McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

School of Rehabilitation Science, CanChild celebrate 30th anniversaries

Published: June 17, 2019
Martha Fulford is fostering sustainable medical care in Namibia as a guest instructor at the country's first medical school.
Physiotherapy students at the School of Rehabilitation Science in 2012.

Sarah Wojkowski says she is overwhelmed by the gratitude she feels towards McMaster University's School of Rehabilitation Science.

Wojkowski is an assistant professor and director of clinical education for the master's physiotherapy program with the school, as well director of the program of interprofessional education and research with the Faculty of Health Sciences.

She is also an alumna of the school, earning her MSc in physiotherapy in '04, as well as her PhD in rehabilitation science in '17. Her research focus was on unmet needs for community-based physiotherapy services.

"I don't have enough words to explain the impact of the School of Rehabilitation Science to my development as a person and the opportunities it has afforded me in terms of a career," said Wojkowski, who hails from Sarnia and has a BSc in kinesiology '00 from McMaster. "I am who I am because of McMaster."

Wojkowski was appointed a full-time teaching faculty member in 2012, but has been on sessional faculty since 2006. She said being offered a research assistant position as a new graduate from the physiotherapy program was fundamental in shaping her career trajectory.

Now, she looks to pay it forward.

"I try to model and implement some of the strategies used by the faculty who were here when I was a student," she said. "If someone asks if they have a minute to talk because they are struggling, I am more than happy to take the time because someone took the time with me."

There are many people who have stories similar to Wojkowski, as the School of Rehabilitation Science and the CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research at McMaster both celebrate their 30th anniversaries.

Starting from humble beginnings three decades ago, the school and the research centre have both grown their reputations internationally, boasting innovative faculty members and scientists who are leaders in their respective fields.

McMaster's School of Rehabilitation Science grew from a diploma program in occupational therapy and physiotherapy offered by Mohawk College, followed with a degree completion program at McMaster. These programs, and the new ones, followed the problem-based, small group learning pioneered by McMaster's medical school.

Funded with a $1.1 million grant from the Ontario government, the new school offered second degree programs in occupational therapy and physiotherapy which ran 23 months over two years. Initially there were 30 students in each of the two programs beginning classes in September, 1990.

The school's staff and faculty moved into the new Mohawk-McMaster Institute for Applied Health Sciences on McMaster's main campus in 2000. The building answered the need for McMaster to have a permanent home for its School of Rehabilitation Science and Mohawk's need for new premises for its health sciences programs.

Today, McMaster's School of Rehabilitation has 578 students in many graduate programs including occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech language pathology, rehabilitation science, and health management.

"The great thing about McMaster is that all of these programs are under one umbrella in the School of Rehabilitation Science," said Dina Brooks, vice-dean and executive director, and professor in the School of Rehabilitation Science at McMaster. "It fosters an interdisciplinary environment where people are always working together. It's not like that in many places."

Brooks said among the strengths of the School of Rehabilitation Science are its relationships with the community with Hamilton-based initiatives and partnerships with groups like the YMCA; the high-calibre of its masters' and doctoral students, and its roster of outstanding researchers.

Looking ahead, Brooks said a focus will be on considering offering undergraduate courses introducing students to rehabilitation and stronger collaborations with other departments within McMaster.

Developing stronger communications channels to share the news about the events and research coming from the school is also something Brooks hopes to achieve.

"I want to shine a light on the very important work that we are doing, which will help grow our relationships and partnerships with the community," she said.

A key builder during the tenure of the school was Mary Law, who was at McMaster from 1987 until her retirement in 2014. She served as the associate dean for the School of Rehabilitation Science from 2000 to 2010, during which time MSc and PhD degrees in rehabilitation sciences were added, as well as a master's degree in health management realized through a partnership with McMaster's DeGroote School of Business.

"In the 10 years I was associate dean, there was a lot of growth, especially in research," said Law, professor emerita of the School of Rehabilitation Science. "We had some amazing faculty and students in our graduate programs. The thing about McMaster is that it is very easy to collaborate, and I think a lot of success grew out of that."

Law and Peter Rosenbaum, professor of pediatrics at McMaster, co-founded CanChild in 1989.

The research centre, housed within the School of Rehabilitation Science, is dedicated to generating knowledge and transforming lives of children and youth with disabilities and their families.

"In the mid-1980s we were both involved in research in childhood disability, and were able to get grant support for what were in effect individual pieces of research," said Rosenbaum. "We knew that we had acquired enough experience and staff to want to have a firmer footing for our work, and to be able to create programs of research with funding that would enable us to have a centre and not just live from grant to grant."

CanChild started off small, with Rosenbaum and Law, along with another researcher, two research coordinators and a secretary.

"We were one of the first research centres in the world to have a partnership with families and with clinicians," said Law. "We worked actively with clinicians and families with children with disabilities on research teams, guiding our research and suggesting research questions, so it was a real partnership. I think because of that, our research was much more meaningful and it moved into practice more quickly."

CanChild has remained a world-leader in the field of childhood disability, with a core group of 15 scientists at McMaster and an additional 65 associate members worldwide.

"It is an exciting time for CanChild, with many scientists who started as trainees here now becoming the leaders," said Jan Willem Gorter who is director of CanChild, professor in the Department of Pediatrics and an associate member of the School of Rehabilitation Science at McMaster.

"Child disability research remains at our core, but we've broadened our scope to include more chronic health conditions across child health research, as well supporting the health of children across their life course."

Looking ahead, Gorter said he would like to see CanChild learnings available in developing countries.

"Developing and promoting our research is key, but at the same time, it's about transforming lives," said Gorter. "We are very successful in reaching a lot of children and their families in Canada and in the developed world, but I really see us looking to fill a global health need. There's a huge population in need of the knowledge and tools we have generated to provide evidence-based services in developing countries."

Martha Fulford is fostering sustainable medical care in Namibia as a guest instructor at the country's first medical school.
CanChild members of the international network, including scientists, staff, youth and family members, and associate members.

For information about the School of Rehabilitation Science, visit

To learn more about CanChild, visit

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