The moving history of physiotherapy

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The moving history Photo by Russ Cooper copy

By Russ Cooper, MSc(OT)’16

“If we understand how physiotherapy has developed at McGill and in Canada, we can use these lessons to improve the rehabilitation practices of the future.”

These wise words from PhD student Marcos Rodrigues, MSc(PT)’16, are the overarching tenet of an exhibition of antiquated physiotherapy (PT) devices he is helping to prepare for the Maude Abbott Medical Museum.

The exhibition, co-curated with museum director Rick Fraser, MDCM’76, will consist of nine or 10 historical pieces from the McGill School of Physical & Occupational Therapy (SPOT).

The devices had been hidden from view for years in the basement of Hosmer House, where, during efforts to prepare the building for renovations, Sarah Marshall, BSc(PT)’84, MSc’06, Director’s Academic Associate, SPOT, and Luisa De Marte, Course Technician, Occupational Therapy Programs, stumbled upon them. Sensing the educational value, they contacted Fraser who agreed the items were of value. Marshall brought in Rodrigues, whom she knew to be interested in the story of SPOT—and they rest, as they say, is history.

Each exhibition piece will be outfitted with complete descriptions and explanations of its place in PT history. Rodrigues also hopes to accompany each piece with a scannable square barcode linking to testimonials from professionals who once used these devices. “In a way, it can be a live interaction with a bit of the past,” he says.

Rodrigues’ current research is investigating the central nervous system mechanisms and physiological principles of upper extremity motor control performance in stroke patients and how these principles can be translated into rehabilitation practice. While this exhibition is not a formal part of his research, Rodrigues says his participation will help him understand how PT practices have evolved and where the practice is headed.

“One of the ideas is to bring the undergrads here so that can be aware of this history,” says Rodrigues, adding that this will be a great way to help raise awareness of the history of SPOT, which dates back to 1943 and evolved into the first Canadian BSc program in Physical & Occupational Therapy in 1954. “I think curating this exhibition will help me mature and be more aware of where I want to take my own practice.”

It’s a good fit for the Maude Abbott Museum, one of the best historical collections of anatomical, pathological and other medical materials in North America, featuring more than 3,500 items dating as far back as 1823. In 2014, CNN named it one of the world’s top 10 weirdest medical museums.

Visits to the museum are generally by appointment only. Fraser echoes Rodrigues’ reasoning behind why people should visit. “Partly to see what was, partly to see how it is now, now, and partly to see what it could be.”

The Maude Abbott Medical Museum is located in room 2/38E in the Strathcona Anatomy Building, 3640 University St., Montreal. Individuals or groups wishing to visit the museum may contact Dr. Richard Fraser at richard.fraser@mcgill.ca. An excellent Homecoming activity!

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