Press Releases

Applied research project investigates injuries in tree planters
Posted by: Public Affairs Okanagan College
 A chance meeting with a physiotherapist in Northern B.C. has led an Okanagan College instructor to a collaborative research project that examines common injuries in a distinct industry: tree planting.

darrell skinner release 2017 web

"There are thousands of tree planters in the province, and while we may think of repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, or tennis elbow, imagine planting up to 2,500 trees each day for a number of months," says Darrell Skinner, an instructor in Okanagan College's Therapist Assistant program. "Injury is unfortunately sometimes expected with such physical work, but we wanted to examine possible preventative strategies." Bringing together a team of students, and with the support and expertise of the owner and staff of Total Physiotherapy in Houston, BC, Skinner is leading research into taping hands and wrists to prevent tendonitis in tree planters

"More than 30 per cent of tree planters have tendonitis," says Mike McAlonan, owner of Total Physio. "And it's likely under-reported as planters don't wish to take days off and lose income. Tree planters are like athletes. They have a short season to work, so we manage them like athletes to keep them going until the season comes to an end." Rather than treating tendonitis post-injury, Skinner and McAlonan's research focusses on prevention. Control and test groups of planters are being closely monitored to determine if a specific form of taping can help prevent injury. "This is the first time I've been part of an applied research project," says McAlonan. "It's been exciting working with Okanagan College on a project that will hopefully have a positive impact in the industry."

According to the B.C. Council of Forest Industries, in 2015-16,the forest industry in B.C. generated $833 million in direct public revenue, $12.9 billion in product exports, and trees planted in B.C. captured two billion tonnes of carbon. "This is an important component to our economy and also supports the environment," notes Skinner.

tree planting release

Windfirm Resources, based in Smithers, conducts tree planting in two camps. Each season, around 150 workers plant 12 million trees. Operations manager and field supervisor Ryan Zapisocki became involved in the preventive injury research through Total Physio, Windfirm's physiotherapy provider."Mike has trained our first aid and crew members to do the taping, and the planters are now learning how to recognize the symptoms and prevent injury. Our veterans (those who have returned for several seasons), are almost injury free now. Everyone loves it," says Zapisocki. "It's made a big difference, and it'll be great for the province once word gets out."Skinner and McAlonan has visited several tree planting camps this spring, and so far the research is showing great potential to help reduce tendonitis in planters in B.C. and beyond.

Many tree planters have thanked them for coming up with the project. "It's a great feeling when a crew member comes up to me and says thank you," says Skinner. "They tell me that they feel their work and health are both valued."

The project is funded by an Engage Grant from NSERC, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. Student involvement, in addition to working with industry partners, is a key component of applied research at the College. Two students from the College's Therapist Assistant program are lending a hand with the project. Alisha Lemke, who graduated from the program last month, has been assisting with literature research and compiling prior related research. "I was interested in the practical training at Okanagan College, and became interested in this project as part of my education. It's helping me prepare for the real world," says Lemke. "The idea of preventive taping has not been well researched. Most of it is sports-related, not worker-related." Riley Orchard, another Therapist Assistant student will be helping with further analysis of the research results this fall.

Study Show Taping Can Reduce Common Tree Planting Injury  Sept 14, 2017 by WCFA Office in Safety

Then and now: Therapist Assistant alumni gather to celebrate 25 years
Posted by: Public Affairs

At 71 years old, there's no stopping Patricia Harris's continued momentum in providing excellence in rehabilitation care to those in need. TAD 25 years Sept 2015

Boasting a health care career that spans a half-century fuelled by passion and compassion, Harris is a Recreation Therapist Assistant at the Village at Mill Creek, an assisted living and residential care facility in Kelowna. It is a role the single mother of four pursued 25 years ago upon returning to college as a mature student.

At a commemorative reception held Thursday in Kelowna, Okanagan College proudly celebrated a quarter century of Therapist Assistant diploma student successes. Harris was on hand to reconnect with her then-classmates and current colleagues in the industry to mark the occasion.

"I remember studying 25 years ago and the skills instructors passed on to us as students have always stayed with me," recalls Harris, a member of the 1990 program intake and first graduating class.

Previously a practical nurse, Harris was working as an activity aid in Kelowna when she heard about a new program at the College that would offer the three pillars of physical, recreational, and occupational therapist assistant training. When it launched in 1990 the program was known as the Rehabilitation Assistant certificate program. It has now expanded into a two-year nationally accredited diploma.

"I've always worked in the health field. It felt like it would be something for me," says Harris.

When she returned to the classroom at age 46, Harris experienced a healthy dose of fear and wasn't totally sure about going back to school and jumping in next to 20-year-olds pursuing the same studies.

"The first four months I thought, am I going to be able to do this? I had homework every day," recalls Harris. "It was a learning curve, but the instructors encouraged me and took the extra time to help explain things I didn't understand. At one point it just clicked and by the time I graduated I felt I could keep going."

"As an educator, it is extremely satisfying to bring 25 years of alumni together. They're a great example of the successful careers the program has generated," says Jennifer Stephenson, Chair of the College's Therapist Assistant diploma program. "A total of 574 Therapist Assistant graduates have come through our doors at the College to date, and we're seeing a real increase in people interested in training in this field."

The program has 40 students starting their studies this year, with a wait-list of 20. Stephenson adds that it's a good thing there is a demonstrated interest. With an aging baby-boomer generation she anticipates an increase in demand for therapist assistants to provide support in the community.

At the anniversary celebration, guests heard from Kerri Winter, President of the Rehabilitation Assistants Association of British Columbia, who is also a graduate of the first graduating class of Okanagan College's program. A commemorative video marking the silver anniversary was also shown. As for what's next for Harris: "my kids ask me all the time 'mom when are you going to retire?' I tell them I love my work so much, I will eventually, but at this point, I don't want to."

Kerri Winter - Rehabilitation Assistant Program, 1992

If you asked Kerri Winter if she would enter the program she graduated from 25 years ago, you would hear an unequivocal yes.  From an early age, Kerri wanted to be in the medical field but wasn't sure what to be.  She had in interest in physiotherapy and, as it happened, the College was recruiting for a brand new program – Rehabilitation Assistant – the first in British Columbia and she hasn't looked back.  "It was exciting being the first year of the program," Kerri recalls, "classes were in the New Life Church building.  Although it was isolated being away from the main KLO campus, it was nice to have our own space.  Classmates were like a family with a mix of students who ranged in age from eighteen to mid-forties.  We socialized together, inside and outside of class." Although she loves the Okanagan, a greater number of career opportunities drew Kerri away from the Valley to the Lower Mainland.  Following a position at Langley Memorial, Kerri began working at Surrey Memorial Hospital in the early 90's where she has worked since in a variety of areas of healthcare.

In the early days, rehabilitation assistants were not accepted as their own profession.  Recognizing that the industry had much to offer and many opportunities for growth, Kerri worked to get a professional association running and is currently the President of the Rehabilitation Assistants Association of British Columbia. In addition to speaking to classes of students to help promote the profession and the association, 

Kerri has a passion for helping people – both her patients and her professional colleagues.  As such, she enjoys the advocacy and reaping the rewards of hard work.  When not advocating for and advancing the rehabilitation assistants profession, Kerri enjoys playing tennis and camping with her husband and two children.

Graduating student's invention hits the ground running
Posted by: Public Affairs

An Okanagan College student's ingenuity has the potential to provide running parents with a better experience as they push their Melissa Lang TAD May 2015children's strollers or wheelchairs while jogging.

Melissa Lang undertook a capstone graduating project as part of her Therapist Assistant Diploma program at Okanagan College's Kelowna campus. An avid runner, Lang was inspired by witnessing the determination a parent had in pushing their wheelchair-bound child across a race finish line. The child's elated glee at being a part of a race motivated Lang to apply the skills she learned while studying the program and combining them with her mechanical background earned from construction experience.

"I realized that there was an opportunity to help runners gain a better form, keep their arms swinging, and ultimately affect the power they run with while pushing a wheelchair," shares Lang. "My dad was a mechanic, and I always have liked tinkering with things. It was a bit of trial and error, and I'm still making some adjustments, but there is real potential."  

The prototype, built by Lang using a recycled elliptical machine, sees attachable arms that easily lock onto any stroller or wheelchair without changing their structure. Runners are able to push while keeping natural swinging arm-motions that reduces the risk of injury by keeping the body moving fluidly.

Safety is a prime consideration for an innovative design that involves children, Lang comments the best seal of approval came from her brother being willing to test the stroller with his daughter (her niece) in it. 

Lang plans to continue to tinker with the prototype, and while there are no immediate plans for production, she's not necessarily ruling it out. In the meantime, she is focused on her career search, where she is looking for opportunities in the field of occupational rehabilitation so that she can help those working in construction to recover and return to their jobs post-injury. 

A nationally accredited program, the Therapist Assistant Diploma at Okanagan College uniquely offers assistant-level training in all three disciplines: physiotherapy, recreational, and occupational therapy.

"Melissa truly applied the content learned in a variety of courses to improve human mobility and prevent injury through her biomechanical and inventive adaptation. This is one of the reasons she received the Bonnie Thiessen Award voted by her classmates which recognizes excellence in a graduating student," said Jennifer Stephenson, Chair Okanagan College's Therapist Assistant Diploma program. 

Among the other graduating students' capstone projects presented were a pediatric hospital gown and a mental health support website that uses art to help remove stigma around mental illness.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Therapist Assistant Diploma program. The two-year program includes 16-weeks of practicum experience for students in a clinical setting. Since its launch in 1990 (then known as the Rehabilitation Assistant Certificate Program), the program has conferred credentials to 551 graduates. 

Celebrations marking the silver anniversary, and recognizing 25 years of graduates like Lang, will be held throughout the coming year, including an alumni reunion in the fall.

To find out more about the program, including an interview with Melissa Lang, view this video http://ow.ly/MiLd3 or visit the website www.okanagan.bc.ca/therapistassistant.