A PhD student in physical therapy aims to help older adults in rural areas be active.
Kirsten Ward didn’t apply for the Nancy Cho Alumni Award in Physical Therapy, so the good news that she received the award came as a surprise.
“It was really encouraging to know I was viewed as someone who was going to make a positive impact on public health,” says Ward, who graduated from UBC’s Master of Physical Therapy – North program in the fall of 2021. “It’s inspiring that other people have that confidence in you, and recognition of your skills and passion for your job is there.”
Born and raised in Prince George, Ward’s early interests in science, anatomy and physiology evolved into her passion for supporting clients through complex pain or extreme chronic pain to be physically active.
“I’ve always wanted to work in a field that’s helping people and doing something for them, so physiotherapy was a beautiful blend of the two,” she says.
This award helped her pursue post-graduate courses in pain science before she began her PhD in physical therapy in the spring of 2022. Still in the early days of planning her research, she is interested in investigating ways to help older adults living in rural areas be more physically active.
Ward has enjoyed research since her undergraduate studies and wants to help make research more accessible to physical therapists.
The biggest drive for me is to make what’s found in research actually happen in practice. Being someone who’s interested in research and also a clinician, I’m really hoping to bridge that gap.
Kirsten Ward, PhD Student, UBC Department of Physical Therapy
After receiving the award, Ward was invited to meet with the donor who funded it, Nancy Cho, BSc (Rehab) ’82. Recently retired regional professional practice lead of physiotherapy at Vancouver Coastal Health, Cho is a clinical associate professor of physical therapy and clinical faculty instructor for the occupational therapy program at UBC. An active alum, Cho generously shares her time and knowledge as a mentor to students and new practitioners.
“I set up this award to highlight the important role physical therapists play in public practice,” says Cho. “In the patient’s journey through acute care, rehab and finally back home, physiotherapists are essential to recovery. We help our clients reach their goals and maximum level of function. Through Ward’s research, she will build more clinical evidence to implement at the frontline.”
Cho and Ward discussed the need for physiotherapy in general and in underserviced areas.
“What I took away from our conversation was the joy and passion she still has for this career,” says Ward. “For me, it’s so inspiring to talk to practitioners who have been doing this work for a long time. I see that passion has done nothing but grow over the years, and they absolutely love doing what they do. I’m inspired to continue down this career path and really want to make a difference in the field.”
For Cho, establishing this award has been a rewarding experience, particularly when she gets to hear about the impact it has for students like Ward.
“I hope Ward’s story will inspire other alumni to think about how they can contribute to UBC in a meaningful way that supports future generations of physiotherapists,” says Cho.