The first official classes ended yesterday at the University of Northern B.C. for the 20 students that choose to focus their Master of Physical Therapy serving northern and rural communities.
The master program is based at the University of B.C., but students can choose to become part of the Northern and Rural Cohort, in which case they have to take six of their five-week practical experience placements in the north and take a three-week academic block at the physiotherapy teaching lab at UNBC.
"These students would have normally have been in Vancouver for these three weeks doing courses, but [now] they're here to do them," said Robin Roots, a co-ordinator of clinical education at UBC.
The cohort was first funded by the provincial government in 2011, with the goal of attracting more physical therapists to the north. In 2012, the teaching lab at UNBC opened. It contains four large video monitors, cameras, a full complement of teaching equipment and nine treatment tables.
The students do both their lectures and practical exercises by teleconferencing. For the exercises, there are two instructors on site at UNBC to aid the students.
Student in the cohort said that learning in the north provided better quality opportunities than what could be found down Vancouver.
"There's lots of mentors there, but the difference we get with the mentors in the North is they are so much more excited and much more willing to sacrifice their time to share their expertise with you," said Madison Morrison, a student originally from Prince Rupert. "That's something that's been very obvious since being in Prince George."
The practical experience placements take place at a variety of places, including the University Hospital of Northern B.C., private practices and small rural hospitals.
"My first placement was in Kitimat," said Josina Rhebergen, a student from Smithers. "I was at the hospital there, which was a really great experience because you get to do a little bit of everything, more so than in a large city hospital."
Even the learning at UNBC is different than at UBC.
"Here we get to be a tight-knit community because we live in residence together," said Matthew Beda, a student from Thunder Bay, Ont. "It's just easier to run across the hall and knock on somebody's door to get help or practice something."
All of the students said the program did a great job at getting them - and others - interested in working in rural areas.
"Now, with our cohort, we're fighting over who gets to go to the Yukon, who gets to come up to Prince George," Morrison said. "So it's done a really great job of selecting students that are interested in that."