Author Archives: Rachel LeBeau

Preceptor Spotlight: Robyn Chen Sang

Robyn Chen Sang

Robyn Chen Sang (MScOT ‘18) is one of our many preceptors who share their time and clinical expertise to support our student occupational therapists during their fieldwork placements.

After five years of working as an occupational therapist, Robyn recently accepted the opportunity to supervise her first student occupational therapist. She shares what inspired this decision and what she learned from her experience as a preceptor.

Can you tell me a bit about what you do for work and your role in supervising student occupational therapists?

I work as an occupational therapist at SickKids hospital where I provide support for children experiencing neurodevelopmental, cognitive, and feeding and swallowing challenges. I recently volunteered to share preceptor duties with my colleague where I supervised a University of Toronto student occupational therapist on their first fieldwork placement. It was an honour to welcome them to the profession and offer mentorship and feedback as they practised and developed their clinical skills!

What influenced your decision to volunteer as a preceptor and welcome a student into your workplace? 

I vividly remember my own incredible clinical preceptors and how much they contributed to the hows and whys of what I do in my practice today. I very much value their ability to create a safe learning space for me to develop confidence in my skills. When I was offered the opportunity to supervise a student, I accepted it with the goal of supporting the student in a similar way.

As a clinician at a teaching hospital, I was provided with preceptor training and many opportunities to support student learning. I was also fortunate to have the support of colleagues with a wealth of experience in supervising students.

What aspects of being a preceptor do you find the most gratifying? Do you have a memorable moment from your experience you’d like to share? 

I find it rewarding to listen to students reflect on their clinical experiences, and then see them make changes to how they approach or analyze future situations. I once guided a student in developing daily reflection questions to help them get the most out of their placement. The student later said these questions helped them become more aware of their successes, challenges, and next steps. They also expressed their intention to continue this reflection practice in their future placements. Having a positive influence on a student’s journey is very fulfilling!

What are some common challenges or obstacles that students face during their clinical placements, and how do you support them through these challenges?

It can be challenging for students to navigate medically complex patient cases for the first time. I think there’s great value in showing students that it’s OK to not know everything — there are resources to learn.

When I show students my “never stop learning” attitude by asking thoughtful questions to our team, or researching unfamiliar diagnoses, I notice that students become more confident in asking their own questions and looking for ways to fill gaps in their own knowledge.

Why do you think it’s important for preceptors to offer their time to help train future occupational therapists?

A student’s fresh perspective, ideas, and curiosity about the ins and outs of the profession can be inspiring. Supervising students offers preceptors an opportunity to reflect on their clinical practice and improve their own skills and quality of care. Preceptors also play an important role in bridging the gap between theory and its practical application in clinical settings.

Janine Farragher awarded Canada Research Chair

Janine Farragher

Janine Farragher, an assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy, has been recognized with Canada’s highest research honour – a Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Life Participation and Kidney Disease.

Over the next five years, Farragher and her research team will explore how complications of kidney disease, like fatigue and cognitive impairment, affect everyday living, and whether approaches like cognitive rehabilitation and energy management training could improve their life participation and well-being.

Farragher hopes her research will lead to improved rehabilitative programs and services for people with kidney disease, which affects one in nine people worldwide.

Established in 2000, Canada Research Chairs are part of a national strategy to make Canada one of the world’s top countries in research. Chairholders aim to achieve research excellence in engineering and the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities, and social sciences.

Angela Colantonio receives JJ Berry Smith Doctoral Supervision Award

Angela Colantonio

We are pleased to share that Prof. Angela Colantonio has received a 2024 JJ Berry Smith Doctoral Supervision Award from the School of Graduate Studies, which recognizes her outstanding performance in the multiple roles associated with doctoral supervision. 

In her roles as a professor in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy and director of the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, Prof. Colantonio inspires her students to achieve excellence in scholarship, fostering a strong sense of academic integrity. 

Prof. Colantonio currently holds a Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in Traumatic Brain Injury in Underserved Populations and leads an internationally recognized program of research integrating sex and gender considerations with a focus on female brain injury. She has led/co-led over 80 grants and authored over 300 publications and is extremely grateful for the contributions of so many dedicated and talented trainees she has had the honour of mentoring. 

Join us for Graduate Research Day and Thelma Cardwell Lecture

The 2024 Graduate Research Day and Thelma Cardwell Lecture will be held in-person on June 19, 2024 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. ET at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto.

Research day will feature student presentations across nine themed breakout rooms, covering topics such as mental health, quality of life, aging and technology. Additionally, the day will feature the Thelma Cardwell Lecture. We are excited to announce that Ben Whittaker from the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare (Oxford, United Kingdom) will be presenting this year’s lecture, which will focus on the role of Occupational Therapists in supporting sustainable health care. Due to Mr. Whittaker’s position on air travel in relation to climate change, this year’s lecture will be delivered virtually.

To register for Research Day, click here.

Call for nominations for Alumni Achievement Awards!

Nominations are now open for the University of Toronto Occupational Therapy Alumni Achievement Award.

Please consider nominating a U of T OT alumni who exemplifies excellence in education, practice, scholarly activity and/or service. Nominees will be considered for the following categories:

  • Early Career (10 years or less since graduation from the U of T Occupational Therapy program)
  • Mid Career (11-29 years since graduation from the U of T Occupational Therapy program)
  • Legacy (30 years or more since graduation from the U of T Occupational Therapy program)
The award recipient will be announced and celebrated at the OS&OT Graduate Research Day and Thelma Cardwell Lecture on Wednesday, June 19, 2024.

To nominate a member of your alumni community for this prestigious award, OT Alumni Award Nomination Form to complete the online nomination form and upload the nominee’s abbreviated CV/resume (5 pages maximum).

You do not have to be a graduate of the program to nominate, so please share this call widely with those in your network.

The deadline for submission is June 3, 2024. For more information, visit the award page or contact Mary Forhan at

Thank you for contributing to this process and for acknowledging the achievements of our alumni. We look forward to celebrating this year’s winner with you.

Harjot Kaur Shoker receives U of T Student Leadership Award

Harjot Kaur Shoker

Congratulations to second-year MScOT student Harjot Kaur Shoker on receiving a Student Leadership Award from the University of Toronto! 

During her time in the program, Harjot has played a pivotal role in enhancing the student experience for her peers as a member of the Student Affairs Committee. 

Harjot has generously volunteered her time to attend and present at our open house for new students where she enthusiastically welcomed incoming students and shared her experience in the MScOT program at the Mississauga campus.  

“Harjot is an outstanding student leader as demonstrated by how she engages students throughout the university,” says Priya Sivathason, the program manager in the department of occupational science and occupational therapy who has worked closely with Harjot at information sessions and orientation events. “Throughout her time in the program, Harjot has been a passionate advocate for academic excellence, embodying the qualities that make her an outstanding candidate for this award.” 

We are grateful for all of Harjot’s contributions to our department and Temerty Faculty of Medicine.  

Congratulations, Harjot, on this wonderful achievement! 

About the Award 

The University of Toronto Student Leadership Award (UTSLA) continues the spirit of the retired Cressy Award. Recipients of the UTSLA join the distinguished community of past Cressy Award recipients in being honoured for their exemplary leadership and volunteer service to U of T. 

Congratulations to Armineh Babikian, Yani Hamdani and Janet Parsons

collage photos of Armineh Babikian, Yani Hamdani and Janet Parsons

Congratulations to Armineh Babikian, Yani Hamdani and Janet Parsons on being the global recipients of the Thelma Cardwell Foundation Award for Research 2024 from the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. 

Armineh Babikian is an occupational therapist and PhD candidate in the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute at the University of Toronto, specializing in global health. Under the supervision of Yani Hamdani, an assistant professor in the department of occupational science and occupational therapy, Armineh will conduct research for her project titled, “Leave No One Behind: Centering People with Disabilities in Armenian Occupational Therapy Development.” 

By centering lived experience and the perspectives of people with disabilities, Armineh aims to better understand how disability is understood and addressed in Armenian rehabilitation, and how occupational therapists can prioritize the human rights of people with disabilities. 

Armineh will be leading focus group discussions with adults and caregivers of people with disabilities who use Armenian rehabilitation services and working alongside a community advisory committee of Armenian disability advocates, making this the first disability-inclusive research project in Armenian rehabilitation.    

Janet Parsons, an associate professor in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, and Garry Aslanyan, adjunct professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, are on Armineh’s supervisory committee. 

Celebrating 106 years of occupational therapy at the University of Toronto

This week marks 106 years since the Occupational Therapy program was established at the University of Toronto. 

The department, as we know it today, has grown and evolved a lot since its early days. 

In 1918, during the first World War, the number of injured soldiers returning to Canada was increasing each day. More – and better trained ward aides were needed to help these soldiers on their long road to recovery and so the ward aides course at U of T was established. 

The ward aide course was established by Professor H.E.T. Haultain, a mining engineer in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, to help injured soldiers returning from the war. Haultain, who also served as the Vocational Officer for Ontario, organized the first courses and arranged for classes to be held in the Mining Building. 

The Mining and Chemistry Building on College Street circa 1906

The Mining and Chemistry Building on College Street circa 1906 

Credit: University of Toronto Archives 

On February 20, 1918, four students – Miss Stupart, Miss Trent, Miss Bruce and Miss Challis – commenced the ward aide course run by the Department of Soldiers’ Civil Re-establishment. The initial course was just six weeks long, but there was an expectation that the students would return for additional instruction when the course had been further developed.  

Haultain with Senior Ward Aides (the Girls in Green) of the Military Hospitals of Ontario, June 1919

Haultain with Ward Aides (the Girls in Green) of the Military Hospitals of Ontario, June 1919 

Credit: University of Toronto Archives 

By March 21, 1918, the course had been extended to three months and the second class of ward aides began their studies – bringing the course enrolment to 24 ward aide students. 

In 1926, after much advocacy from the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapy (OSOT) and its members, U of T established a new two-year long diploma course described as for “young ladies who are anxious to be of service in the healing of the sick and maimed and convalescent” in an early promotional brochure. 

Class photo of the first occupational therapy diploma course in 1928

Class photo of the first occupational therapy diploma course in 1928 

Credit: Department of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy at the University of Toronto 

In 1946, the course was extended to three years, and in 1950, occupational therapy and physical therapy were combined into one program and brought into the Faculty of Medicine as part of the Division of Rehabilitation Medicine. 

Years later, the programs separated again to become individual degree programs, with the first students graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy degree in 1974.  

2001 was another year of transformation for the department. The department moved from its home at 256 McCaul St. to the Rehabilitation Sciences Building and the occupational therapy program was further developed into a graduate program. Today, the program admits 130 students each year – with 90 students enrolled at our St. George Campus, and 40 students enrolled at UTM’s Mississauga Academy of Medicine, which launched in 2018.  

Today, we continue to create leaders in occupational therapy through the Master of Science in Occupational Therapy degree program amid a growing demand for occupational therapists in Ontario. 

Note: Special thank you to Judith Friedland, professor emerita in the department of occupational science and occupational therapy, for her research on the history of the department, which is included in her book, Restoring the Spirit: The Beginnings of Occupational Therapy in Canada, 1890-1930, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press in 2011. 

photo of Shlomit Rotenberg

Occupational therapy key to early dementia diagnosis and support

Dementia is a condition that affects nearly a million Canadians and their families – a number that is expected to double by 2030.

While there is no effective drug treatment for the progressive disease, much progress has been made over the last decade on interventions to prevent or delay dementia in people at risk. But what if we could recognize the symptoms earlier? 

This is the focus of research by Shlomit Rotenberg, an assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy with the Temerty Faculty of Medicine. Rotenberg studies those at risk of developing dementia and aims to help them stay engaged in meaningful activities that can improve their well-being here-and-now and support their cognitive health in the long term. 


Brain health through social and leisure activities: occupational therapy for dementia prevention

One of the early risk factors associated with dementia is subjective cognitive decline, which appears in otherwise healthy individuals who may begin noticing subtle changes in their daily functioning – like forgetting to pay a bill – but these symptoms are too mild to be detected in a cognitive screening test. 

Not everyone who experiences subjective cognitive decline will develop full dementia, but some will continue this trajectory of cognitive and functional decline, which can make it challenging to complete basic activities and carry on with daily living. 

With an occupational therapy lens, Rotenberg explores everyday functioning in people with subjective cognitive decline in depth. Because the two key components of a dementia diagnosis are significant cognitive decline and decreased independence in everyday functioning, it is important that both aspects are explored in people at risk for dementia. 

Rotenberg’s latest study, a scoping review, finds that the body of research on everyday functioning in older adults with subjective cognitive decline is small and tends to focus on their ability to manage their finances and health, manage a household and use technology, while overlooking their participation in social and leisure activities. 

“While older adults with subjective cognitive decline are, by definition, independent, we found that they withdrew from many of their social and leisure activities. This is concerning because participation in social and leisure activities is linked with better cognition functioning, better physical health, and greater well-being, and may delay the onset of dementia,” says Rotenberg. “To be more effective in preventing dementia, we need to be proactive in asking older adults about their daily functioning, including social and leisure activities.”    Continue reading

Rhona Anderson Appointed Director of Clinical Education

photo of Rhona Anderson

The Department of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy is pleased to announce that Rhona Anderson is the successful candidate of the recent search for an Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, and appointment as the Director of Clinical Education. 

Anderson joined our department more than 20 years ago as status-only faculty, as part of her full-time clinical position in an affiliated teaching organization. Since then, she has held a variety of roles, including teaching assistant, lab coordinator, sessional instructor, and Acting Director of Clinical Education while continuing education leadership roles within the clinical community. She became a part-time faculty member in 2021 while working on a doctoral degree.  

In this role, Anderson will continue to work with students and clinical education partners (including site fieldwork coordinators, preceptors, and education leadership) to guide the planning and implementation of high-quality teaching and learning experiences related to clinical education. 

“I’m excited and thrilled to be working with an incredible, skilled fieldwork team, and I’m looking forward to seeing what we will achieve together in the support of students’ practice learning,” she says. 

With this full-time appointment, she anticipates having more opportunities to work on research. Anderson’s research interests include student leadership development, particularly in collaborative interprofessional clinical contexts.  

Anderson is also currently collaborating with other faculty members on research related to the learning experiences of students who identify as having a disability, as well as research that uses an equity, diversity and inclusion lens to understand dialogue that occurs between preceptors and students. “Overall, student learning in the field, or during clinical education, is an understudied area and these areas of research will help to fill that gap,” she says. “And that is so important, given that student occupational therapists spend more than 1000 hours learning in the practice setting.”