Rehabilitating Veterans: U of T’s Ongoing Commitment

Nov 10, 2016
Author: 
Liam Mitchell

 In 1917 the Military Hospitals Commission established a six-month course at Hart House to train physiotherapists for the rehabilitation of injured soldiers. By the time the program ended in 1919 it had produced 250 ‘Hart House Graduates.’ In 1917 the Military Hospitals Commission established a six-month course at Hart House to train physiotherapists for the rehabilitation of injured soldiers. By the time the program ended in 1919 it had produced 250 ‘Hart House Graduates.’

When the wounded warriors of World War I returned home, Canada’s veterans could count on the University of Toronto to support their rehabilitation. That commitment has been sustained over the decades to the present day, as students, faculty and alumni work to improve the quality of life for those injured in warzones.

It was from the ravages of the First World War that U of T’s rehabilitation programs emerged. While the war still raged in Europe, a six-month training program for physical therapists was established in 1917 at Hart House by the Military Hospitals Commission. Known as the “Hart House Course,” it emphasized massage and electrotherapy, gymnastics and muscle function training. By 1919, 250 people had completed the program and were assigned to military hospitals across Canada.

U of T also laid the foundation for occupational therapy during this period through the training of Ward Aides. The program was established under the auspices of the Faculty of Applied Sciences and Engineering, supported by professors and instructors in the Faculty of Medicine. The aim was to provide vocational retraining to veterans so they could enter or re-enter the workforce.

In 1918 a ‘ward aides’ program was devised (run by the engineering department) to instruct volunteer women in providing vocational retraining for wounded veterans.In 1918 a ‘ward aides’ program was devised (run by the engineering department) to instruct volunteer women in providing vocational retraining for wounded veterans.

From U of T Med Magazine: Remembering the First World War

While the urgency waned when the armistice was signed in 1919, the importance of rehabilitation had been firmly established. In 1926, U of T set up a two-year program in occupational therapy, while the first formal diploma in physical therapy was established in 1931 at a time when 27 per cent of Ontario hospitals had departments in the field. The importance of psychiatric care to support veterans became better known as the 1930s began and by 1934, new training was included in the occupational therapy program to address this pressing need.

Flash forward to the present day, where students like Melissa Biscardi continue to work alongside veterans. Biscardi is completing her MSc degree under the supervision of Professor Angela Colantonio in the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute. Her clinical work experience with veterans inspired Biscardi’s current thesis research, which is looking at traumatic brain injuries in military women, both those currently serving and veterans.

“I would often have patients come into our clinic complaining about back or neck pain, but I could quickly see there was other underlying issues, like mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder,” explained Biscardi.

With a background in nursing and a strong interest in research that was ignited during her undergraduate studies, Biscardi decided to pursue a graduate degree.

“I knew that I wanted to find a way to help members of the military and veterans – they’ve given so much to serve our nation – plus I was interested in the intersection between traumatic injury, mental health and gender. So this has proven to be the perfect match,” she said. Biscardi also noted this will help advance research on traumatic brain injury in female veterans, which has not been well explored.

For Danny Slack, the five weeks he spent interning at Sunnybrook during his Master of Health Science in Physical Therapy degree was among the most meaningful experiences during his studies. Slack, who completed his degree last year, recalled working with a 97-year old man who had outlived his wife and even his children. 

“I couldn’t believe how much he wanted to exercise,” said Slack. “We’d do 10 minutes on a reclining bike and he wanted to keep going. He said he wanted to be the oldest man in there.”

From U of T News: Remembering the Veterans of Sunnybrook

Today, U of T’s rehabilitation sciences comprise the Departments of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Speech-Language Pathology, and the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute. In addition to offering professional master’s programs in core rehab disciplines, the sector also supports research-based graduate degrees. It has the most extensive network of clinical facilities available in North America, as well as faculty who are known nationally and internationally. Now these programs seek not only to improve the quality of life for veterans, but for clients across Canada and around the world.

With files from Professor Edward Shorter and Heidi Singer.

Tweets

Temerty Medicine
@uoftmedicine
RT : Have you listened to Ep 82 Making Strides: Amputation & Prosthetics yet? 🎧 Aristotle Domingo () shared his… https://t.co/HaGTiTk2u9
Temerty Medicine
@uoftmedicine
RT : To avoid a 'twindemic' health officials are telling Canadians to following guidelines for the pandemic, and to get… https://t.co/mvEkEwlqrA
Temerty Medicine
@uoftmedicine
“If we can't learn from it then it has little to no scientific value.” Scientists are challenging their colleagues… https://t.co/KcWqs2WNVe

Researchers are mobilizing against the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and COVID-19.

Make a gift and support their important work.
Sep 23 – Nov 11
Safer Opioid Prescribing
Course | 7:00am–9:00pm
Oct 5 – May 6
Academic Health Leadership Training – Now Accepting Applications 2020-2021 Cohort
Course | 8:00am–5:00pm
Oct 13 – Jun 8
Certificate Program in CPD Foundations
Course | 12:00pm–1:30pm
Oct 21 Creating AODA-Compliant Documents for the Web
Webinar | 10:30am–12:00pm
Oct 22 Medicine and the Machine: The Artificial Intelligence Health Revolution
Temerty Medicine Talk | 12:30pm–1:15pm
Oct 23 U of T Oncology Continuing Education Zoom Rounds - October 2020
Grand Rounds | 8:00am–9:00am
Oct
24 – 26
Organ Imaging Review
Symposium | 7:15am–5:15pm