Member Spotlight: Three Decades of Giving Back to the Profession

  •   July 5, 2019
  •  Nancy Littke, PT

This month we shine our member spotlight on Grant Irwin. If you have been a physiotherapist in the last two to three decades you are probably familiar with this name. Over the last three decades, Grant has volunteered his time, experience and knowledge to the physiotherapy community through his continuous and ongoing engagement in multiple committee and leadership roles. This month I spoke to Grant about what “giving back” has meant to him, what changes he has seen over the course of his career and his thoughts on why it’s important to be an engaged member of the profession.

Who is Grant Irwin?

In 1975 Grant was living through a personal, family and career crisis when a friend indicated that physiotherapy may be a great fit for someone who put “helping others” as a priority in his life. As a result, Grant entered the BScPT program at the University of Alberta (U of A) and graduated as a physiotherapist in 1979.

Grant started working as a physiotherapist in a public hospital, home care, and long-term care. In 1981 he moved into private practice and for 34 years co-owned a physiotherapy clinic with two other physiotherapists. Grant is now working as a physiotherapy consultant for two long-term care centers where he enjoys collaborating with a multi-professional health-care team.

Over the years, Grant has pursued multiple interests related to the practice of physiotherapy and has maintained his professional development by taking many post grad courses including training and authorization to perform restricted activities within the scope of physiotherapy practice.

Over the last 30 years, Grant has held many roles within physiotherapy professional organizations in Alberta. When asked to reflect on what motivated him to become involved as a volunteer within the profession, Grant immediately answered:

“Being accepted into the program immediately changed the course of my life. It has turned out to be the most critical personal, professional and academic event in my life. As a result, I have a profound sense of gratitude and thankfulness to the U of A and the Faculty of Rehab Med for the learning and maturity I achieved under their tutelage.”

This feeling of gratitude and thankfulness was what has motivated Grant to become and stay engaged within the Alberta physiotherapy community. To this day, Grant’s willingness to “give back” to his profession has not diminished.

Grant’s history of volunteering

In 1989 Grant joined the College of Physical Therapy (CPTA) discipline committee. After a very short time on the committee, Grant took on the role as chair of the committee and remained chair until 1999. Grant indicated that he found his time on this committee provided him with a huge learning opportunity and felt it has made him more humble, practical and thoughtful about his own clinical practice.

Grant was elected to the Alberta Physiotherapy Association (APA) Board of Directors in 2001. He took on a succession of roles over the next several years, including board member, president-elect, president and then past president, serving on the APA board until its dissolution in 2009. During this time, the APA worked with the Superintendent of Insurance alongside the CPTA and other stakeholders on the development of the Diagnostic and Treatment Protocols for motor vehicle accident victims. The APA was also involved on committees to develop the framework for Primary Care Networks. The APA private practice committee lobbied for fair fee structures and there was extensive work done on the cost of business and fee guidelines.

In 2009, following many discussions between the Association Board and the College Council, the APA dissolved and ceased operations. The leaders of the APA approached CPTA about the plan and whether the CPTA could take on any aspects of the APA’s work. In 2010 the CPTA became Physiotherapy Alberta - College + Association. A single organization representing 100% of the physiotherapists in the province.

Grant continued to be involved during the transition and was elected to the Physiotherapy Alberta - College + Association Council in 2010 where he served as the Secretary/Treasurer and then as Vice President, President-Elect, and for a short time assumed the role as President. Grant recalls working on the continuing competence program requirements, initial work on what later became the provisional registration and supervision process for physiotherapy Interns, and the primary-care tool kit for physiotherapists.

After leaving Council in 2014, Grant was recruited to represent the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine on the U of A Alumni Council. Grant indicated that, although not currently involved with Physiotherapy Alberta, being involved with the faculty and the university still allows him to “give back” to the profession and the institution where it all started for him so many years ago.

It is important to keep in mind that Grant did all of this while running a business and raising two daughters with his wife Anita (also a physiotherapist). Grant said he has always strived to maintain a good work/life balance, so he has continued to pursue his love of music by singing with a big band and volunteering with the Little Bits Riding Association, a local rugby team, and the Alberta Ballet. He also served as a research assistant for three different principal investigators from the UofA and UBC over the years.

A changing profession

The 1980’s saw physiotherapists granted the ability to bill Alberta Health Care for physiotherapy services and in 1985 physiotherapy became a self-regulated profession. Grant felt these two factors led to a vast and rapid change in the way the public viewed physiotherapy and physiotherapists. Albertans began to speak of “my physiotherapist” just as they would speak of their doctor as “my doctor.” This was a very exciting time to be a physiotherapist in Alberta.

As he reflected on the profession in the 90’s, he talked about the Government of Alberta increasingly recognizing the APA and College as partners in health care.

“Our recommendations and advice were not always used, but being at the table was critical to begin the conversations,” says Grant.

He felt this was the time when the Government started to develop a lasting respect for the professions and its leaders.

The change from two organizations representing physiotherapy in Alberta to one was goo for the profession.

“We could speak as one voice as a profession,” says Grant. “The credibility of our voice became enhanced.”

He commented that at one time Government sometimes approached the two organizations separately and may have inadvertently set one against the other. With this change, when Alberta physiotherapists spoke, they did so with one voice, on behalf of all physiotherapists in Alberta. He felt that there was more collaboration between the regulatory aspects of the profession and support for members through member services. This was a very positive change.

Where are we going? And what do we as individual members need to do?

Grant feels strongly that to stay current and relevant, we must continue to work to provide patient-centered care and become collaborative members of the health-care team addressing the needs of the whole patient. In Grant’s opinion, individual members need to become stronger and more vocal advocates for patient-centered, collaborative practice.

“We need to continue to increase and “fight” for time in the boardrooms and at the tables where critical health decisions are made,” says Grant. “We need to build and foster more champions who involve themselves in developing prospective preventative health systems rather than reactionary health systems.”

We all need to work to ensure that physiotherapy is seen as an integral part of the health-care team not just as a siloed, single service practice.

What would you say to a member considering volunteering?

Grant responded by posing his own question to members.

“Do you have a sense of pride, duty, loyalty or respect for your profession? Consider sharing some of these positive qualities and converting them into advocacy and leadership within your college and association,” he says.

Using the words of a very famous politician, Grant stated “ask not what your College can do for you but what can you do for your College.”

Grant encourages members to “just jump in,” get involved and “give back” to your profession and the College anyway you can. He reminds members that they always receive more back than you give. “It becomes a transformative experience.”

Current Physiotherapy Alberta volunteer opportunities

If you are interested in becoming involved within the College keep an eye on the Newsletter for opportunities. Although the timeframe to be nominated for a position on Council has passed for the upcoming year maybe consider running for Council next year.

Physiotherapy Alberta is currently seeking volunteers for the Conduct Committees. If you are interested in either of these opportunities, contact Physiotherapy Alberta for more information and to put your name forward.