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Honouring Debbie Hébert

It is with great sadness that we let you know that Debbie Hébert, our cherished friend and colleague in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, University of Toronto, passed away in the evening of March 19 from cancer.  As you can imagine, our department is devastated.

Debbie was an inspirational clinician, teacher, researcher and colleague both at U of T and the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.  She will be deeply missed as a friend, leader, mentor and colleague.

Debbie practiced as an OT for more than 40 years, completing her OT training at the University of Western Ontario and graduate studies at the University of Waterloo. She taught in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy for more than 25 years. Her passion was neurorehabilitation:  she was a leader in this area through her outstanding education of students and clinicians, as well as numerous publications and implementation of research. Debbie has been described as an ideal enabler of knowledge translation, as she was the “bridge” who enabled integration of research and daily practice.

Debbie has had a tremendous impact on the profession of OT in many ways. From very early in her professional career, she led the way for best practice by chairing professional interest groups and establishing best-practice groups. She led a group of more than 40 interprofessional clinicians and researchers for the 2015 update of the Canadian stroke best practice recommendations, integrating her exceptional clinical and research expertise. Her work has contributed to policy development, provided practical tools for clinicians and client education, and transformed the practice of countless student OTs, OTAs and OTs over the years as well as colleagues in other health professions.

Debbie’s teaching was always informed by her commitment to best practice. She worked tirelessly to ensure that her OT students and, through continuing education courses, OT professionals were provided with the most up to date knowledge and skills that allow them to provide the best possible therapy to their clients. Her teaching has influenced over 3000 individuals. Many who learned from Debbie and benefited her mentorship and have gone on to become leaders themselves. Her contributions to the profession of OT were honoured in 2012 with a life-time membership to the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists. This is one of many accolades she has received.

Those of us who have had the good fortune to be friends and colleagues of Debbie remember her for her enormous generosity of spirit, her warmth, love, caring and of course her smile, humour and contagious laughter.

We are in the process of planning ways to honour Debbie’s life and legacy and a celebration of her life will be held at a later date when we are able to gather. Details of these will be shared when they are available.

Debbie will be greatly missed by many – please take a moment to remember her and because we know this would make her smile, a brief lyric from Springsteen’s Land of Hope and Dreams.

Big wheels rolling through fields
Where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams

Deirdre R. Dawson
Interim Chair, Department of Occupational Science &Occupational Therapy

Teaching Stream Position in OS&OT, Educational Innovation & Fieldwork

The Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto invites applications for one full-time teaching stream appointment in the area of educational innovation & fieldwork. The appointment will be at the rank of Assistant Professor. The expected start date is July 1, 2020 or shortly thereafter.

We are seeking candidates with scholarship and experience in educational development and innovation, and occupational therapy fieldwork education. The successful candidate will demonstrate evidence of developing educational programmatic offerings, technological innovations in pedagogy, excellence in teaching, achievements in educational scholarship, and effective professional leadership within the occupational therapy community.

The University of Toronto is strongly committed to diversity within its community and especially welcomes applications from racialized persons/persons of colour, women, Indigenous/Aboriginal Peoples of North America, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ+ persons, and others who may contribute to the further diversification of ideas.

Visit the University of Toronto Careers Website for additional details, including links to apply.

MScOT Alumni in the News

Two grads from the Class of 2019 made news in recent months, highlighting the role occupational therapists play across diverse practice settings.

Adaptive dance classes at Steffen Dance Studio in Mount Pearl, NL are spearheaded by Hilary Walsh. Walsh brings her experience as both an OT and a longtime dance teacher to create an inclusive environment for students across age groups and  ability. Walsh explains:

Mainly the difference is that I structure it so that dancers can feel success with kind of everything that they do. So it might mean, for some groups, making things very step by step. For some it might be using a visual schedule, for others it might be doing the dance seated.

“The best place to be is here, dancing, and it’s so much fun, dancing with all my friends and having a really good time. And of course Miss Hilary is the most awesomest teacher ever, and we love her to the moon and back,” says dance student Michael Robson.

Read the full story from CBC News (December 18, 2019)

Faith Gallant is a member of the ED One Team at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. This  multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals – including a social worker, geriatric emergency medicine nurse, physiotherapist, and community care coordinator among others – are tackling “hallway medicine” by reducing emergency department admission rates among seniors.

“The team helps patients who come to the emergency room avoid being admitted to the hospital by ensuring adequate supports are available for them at home or in the community.  Its target group is those aged 70 and older who don’t need to be admitted, but who can’t otherwise go home safely straight from the emergency room,” reports CBC News’ Mike Crawley.

States Gallant:

We’re able to see patients in the evening and facilitate a safe discharge home instead of having these patients stay overnight.

Read the full story from CBC News (February 13, 2020)

Robin Mazumder (MScOT ’11) was featured on CBC’s Sunday Edition with Michael Enright on February 14: It’s a fundamental human right to be able to access your city, says researcher.

Photo of Robin Mazumder

City life can be hard on the nerves — the noise, the lights, the bustle, the endless miles of glass and concrete. And the traffic — just crossing the street can be a terrifying experience with hulking vehicles hurtling down thoroughfares. Robin Mazumder is a PhD student in cognitive neuroscience, and he researches the toll that bad urban design takes on human psychology — and how urban spaces could be made into sources of delight and solace instead of stress.

Mazumber is currently a doctoral candidate in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Waterloo, where he is studying the connection between urban design and mental well-being.

PT & OT Alumni Achievement Award Nominations: February 28 Deadline

The year 2020 marks the 24th anniversary of the Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Alumni Achievement Awards. The PT and OT Alumni Achievement Awards, first awarded in June 1996, acknowledge graduates who have made exceptional contributions as members of the Physical Therapy or Occupational Therapy professions. Alumni or members of the public may nominate a University of Toronto graduate in Physical Therapy or Occupational Therapy for this award. Each year, one alumnus from Physical Therapy and one alumnus from Occupational Therapy receive the award at the Alumni Reunion held in June.

The February 28 deadline for the 2020 PT & OS&OT Alumni Achievement Award Nominations is approaching fast!

To submit a nomination, download and complete a Nomination Package from the PT-OT Alumni Association website.  Nominations will be accepted until 12:00 noon on February 28.

Contact for more information.

Photo of Yani Hamdani

Prof. Yani Hamdani addresses need for university services for women with autism

Prof. Yani Hamdani is featured in a story in Ryerson University’s paper The Ryersonian about autism in women attending university:

“As of 2013, anyone who was given an Asperger syndrome diagnosis is considered to have Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) instead. Practitioners can no longer officially diagnose an individual with Asperger syndrome, the developmental disorder characterised by significant difficulties in social interaction as well as restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests.

Not all people like the term ASD or that it is positioned as a medical disorder. Some prefer the terms “autism” or “on the autism spectrum” instead. Autism is a developmental disorder of variable severity that is characterized by difficulty in social interaction and communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behaviour. There are stigmas that get associated with the term which have created tensions and various approaches to providing proper support and health care.

According to Yani Hamdani, an assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at the University of Toronto and a Clinician-Scientist at the Azrieli Adult Neurodevelopmental Centre at CAMH, “there was a desire to reflect the wide range of ways that autism presents in individuals — it’s a spectrum. It was difficult to distinguish between some of the diagnostic criteria for similar and related diagnoses.”

Along with the potential for blurred lines as to where people sit on this spectrum, there are other factors that make it complicated to navigate exactly where you fit in.

Some of these complications differ depending on your gender. Girls are typically known to be better at hiding autistic traits and mimicking their peers to fit in, which is why they often — more so than boys — get overlooked, misdiagnosed or left with no diagnosis at all. More research is coming out which shows “masking” or “camouflaging” traits are not solely girl-specific though; some boys and men also camouflage and some don’t camouflage at all.

One of the reasons that girls are less likely to be diagnosed with autism than boys is because this ability to mask their traits well makes them appear neurotypical, so they slip under the diagnostic radar, so much so that some are left undiagnosed until adulthood.

“The most commonly reported male:female ratio of autism diagnosis is 4:1,” Hamdani said. “Researchers in Canada, U.K. and the U.S. are exploring if there is a female ‘version’ of autism, or if the characteristics for diagnosis are expressed differently in girls.”

Other research, like Hamdani’s own, explores if there are gender differences in the experiences of autism. “For example, girls may be socialized differently than boys and may be more adept at learning social skills in order to ‘fit in.’”

Continue reading the full article, Autism in females may be harder to spot and diagnose, but they still need adequate university services and support, by Sami Chasonoff (January 20, 2020).

Gingerbread House Contest Winners

Every holiday season, the Mississauga Academy of Medicine (MAM) sponsors a Gingerbread House contest for their students. This year MAM invited the OS&OT students at our UTM campus to participate. Five groups of our students joined in the fun and came up with very creative ideas – including the winning entry “We the NOrTh.”

Winner, Gingerbread House Contest 2019

Congratulations to Anna Aniserowicz, Fatima Khanam, Andrew Lam, Fatima Safi, and Sahana Sathakaran who each won a $10 Starbucks gift card!

Tenure Stream Position in OS&OT, Musculoskeletal Conditions

The Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto invites applications for one full-time tenure stream appointment in the area of musculoskeletal conditions. The appointment will be at the rank of Assistant Professor. The expected start date is July 1, 2020 or shortly thereafter.

We are seeking candidates with scholarship in occupational science or occupational therapy focused on musculoskeletal conditions affecting populations across the lifespan. Scholarly work focusing on enabling occupational engagement and inclusion of people at risk for, or living with, musculoskeletal conditions is required.

The University of Toronto is strongly committed to diversity within its community and especially welcomes applications from racialized persons/persons of colour, women, Indigenous/Aboriginal Peoples of North America, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ+ persons, and others who may contribute to the further diversification of ideas.

Visit the Job Opportunities page for additional details, including links to apply.

Alumni Profile: Susan Hannah

“I’m so pleased to be in a position to tell stories about therapists – both physical and occupational – all of whom have played a part in changing the world in ways that may be small but are important to all of us. These thoughts are swirling as I’m beginning to write about Susan Hannah.”

Wendy Campbell of the PT/OT Alumni Association wrote these words and more about alumna and lecturer in the Dept. of OS&OT.  Read the full alumni profile of Sue.



Prof. Susan Rappolt, OSOT’s newest Honourary Life Member

Congratulations to Prof. Susan Rappolt, recipient of the 2019 Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists Honourary Life Membership Award.

“The Society’s most valued award recognizes and honours an individual who has rendered distinguished and longstanding service to the profession of Occupational Therapy or to the Society.  Susan’s career and her contributions, commitment, and passion for the profession of occupational therapy exemplify valued service to both the profession and the Society.” (OSOT, Nov 6, 2019)

From the nomination:

Following graduation from Queen’s University, Susan practised occupational therapy for a decade in Kingston, Hamilton, London, and Toronto. During this period, she was a staff therapist, a senior therapist in neurorehabilitation, an acting manager, and a community-based occupational therapist. These experiences provided her with an understanding of practice with various populations and different treatment settings within Ontario.

Susan joined the Department of Occupational Therapy at the University of Toronto in 1996 after having completed a PhD on the sociology of the health care professions. Her teaching and research activities have helped to shape the development of occupational therapy in Ontario. For example, Susan developed the three Professional Issues courses for the MScOT Program, incorporating new content on professionalism, practice processes, health and rehabilitation policy, and research utilization. She also incorporated College of Occupational Therapists of Ontario PREP modules into the Professional Issues courses, making U of T the first program to include these modules in entry-level programs.

As Chair of the Department of OS&OT since 2009, She oversaw the oldest and largest program of occupational therapy in Canada and ensured its ongoing development. Among Susan’s most significant achievements is the expansion of the occupational therapy program at U of T to include a cohort of students on U of T’s Mississauga (UTM) campus. Similar to the program for medical students already in place, the occupational therapy program at UTM provides an opportunity for learning in a smaller setting, in a fast-growing geographical area where there is a clear need for more health professionals. The aim of the enrolment expansion at UTM has been for the Department to work with its hospital and community partners to build occupational therapy capacity in established and evolving roles across Peel, one of the fastest growing regions in Canada.

Another program under Susan’s management is the Advanced Standing Option designed for occupational therapists with an undergraduate degree in Occupational Therapy who wish to obtain an MScOT degree. The program was seen as not only meeting an important need for clinicians to upgrade but also as “a transformative learning experience since the students’ newly developed knowledge translation skills were immediately applied to their real-life practice issues”. While the program is currently on hold, it will soon continue to provide established occupational therapists with research training to create new evidence for occupational therapy practice.

As Chair of OS&OT, she led the faculty in the development of its theoretically based pedagogy and scholarship. She has helped develop new faculty positions which will support research and teaching in areas important for the growth of the profession.

Photo credited to the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists, October 2019. Featured, from left, are Sylvia Davidson, OSOT Past-President, Susan Rappolt, and Christie Brenchley, OSOT Executive Director

Prof. Rappolt completed her term as Chair of the Dept. of  OS&OT in 2019.


Photo of Nick Reed

Prof. Nick Reed: No More “Bedroom Jail”

Children and youth who experience concussions shouldn’t be limited to bed rest for weeks after they are injured, says a University of Toronto associate professor and concussion researcher.

Dr. Nick Reed, who joined the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy in August, has had a leading role in developing a publicly available guideline on how best to treat and manage pediatric concussions.

The first-of-its kind guideline – formally known as the Living Guideline for Diagnosing and Managing Pediatric Concussion – was created in Ontario, with the input of more than 40 researchers and clinicians from across North America.

Read Faculty of Medicine writer Gabrielle Giroday’s full article from September 11, No More ‘Bedroom Jail’: New Guideline Developed by U of T Researcher Addresses How to Treat Pediatric Concussions.

Prof. Reed’s research was also featured in U of T’s student newspaper, The  Varsity, on September 22. Read Matt Barrett’s story, Concussion resource proposes and end to ‘bedroom jail.