Siobhan McKittrick, (far right), an interim educator and physiotherapist at Toronto Rehab's Bickle Centre, with colleagues Maria Brink, (L), an occupational therapy assistant/physiotherapy assistant, and Kendra Flemming, an occupational therapist. Siobhan says the "Stepping Stones" program she is taking is giving "me the opportunity to develop my interdisciplinary knowledge on a broader level." (Photo: UHN)

Siobhan McKittrick has received a little help while stepping out of her comfort zone.

A physiotherapist at Toronto Rehab's Bickle Centre, Siobhan earlier this year was hired as an interprofessional educator. It's an interim role that means she goes from focusing on a specific profession – her own – to having responsibility for mentoring a wider group of health professions, including occupational therapists, nurses, and personal support workers.

To help with this transition to working with colleagues, students and other learners outside her clinical field, Siobhan turned to "Stepping Stones". A foundational program created and led by Unity Health Toronto and the University of Toronto's Centre for Faculty Development, it supports health professionals in multiple educational roles and activities across Toronto to incorporate inclusive values into their practices.

It brings together health professionals from all areas – physicians, surgeons, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and more – to learn about topics focused on teaching such as accessibility, language and inclusion, and academic leadership.

The two-year course consists of nine workshops and a journal club, where participants study new material each month to present to their peers and facilitate discussion among one another.

"It gave me the opportunity to develop my interdisciplinary knowledge on a broader level," says Siobhan, who says since completing the first year of the program she's looking forward to applying critical topics such as equity and diversity in her new role.

"I've learned a lot about how hierarchies and power structures play a role in our daily lives at work," says Siobhan. "During my team rounds, I do my best to facilitate safe environments that allow everyone to speak up, because sometimes the colleague who doesn't speak up knows our patients better than anyone else.

"We need to hear from personal support workers and nurses as much as we listen to surgeons and doctors."

"Stepping Stones" has also helped Siobhan recognize that different people have different needs.

'Getting a chance to meet people I wouldn't have crossed paths with'

For example, Siobhan often meets with learners from different cultures who are coming from different learning environments at the start of their placement to determine what they need to succeed and ensure they feel like part of the team.

Additionally, Siobhan appreciates the course has provided her with networking opportunities that would have otherwise missed.

"Getting the chance to meet people I wouldn't have crossed paths with allowed me to grow in a non-judgmental environment," she says. "Talking to surgeons, physicians, nurses and other allied health professionals allowed me to see the same issue from a different perspective that I can apply when working with learners in the future."

At UHN, teaching and learning has always been an integral aspect to a high-quality clinical environment.

"Through teaching and learning, we can all become more effective in our roles at UHN," says Mandy Lowe, UHN Senior Director of Clinical Education. "Creating safe learning environments for our colleagues, students and other learners is one way we can actively support each other in working together."

"Stepping Stones" was created to support the growth and development of individuals in relation to their educational roles and activities. It's supported using funds received from the Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) via the Rehab Sector of the University of Toronto. These funds are provided to UHN in recognition of Rehab Sector student placements to improve the quality of clinical education.

"These funds are there to support students in their clinical education," says Meredith Smith, a Journal Club Leader in the "Stepping Stones" course and Physiotherapy Academic Clinical Educator and Program Education Lead at Toronto Rehab. "Using them to invest back into our supervisors and educators, like Siobhan, who help students develop their skills, is a great way to support our community at Toronto Rehab, and ultimately, patient care."

Meredith says "Stepping Stones" builds on other courses offered to UHN staff because it allows for development of a community and networking with colleagues over a couple years.

"This is a broader community that you get to learn from and grow together," Meredith says.


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