Excellence in research, undergrad education can co-exist

Innovation in teaching: From theory to action

In Quebec, it takes a master’s degree in occupational therapy to become a member of the Ordre des ergothérapeutes du Québec.

To better prepare undergraduate students for the master’s program, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (UQTR) has created a special curriculum.

In order to improve students’ ability to handle common situations they will face once they enter the workforce, undergrads are required to take part in simulations of real-life clinical situations. For instance, making soup as if they had the limited mobility of an arthritis sufferer and cleaning up after themselves, showing a senior how to use Skype to keep in touch with his children, or assessing the functional abilities of a distrustful elderly women suffering a loss of autonomy.

These are just a few of the 24 clinical simulations in which the students will take part. These clinical learning labs are offered in the second and third year of the undergraduate program, according to Martine Brousseau, Director of the Occupational Therapy program at UQTR.

The learning labs take place in groups, under a teacher’s supervision, in a realistic environment and occasionally involve actors playing grumpy patients or technophobic seniors, for example.

Each group of nine students receives a sheet of paper describing the challenge (the clinical situation or case vignette) and must analyze the situation, identify the skills/knowledge they are lacking, read up on the subject, and then present a situational analysis and intervention plan. One student from each group takes part in the simulation of the clinical situation, while the others observe and, along with the teacher, provide feedback.

The purpose of the labs is to focus on the skills required by occupational therapists, as defined in the professional code of Quebec, which states that occupational therapists must “assess functional abilities, determine and implement a treatment and intervention plan, develop, restore or maintain a person’s skills…” Students must therefore learn to assess complex cases and take action in difficult situations.

“Being faced with real-life situations promotes learning,” Ms. Brousseau explains. “The students are more likely to remember how they reacted. They’ve said it themselves! Our curriculum was designed such that students must put themselves in the heart of the action in order to learn.”

Jessica Morin can attest to the effectiveness of this approach. She is currently enrolled in the master’s program, and the labs had a profound effect on her.

“When you read the vignette, you don’t fully understand what it entails,” she notes. “You only find out afterward.”

In her opinion, the most important skill the students take away from the program is to be unafraid of doing research and digging to find solutions.

“Our greatest strength is our ability to think on our feet.”

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