program is to continue to diversify the opportunities our students have while they're on placement - we've really started to focus on concepts called role emerging placements where students will be in atypical placement settings for 6 weeks. These placements can be in health policy, research, program development, needs analysis and maybe a placement could take shape with healthSwapp down the road. This helps demonstrate what a physiotherapist can do to contribute to healthcare and health policy. This also helps students see broadly outside of the traditional roles of where a physiotherapist can practice.

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What's one course or event that you're planning to attend in the next year that you're really looking forward to?

I always go to the Ontario Physiotherapy Association's InterAction and this year it's in Toronto! I always look forward to going to see what's happening in the province, seeing what colleagues are up to and hearing about their innovations.


What has been one big 'Aha' moment that has helped shape your professional life?

My 'Aha' moment was when I realized that there was an area of practice that I was better suited for, even though I initially thought it might have been something different. We go through our training, prep and early career seeing ourselves in one area but in reality, it may be something different than we're best suited for.

During the early parts of my careers, I kept thinking that I was looking for something different in an area I thought I was always supposed to practice in. When I took a leap of faith and changed settings, all of a sudden I felt that this is where I'm supposed to be.

I had to explore a different role and be ok with the fact that it's not where I initially envisioned where I was supposed to be.

What's something that you learned the hard way that you would like to share with others?

Be patient - at times you have an end goal envisioned and you struggle with why you can't achieve it right away. If you're patient and keep plucking away at it, in the end, you'll get there. It's not a natural tendency for me to be patient so I've had to learn to sit back and take things step by step. For example, patience has been essential while I've been completing my Ph.D. part-time.

What's the most valuable piece of advice you've ever received?

Trust your instinct - if you're really wrestling with it and you're trying to make yourself fit into a situation or an environment then step back and look at why. Use that to help guide your decisions. Take your time to think and to listen to where you need to go. Appreciate all of the pieces around you to make that decision.

What's one book that you think other practitioners/students should read?

Dr. Seuss 'The Places You'll Go'


“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...”  - Dr. Seuss


Are there any blogs, podcasts or websites that you regularly follow?

The College of Physiotherapists of Ontario - I find I'm on that website weekly to keep up with the case of the month and with what's going on. We actually have a student who has completed her placement at the College as one of the roles emerging placements! On the College's website, Shenda's Blog is a great one to follow.

I also regularly visit the Canadian Physiotherapy Association and Ontario Physiotherapy Association websites. It's prudent to stay on top of where the trends are and these websites give you the pulse of the profession.

What role do you believe technology can play in rehab for both practitioners and patients?

I think technology is the way of the future for PT. I think if we don't embrace it we are doing ourselves a grave disservice. As clinicians we know our patients are very tech saavy - they come with the smartphones that they use for resources and they're expecting us to have high-level communication with the other providers they're seeing in real-time. So I think that if we don't keep up with technology and help our profession move forward then we're going to be seen as a historic profession. We won't be identified as a profession that can really contribute to change in the healthcare system. A few of the important components for physiotherapists include:

  • E-charting - what that means for each practice will be different, some will use FOTO and others will include Electronic Medical Records
  • Apps and website will be integral to patient education
  • Monitoring population health indicators - Health Quality Ontario's website does a very nice job with run-time charts as well as other tools

McMaster University has a unique medical and rehabilitation program based around the Problem Based Learning (PBL) model.

PBL gives students a skill set on which they can build as they move into independent practice. PBL asks students to identify research questions that are answerable using the PICO format.

It gives them the confidence and the knowledge to know where to go to find information that they may not be sure of. All of us who have transitioned to practice can remember a number of patient cases or situations where we thought "I haven't seen this and this is new to me", so being trained in the PBL format allows students to develop the skills and the knowledge of:

  • What do I know
  • What do I need to know
  • How do I go and find that information
  • How do I apply it in a timely manner

This is one of the unique attributes of our program here at McMaster. You learn to utilize the strengths and the knowledge of your peers and how to work closely with others through knowledge and resource sharing. PBL encourages collaboration with peers and this translates directly into clinical practice.

In PBL there are a number of ways of getting to the same endpoint. There are the freedom and the latitude to apply the research and best practice in a way that is best for each individual. PBL encourages students to triangulate multiple sources of information and apply this to the individual patient in a way that is best for them and the health system. At the fundamental core is using evidence and information in a creative way to get to an outcome.


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Maggie Bergeron, PT, Co-Founder Embodia

Sarah Wojkowski PT, PhD(Candidate) School of Rehabilitation Science

Dr. Wojkowski is currently the Acting Assistant Dean for the Physiotherapy Program.

She is an Associate Professor in the School of Rehabilitation Science and the Director of Clinical Education for the MSc PT Program.  Dr. Wojkowski is currently a member of the MAC H2OPE Clinic Executive Council and is the chair elect for the National Association for Clinical Education in Physiotherapy (NACEP).

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