The School of Rehabilitation Therapy is celebrating its 50th Anniversary! In recognition of this special milestone, the School is publishing an online Alumni Profile Project. This series of alumni profiles will feature graduates from all of our programs, paying tribute to the diversity of experience, achievements, and contributions of our alumni community.
Inspiring Advocacy for Disability and Rehabilitation at Home and Around the Globe
Guest Blog by Phil Sheppard, a physiotherapist and global health professional who works in development, humanitarian response and research. Phil is currently completing a Doctor of Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. His research aims to provide improved evidence on the needs, experiences, and inclusion in services and emergency response activities among older people with disabilities in humanitarian crises.
For the past month and a half, I have been working and conducting research in Eastern Ukraine on the needs and barriers in access to emergency services for older people with disabilities in humanitarian crises. During one of the many train rides between Kiev and Donetsk region a colleague asked if I had always planned on working in global health and disability or whether it is something that happened gradually over time.
The truth is, when I applied to physiotherapy at Queen’s University I planned on owning my own private practice. I wanted to set up shop in a small town where I could access nature and go skiing and kayaking after work. Like many bright-eyed and bushy-tailed first years, I wanted to work with orthopaedic and sports injuries, not realizing that physiotherapy and rehabilitation is that and so much more. From the very first lecture at Queen’s my world has expanded to something I could never have imagined.
I began physiotherapy at the time when Ontario was initiating Family Health Teams and physiotherapists were not included as part of the team. My classmates and I were encouraged to speak up and become part of the discussion, and with support from our professors and mentors that’s exactly what we did. Without realizing it, my view of physiotherapy was already shifting from “treater of sports injuries” to care provider and advocate.
A few months later we had a lecture delivered by Dr. Malcolm Peat who was a pioneer in Global Health and Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR). He spoke about his work on disability and CBR around the globe, and the importance and effectiveness of including community members and people with disabilities in all aspects of project development and implementation to create programs that have a lasting impact. I was immediately hooked. This was the first time that I viewed physiotherapists as people who could change the world. But, I had no idea how to get involved and even less so that one day I might be working in the field he was talking about.
While studying at Queen’s I was encouraged to expand my horizons, and my view of physiotherapy. In second year, I had the opportunity to go on an international clinical placement in Nepal. This experience changed my life. It was the first time that I saw the inequality in access to healthcare and rehabilitation as well as the positive impact that we can have on communities as healthcare providers. From this point forward, I dedicated my career to global health and disability.
When I graduated, my professors and mentors inspired me to act and be an advocate for the profession as well as for people with disabilities around the globe. Over the past 4 years I have worked almost exclusively in global health. I have developed CBR programs with Indigenous communities in Northern Canada, as well as in India and Nepal while acting as a clinical instructor for physiotherapy students from Queen’s University and the University of British Columbia. I have worked from the acute stages post disaster to the long-term recovery following the earthquake in Nepal. Now, I am continuing my global health career by completing a Doctorate of Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom. My work is focused on examining the needs and barriers in access to services for older people with disabilities in humanitarian crises. In order to accomplish this, I am working with HelpAge International, non-governmental organizations, local stakeholders, and people with disabilities living in conflict zones in Eastern Ukraine and refugee camps in Tanzania.
My view of physiotherapy has changed quite dramatically since my first days as a student. I am extremely grateful for the encouragement and support of my professors and mentors at Queen’s. Because of them, I have been able to expand my horizons and take my career in a direction that I never imagined possible. I know they will continue to inspire others for years to come.