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.
Dr. Mary Law, PhD, FCAOT, FCAHS, is one of the first graduates from the Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy program in 1973. Dr. Law is a co-founder of CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research in 1989 and is a co-author of The Canadian Occupational Performance Measure (COPM). She is recognized internationally for her work on development and evaluation of outcome measures, family-centred interventions, and environmental and family factors that affect participation of children with disabilities in everyday occupations.
Interviewed and reported by Janet Law, PT MSc BScPT (Hons) Class of 2003
Q: You are one of the six students in the second class of the Bachelor-degree Occupational Therapy (OT) program at Queen’s School of Rehabilitation Therapy. How was student life in Kingston at that time? Any fun memories you can share with us?
A: I completed the OT Diploma program at Queen’s in 1972. The School had just started the Bachelor degree program the year prior. It was a one-year program at that time and I was planning to stay in Kingston for a little while. Timing was right!
The School of Rehabilitation Therapy was small back then. There were only eighteen students in the Diploma program and 6 students in the second class of Bachelor degree program. All of us were female and interestingly, the School was in the basement of Gordon House, an all-male residence!
At that time, you could enroll in the Diploma program after high school, so all of us were in our late teens. We were typically good students – except one day when the whole class decided to skip one lab section in Year 3 of the Diploma program! I enjoyed my time studying at Queen’s and I still keep in touch with some of my classmates.
Q: You also have a master’s degree in Clinical Epidemiology and doctorate degree in Urban Regional Planning. This is very unique. Could you tell us more?
A: These two degrees both offered me exciting new learning. It was a hectic life when I was taking courses for my master’s degree at McMaster University. I was working part time and we had three young children. My husband and I made it work. I believe that, when you are passionate about something, you will get through the logistical details.
My doctorate degree is different but is definitely related: The community and environment we live in have significant impacts on our health and wellbeing. This is closely related to my work at CanChild.
Q: I understand CanChild was one-of-a-kind when it was founded in 1989. How did it all get started and what are some of the highlights from your work there?
A: It was indeed a ground-breaking idea at the time. My colleagues and I had an idea to link clinicians, research and policy-makers and facilitate knowledge translation into practice. We responded to a Request For Proposals and got government funding to start CanChild.
One of my early projects was a Parent Information Kit that we developed with families. It shows how to present information about their children in a positive manner. It was widely adopted and I am happy that we could help put power back to the hands of families.
Another key outcome from my research at CanChild was to work with families to look at factors that affect participation, in particular, the community we live in. We looked at physical, environmental, social and legal factors. We found that, institutional factors, not physical factors, had more influence on participation.
Q: Other than CanChild, many people in the physiotherapy and occupational therapy fields, know you from Canadian Occupational Performance Measure (COPM). Can you share your experience in the research field?
A: I have an inquisitive mind and I like to evaluate and find ways to improve the current state. Research has been part of my career from early on. My thesis project during the Bachelor degree program was about evaluating two electronic communication systems developed for people with high-level quadriplegia. It was published in the Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy in 1973.
I also had the opportunity to help clinicians to conduct research when I was a Research OT at McMaster Medical Centre. I helped OTs in clinical practice to understand research. When they had a research idea, I guided them through questions and supported them along the way.
Q: Over the course of your career, what would you say are the most significant changes in OT and the healthcare sector?
A: There is a lot more focus on client-centred care. Attitudes are changing and there is better education and information and support for families. I also see increased success in outcome evaluation and adoption of outcome measures in clinical practice.
Q: What is your vision for the next 10 years?
A: I see further development of client-centred care where families lead the way. I also see more emphasis on changing the environment to meet the needs of children and youth with disabilities.
Words of wisdom for students and young alumni:
- Focus on how you can make a difference
- Be curious and ask lots of questions – this will lead you to the direction where you will make a difference
Mary retired from McMaster University in 2014. She continues to do work related to the COPM and is finishing up research with CanChild while enjoying spending time with her grandchildren, biking, and hiking with her dog!