A delicate balance

Lesley Bainbridge teaches students the importance of teamwork

by Hilary Thomson staff writer


It was a story she read as a teenager that inspired the recent recipient of Canada's top honour in physiotherapy to enter the profession.

"I had previously considered becoming a librarian or a hairdresser," says Lesley Bainbridge, winner of the Enid Graham Lecture Award, the most prestigious award given for national and international leadership by the Canadian Physiotherapy Association. "But when I read the story about a physiotherapist who helped a little girl with cerebral palsy I was impressed. I wanted to make a difference, too."

That desire to make positive changes still motivates Bainbridge, who heads the division of Physical Therapy in the School of Rehabilitation Sciences.

A past president of both the provincial and national associations of physiotherapists, she is known to colleagues as "an ambassador for physiotherapy."

After obtaining a Physiotherapy diploma in England, Bainbridge completed a Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy at UBC. After working as a physiotherapist for about five years, she decided to "stop squawking about what was wrong" and do something about it.

She served on the management teams of Langley Memorial Hospital and what was then University Hospital before moving to Holy Family Hospital, a Vancouver facility that specializes in geriatric rehabilitation. There she was director of physiotherapy before taking the position of vice-president of Rehabilitation Services.

In 1994, Bainbridge joined the School of Rehabilitation Sciences with expertise in administration and geriatric care and a growing interest in education as well as research interests in interprofessional practice and teaching.

"I love physiotherapy," she says. "But I find it even more rewarding when I work with other disciplines. It brings a richer perspective to our work whether it is teaching, client care or research."

Bainbridge completed a Master of Education in Adult Education at UBC in 1995. She currently chairs the Interprofessional Education Committee of the Health and Human Services Programs at UBC, which originated in the Office of the Co-ordinator of Health Sciences. "We need to teach our students to work as a team because this is how health care is practiced today," she says.

"Turf wars haven't gone away but professions have more to learn than fear from working in consultation."

In more than 25 years of practice, Bainbridge has seen a shift in the philosophy of care.

She characterizes physiotherapy's original approach as a militaristic one that focused on performing exercises.

The developing trend, however, is to have the patient at the centre of a team of caregivers that also may include occupational therapists, physicians, nurses, and speech language pathologists.

Factors such as community involvement in decision-making through regional health boards, a demand for accountability in practice and a better-informed public with higher expectations of care contribute to the move to client-focused care, she says.

Bainbridge was one of the creators of the Clinical Teaching and Research Unit in the Purdy Pavilion at UBC Hospital.

The unit aims to be a model of interprofessionalism and will be one of the sites for her research project that looks at teaching teamwork strategies to students in clinical practice.

The two-year project sees undergraduate students and clinicians participate in team-building workshops to learn strategies and skills such as non-confrontational disagreement and defusing con-flict. When students move to jobs, Bainbridge will evaluate the effect of team-building skills on practice effectiveness.

In addition to her commitment to client care, she is passionate about teaching and describes it as the most satisfying part of her job.

"Teaching is scholarship," says Bainbridge, a participant in UBC's Certificate Program on Teaching in Higher Education.

"I find a great sense of academic achievement in teaching, trying new things and seeing a change in students' understanding."

She teaches courses on the psycho-social aspects of disability, social and professional issues and assists with teaching interpersonal communication in rehabilitation.

The hardest part of teaching, she says, is creating curriculum that is both contemporary and fits with future directions. Some of those directions may be identified at the first-ever interprofessional rehabilitation national congress, called Tri-Joint Congress 2000, to be held in Toronto in May.

Bainbridge co-chairs the steering committee for the event which she describes as "amazing."

"It's taken years of planning but now there is a real groundswell of enthusiasm. The range of topics offered at the congress demonstrates the extent of learning possible between and among the professions."

Among the subjects to be covered are interdisciplinary team-building, joint concerns in program evaluation, communication with clients, and interprofessional education.

The intensity of Bainbridge's work life is balanced by the sense of peace she gains from her 2.4-hectare farm outside Victoria.

The weekly commute allows her to change gears and once back home she relaxes by caring for the farm's inhabitants--14 chickens, one rooster, four horses, two dogs and 13 cats.

In the midst of this busy personal and professional life, Bainbridge has also been able to satisfy two goals she wanted to achieve before age 50--seeing Elton John perform live and running a half marathon.

So what is next?

"Professionally, there are research and teaching challenges and I'm still getting accustomed to the academic environment," she says. "Personally, I'll be running more races and perhaps get a doctoral degree in education."

The book that inspired Lesley Bainbridge's professional life was closed long ago. Her own story is far from over, however, and it would appear that the plot thickens.