Author Archives: comm

Photo of student using virtual reality equipment

Exploring virtual reality as a teaching tool in occupational therapy

We are always looking for opportunities to bring new technology into the classroom and make learning more engaging for our students. Virtual reality, or VR, is an emerging technology that has the potential to be used in classrooms as a teaching tool to help students ‘feel’ the content.

Last month, our second-year MScOT students at both the Mississauga and St. George campuses participated in a research study to understand if and how virtual reality can be used to supplement or improve the traditional curriculum.

Students trialed four different virtual reality modules using four different technology options:

  1. A 360° video designed to teach compassion as students see a video from the point of view of a COVID-19 patient receiving bedside care.
  2. An animated interactive scenario where students practice assessing a patient in a hospital bed.
  3. An anatomy learning module about the spatial relationship between upper limb bones, muscles and nerves.
  4. A 360° video that teaches students about research planning during a team meeting.

Photo of student using virtual reality technologyAfter completing each module, students were asked to share their reflections and feedback on where in the OS&OT curriculum VR would be best used to improve student learning outcomes. This study was led by faculty members Andrea Duncan, Behdin Nowrouzi-Kia, and Emily S. Ho from OS&OT and Heather Thompson from Nursing. Faculty shared that students were enthusiastic to try out VR headsets and provide feedback to help future OS&OT learners.
So, will future students be purchasing VR headsets in lieu of textbooks? TBD. While VR is a promising technology and may be a great tool to bring lessons to life in the classroom, Andrea said they are still evaluating if it leads to better understanding of course material.

Photo of faculty members Behdin Nowrouzi-Kia, Emily Ho, Andrea Duncan and Pat Mckee holding virtual reality devices

Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream in OS&OT

The Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, invites applications for a full-time continuing teaching stream appointment in the field of occupational science and occupational therapy.  The successful candidate will be appointed as Graduate Coordinator. This position will be at the rank of Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream and will start on July 1, 2023, or shortly thereafter.

The successful candidate must have a PhD in occupational science, occupational therapy, rehabilitation science, or a related field at the time of the appointment; will have a degree in occupational therapy from a World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT)-approved educational program; at least three years of experience as an occupational therapy educator, and at least five years of experience as a practicing occupational therapist. Additionally, candidates must possess proven leadership abilities and a demonstrated commitment to excellent pedagogical practices and teaching-related scholarly activities. Teaching will include clinical skills and theories as part of the MScOT program. Candidates must also convey a demonstrated commitment to, and appreciation of, equity, diversity and inclusion issues impacting student mental health, learning experiences and access to the program.

Visit the University of Toronto Careers website for the full job description and instructions to apply for Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream – Clinical Skills and Theory in Occupational Science & Therapy (Req. ID: 28813).

Photo of Tina Singh

OS&OT alum creates helmet for Sikh kids

OS&OT alumna Tina Singh draws on her graduate studies to create helmet for Sikh kids

For years, occupational therapist Tina Singh felt frustrated when trying to find helmets that would fit her three active young sons – they wear a patka, or cloth head covering, that is smaller than a turban but still covers their long hair – as they began to ride bicycles and play team sports such as hockey.

“As an occupational therapist, of course it was important that my kids had to have a helmet,” Singh says. “But when I tried to put helmets on them and they didn’t fit, my husband and I tried to tie their hair a different way – we tried a bunch of things and still nothing quite fit right.”

Photo of Sikh child with specialized bike helmetAn occupational therapist whose work focused on patients with acquired brain injuries, Singh dove into the process of designing a proper helmet that includes a small domed section on the top to accommodate a child’s hair – and found herself thinking back to her master’s studies in the department of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy. She says the program’s holistic, comprehensive approach made her realize she could use her skills in many different ways.

“I felt there was a lot of practical application in everything we were studying,” Singh says from her home in Brampton, Ont. “Occupational therapy is such a broad area and we got a little taste of everything in the program. I knew that I would always have the opportunity to do different things within the field, such as universal design, product development and business – all of which I ended up doing for my current project.”

After having an engineer produce renderings of her design, Singh found a manufacturer to produce a prototype that could be tested. A few iterations later, the helmet – which is designed for kids aged five and up and can be used for skateboarding, kick-scootering or rollerblading – passed the required safety testing and is now available for pre-orders in Canada.

Singh, who worked as a rehab coach during her undergraduate years, says she chose to do a master’s degree at U of T after deciding to become an occupational therapist. “The program really felt like the ideal fit. It’s the foundational skills I still find useful to this day, such as looking at the whole person and how we look at everyday life. That way of thinking just sticks with you – and it doesn’t just apply to your work, but to everything around you,” she says.

The program really felt like the ideal fit. It’s the foundational skills I still find useful to this day, such as looking at the whole person and how we look at everyday life. That way of thinking just sticks with you – and it doesn’t just apply to your work, but to everything around you.
The teachings and encouragement of one professor in particular has stayed with Singh many years after graduation.

Andrea Duncan really helped guide me and it felt like I always had someone to look to when I needed advice on how to move forward. I feel like even if I saw her today, I could have those same open conversations with her about my career.”

Duncan, an assistant professor in the department of occupational science and occupational therapy, says she’s delighted to have made an impact on one of her former students – and to hear how Singh used her learnings in the program to innovate.

“Tina took my professional practice course, which is dedicated to developing systems thinking and business skills for occupational therapy students. Tina definitely stood out amongst her peers, and I am not surprised that she has gone on to become an ‘OTpreneur,’” Duncan says. “We are very proud of her and all her endeavours.”

Photo of Sikh child sitting on bicycle wearing helmet

Excerpt of story by Tabassum Siddiqui, U of T News, published February 6, 2023. Read the full story

Valuing Black Life, Histories and Futures

MScOT student shares her perspective


As we discuss anti-Black racism in our own institutions, the question arises: Outside Black History Month, how does one value Black life, histories and futures?

Grace Videla-Nash, MScOT Candidate, shares her thoughts.

She says, “I celebrate Black life by engaging in educational activities such as reading articles that address systematic racism. A recent article that I came across suggested approaches to building a community for racialized therapists and students, and the benefits of representation in leadership roles.

Another way I am involved with advancing Black life throughout the year is my affiliation with associations such as the Black Occupational Therapists of Ontario Association (BOTOA), which aims to eliminate racial discrimination within occupational therapy. The association advocates for justice issues that affect Black individuals to advance health equity within Black communities.

Lastly, a great way to commemorate Black culture is by sharing newfound information with others, whether through social media or in conversations with friends and family. By spreading knowledge, I can promote the understanding and appreciation for the contributions and experiences of Black people in academic and health settings.”

Read the full story, Valuing Black Life, Histories and Futures: Perspectives from Temerty Medicine

Riya Shah receives 2023 U of T Student Leadership Award

Second-year MScOT student Riya Shah has been selected to receive a 2023 University of Toronto Student Leadership Award (UTSLA).

During her time in the program, Riya has taken on various leadership positions and been involved with several activities to help contribute to the department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. As co-president of the OS&OT Student Association, she collaborates with other students to organize events to improve student life for her peers. She is also the OS&OT Graduate Ambassador where she helps prospective students make a decision about their MSc program and guide them into the right profession. She says, “I hope that I can continue to contribute to student engagement and give back to the OT community and my peers in a meaningful way.”

Congratulations, Riya, on this wonderful achievement and thank you for your contributions to the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy and Temerty Faculty of Medicine!

Celebrating Pat Fisher’s Legacy

Seventy-seven years after graduating as an occupational therapist from the University of Toronto, Pat Fisher passed away on October 25, 2022. During those years she remained committed to occupational therapy and its development, leaving a legacy that resonates today as the profession continues to grow.

Pat Fisher (March 18, 1925 – October 25, 2022)

Leaders come in many forms. Some are bold luminaries, visionaries, or fierce disruptors of the status quo. Others, like Pat Fisher, lead by thoughtfully posing questions and taking action with colleagues to apply ideas into everyday practice. Pat’s life offers lessons for our profession today.

Engaged in life

If we were to use one word to describe how Pat Fisher lived her long life, we would say “engaged.” Pat was enthusiastically and persistently engaged with life – in all its aspects: social, environmental, cultural, emotional, interpersonal, and political. Her engagement can be seen in the many friendships she made and kept, in the gardens that she tended, in her volunteer work with her church, and her role with U of T’s Alumnae Theatre. She never fell behind in current affairs. Her engagement was particularly evident in her professional life and her approach to patients.

Living in the nexus of practice and academia

Image of Pat FisherThroughout her long career, Pat consistently found ways to improve occupational therapy practice and contribute to occupational therapy education.  From the day of her graduation in 1945, Pat staunchly supported the OT program at U of T and its Alumni Association. She believed that developing an evidence base would be beneficial to strengthen the understanding of how occupational therapists facilitate change, and she also hoped that the creativity and innovation that had been hallmarks of clinical practice would not be lost.

In addition to her regular work as the Clinical Supervisor at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Toronto, Pat and two OT colleagues, Marion Boys and Clare Holzberg, developed the OSOT Perceptual Evaluation Tool Kit and Manual. With the help of research consultant David Reid, they validated the assessment and published their work in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy in 1988. In addition to her work as a Clinical Associate at U of T, Pat led the Department’s  Continuing Education Program.

Although she officially retired in 1990, Pat continued to support the profession for another 30 years. Most recently she recruited seniors, who would share their stories in courses on aging, continuing her commitment to supporting excellent learning experiences for students. Believing that we all need to play our part to make sure that everyone feels included, and applying that philosophy throughout her life, she advocated for accessibility in various settings well into her 90’s.

On not fitting In

Pat Fisher was steadfast in her commitment to the ideals and the practice of occupational therapy and championed efforts to ensure its necessary place in the health system. While being frustrated and discouraged at times with the public’s (and other providers’) limited awareness of  our offerings, she viewed the problem as a function of the profession’s lack of fit within medical institutions whose focus was on fixing broken bodies and were less concerned about quality of life. As she recounted to us many years ago:

Encouraging our patients to be active and creative . . .  doesn’t always fit with the rules and order that a hospital wants to maintain. Besides, we generally don’t deal with life and death situations; we deal with quality of life – that too, is a different perspective than what is held by many other health professionals.”

Pat Fisher did not apologize for this different perspective, but embraced it.

Persist until you (we) find our place

Pat’s gentle smile belied her fierce determination and ability to persist, to find ways to continue, even when there were many obstacles.  Her legacy reminds us to be engaged in our personal and professional lives. It cautions us not to lose sight of our values and beliefs as we continue to build the future of our profession and to celebrate our different perspectives.

Prepared by Lynn Cockburn, Judith Friedland, Barry Trentham

OT Clinicians Needed for Student Presentation Evaluation

The Year 2 MScOT students are doing advocacy presentations using a Pecha Kucha approach. We are looking for OT clinicians to watch a group of presentations, provide feedback and give each student a score out of 20. image of student giving presentation

Pecha Kucha means ‘chit chat’ in Japanese. This method of presentation uses 20 slides, for 20 seconds a slide, with visuals only.  It is a fun and engaging way to do a presentation, which, we believe, will help develop students’ communication competencies. The students are required to advocate for an issue using this presentation style.

If you are interested in this opportunity, please contact Andrea Duncan by December 15, 2022 ( indicating your preferred date/campus as noted below.

Student presentation dates:

  1. Friday, February 3, 2023, 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm at St. George Campus (UTSG)
  2. Friday, February 10, 2023, 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm at Mississauga Campus (UTM)

We are looking for 11 markers at UTSG on February 3 and 5 markers at UTM on February 10. There will be approximately ten students in each group.

Many thanks for your consideration of this opportunity and support of our students. Please let us know if you have any questions.

MScOT Graduating Students Featured by Temerty Medicine

on What Makes Them Passionate About Science & Health Care

Two MScOT students graduating this week are featured in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine’s news feature, “Class of 2T2 Graduates Share What Makes Them Passionate About Science & Health Care.”  Some excerpts:

Image of Paige Barkowsky, MScOT Grad Class of 2022“My passion for entering the healthcare field was largely fueled by numerous sport-related injuries while growing up. After high school, I received my Bachelor of Kinesiology from UBC, and practiced as a Registered Kinesiologist for a year. I decided to pursue occupational therapy because I felt my job and training at the time didn’t allow me to fully support my clients. Pursuing occupational therapy would offer so many diverse learning opportunities, and better prepare me to help individuals and communities. Throughout my degree I’ve learned there is a place for OS&OT everywhere you look in life. Some areas I am most passionate about include community engagement, hand therapy, and paediatric practice.” – Paige Barkowsky

Image of Elizabeth (Ellie) Pezzutto, MScOT Grad class of 2022“I was drawn to Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy because I was attracted to how occupational therapists recognize the importance of considering all domains of health in the promotion of health and wellbeing. I previously worked in clinical settings as an assistant and my favourite part of the position was watching patients improve and eventually attain their goals to participate in activities that were meaningful to them. I knew that this was the essence of occupational therapy, and this inspired my pursuit to work in a profession that directly and meaningfully impacts people.

I am most passionate about helping older adults achieve their goals and get back to doing what they need and love to do. I want to work with this population because I see major gaps in the care that many are receiving, and I feel that as an occupational therapist, I have the skills and tools to help address this.”  – Ellie Pezzutto

Read the full story by Temerty Communications writer Julia Soudat.

Congratulations to the MScOT Class of 2022!

Professor Emeritus Helene Polatajko Receives Honorary Law Degree

Photo of Helene Polatajko

On Thursday, October 20, Professor Emeritus Helene Polatajko received a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LLD) from Western University. From Western: “Helene Polatajko is an internationally acclaimed occupational therapy researcher, educator, and practitioner. Her clinical experience is primarily in paediatrics, working with children with learning-based performance problems. Polatajko has received many national and international honours and awards during her career, including being elected to the American Occupational Therapy Foundation’s Academy of Research and being named as a Fellow to the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. In 2021, she was appointed an officer of the Order of Canada.”

Dr. Polatajko’s occupational therapy journey began at McGill University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy, soon followed by an MEd and PhD in educational theory from OISE at the University of Toronto. She was one of the first Canadian occupational therapists to receive a PhD in 1982 and that same year became an Assistant Professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Western University. After 18 years in that department, including nine as Chair, Dr. Polatajko was recruited to Chair the Department of Occupational Therapy at the University of Toronto in 2000.

Dr. Polatajko has made substantive contributions to curricular development, nationally and internationally. At Western in 1989, she launched the first Canadian MSc focused specifically on developing occupational therapy researchers, a program that produced many current academics and program chairs. In 1998 at Western and in 2001 at the University of Toronto, Dr. Polatajko initiated the first two master’s professional entry-level occupational therapy programs in Canada, initiating the shift to professional master’s, nationally.

As Emeritus Professor, Dr. Polatajko remains involved in teaching and research, globally, prioritizing the building of a new generation of leaders through mentorship of students and academic and clinical occupational therapy colleagues. Her mentees, within and beyond occupational therapy, have gone on to hold prestigious positions, nationally and internationally, with many becoming faculty members, chairing university programs, and leading national research and health centres. Her legacy of occupation-based scholarship and the impact of her CO-OP approach on practice continue to be seen worldwide.

Congratulations, Dr. Polatajko!

Prof. Alex Mihailidis Recognized as Healthy Ageing 50 Leader

Professor Alex Mihailidis has been selected as one of the Healthy Ageing 50 – 50 leaders working to transform the world to be a better place to grow older. The Healthy Ageing 50 is an initiative under the banner of the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing that seeks to honour 50 leaders who are working to foster healthy aging.

Photo of Professor Alex MihailidisDr. Mihailidis has dedicated his career to enhancing the lives of older people and caregivers. A  professor in the Department of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy currently serving as Associate Vice-President, International Partnerships at the University of Toronto, and a biomedical engineer at U of T and The KITE Research Institute-University Health Network, Dr. Mihailidis is a world leader in research on technology to support older adults to stay healthy, active and independent.

His accomplishments span the creation of cutting-edge technologies – such as prompting systems and smart-home sensors that can flag health issues early on – to new policies related to regulation and service delivery of innovative solutions. His work, specifically in the use of artificial intelligence, sensors and robotics to support people living with dementia, has paved the way for new approaches in caring for our aging population.

Read the full media release by AGE-WELL here.  Congratulations, Prof. Mihailidis!