February NC spotlight: Debi Francis

Above: Debi Francis, professor and coordinator of the Occupational Therapist Assistant and Physiotherapist Assistant program, is pictured with equipment in the Rehabilitation Lab.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that the Rehabilitation Lab where Debi Francis and her students spend most of their days looks like an apartment suite, because the full-time Allied Health professor feels right at home at NC.

Since she joined College faculty in August 2010 – her first venture into full-time teaching – she has embraced the people and culture of the College.

“I tell people that it’s like a dream to work here, with people who totally support you,” she said. “It’s hard to not want to be here. It’s productive but also a lot of fun.”

Francis, who has been the professor and coordinator of NC’s Occupational Therapist Assistant and Physiotherapist Assistant program since August 2010, spends most of her time in the Rehabilitation Lab with her students. Everything within this spacious room on the second floor of the College’s Applied Health Institute is integrated into the curriculum – the oven, sink and laundry facilities, the adaptive equipment in the bathroom (including a raised toilet seat and bath seat grab bars), the gym equipment, hospital beds and a three-position lift chair that moves into standing position.

Here, NC’s OTA and PTA students are exposed to the variety of activities and equipment they use with their  clients – during their clinical placements throughout the program; then, after graduation when they move on to work in private clinics, hospitals, retirement homes, long-term care facilities, rehab centres or in the community.

It’s a field that Francis knows well. Prior to taking on her current role at NC, Francis worked as an OT at the community level providing OT services to children and adults, and as a care coordinator at the Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital and at the Mississauga Halton Community Care Access Centre.

There are so many aspects of the profession that she personally enjoys.

“I like it because it looks at people individually and looks at everything that’s important to them. From a holistic perspective you’re looking at somebody’s health and how things are impacted within their life and the strains that they have to mediate or compensate what they need to do,” she said. “I also like it because it’s not routine. It’s very client centred.”

Even prior to becoming a professor, Francis enjoyed the instructional aspect of her profession.

“As an OT, I do a lot of education at the applied level – patient education,” she said. “I like interacting with people. It’s very rewarding to help people learn new skills or understand information.”

Before arriving at NC, she had taught at a private college as well as tutored for McMaster’s OT program. Her interest in teaching full-time led her to work at NC about as year after its OTA and PTA program was launched. While teaching, she continues to enhance her credentials by pursuing a master’s degree in Health Sciences Education at McMaster University which she expects to complete in April 2015.

“I love to teach people and I really love OT. The fact that I could put to things together that I really love – interacting and education as well as OT – make it a great mix.”

Francis is a familiar face not only to NC’s OTA and PTA students but to all students enrolled in the School of Allied Health, as teacher of the Introduction to Interprofessional Education and Practice course. She loves being in class where she tries to be as interactive as possible and encourages students to share their stories and learn from one another.

Since she has arrived at NC, Francis has valued the opportunity to participate in the College Educator Development program where she formed connections with other faculty at NC as well as from colleges across Ontario.

She enjoys being a part of NC’s OTA and PTA program which has evolved over the years to include several career-oriented events and activities. Guest speakers come in to share expertise with students. Lunch and Learn events bring in different community partners each term to discuss topics of professional interest – such as different types of wheelchairs or cushions. During Occupational Therapy Month in October, a variety of activities are planned, allowing students to get familiar with and advocate for the profession. For the first time this April, second-year students will have an opportunity to take a falls prevention course for certification by the Injury Prevention Resource Centre in April 2014.

For Francis, one of the most rewarding aspects of her job is watching her students succeed. She enjoys visiting her students at their clinical placements at the end of the term.

“How they present is different when they’re at their placements, than when they’re here in the lab” she said. “When I see them interacting with a real person, it’s overwhelming for me. It’s great.”

Her proudest moments at Niagara College are on convocation day, when after two years of hard work, she watches her students line up to receive their diplomas.

”Our small program allows me to get to know the students professionally and personally, so convocation day is such an exciting day for me,” she says. “It’s also great to get to meet their parents and people who supported them.”

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