Pearls of Wisdom with Dr. Patty Solomon
I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Patty Solomon at McMaster University at the end of 2015 and her interview is littered with timeless pearls of wisdom.
Dr. Patty Solomon is the Associate Dean of Health Sciences and Director of the School of Rehabilitation Science. Patty is also the past Assistance Dean of the Physiotherapy Program. She is interested in educational research and development and has published and consulted extensively in the areas of problem-based learning, educational innovation, interprofessional education, and curriculum design. Patty's area of research is in HIV, disability and rehabilitation, and educational innovation as it related to problem-based learning and interprofessional education.
What's your area of work?
I'm the associate dean of the School of Rehabilitation Science. I have been a faculty member here at McMaster University for a long time - I was one of the original founding faculty members in the Physiotherapy program. I've been very involved in education innovation but I'm currently more involved in administrative roles. I also maintain my research interests related to HIV and disability, which I find very enjoyable. My research takes place primarily in Canada and I collaborate with colleagues in Sub-Saharan Africa. It's important to maintain my contacts in Sub-Saharan Africa because I can't travel there often. Maintaining relationships and feeling connected through different means has been very important, for example using Skype as well as connecting through the WCPT in Singapore this past year.
What does the next year of your professional life look like?
The SLP program will take a lot of time to develop, especially since we're building it as a problem-based learning (PBL) program.
I'm also finishing off a number of studies related to HIV and rehabilitation. One, in particular, is about the access to rehabilitation for those with HIV. We asked ourselves: "How can we help people get access to the rehabilitation services they need?"
The solution has been the development of a manual and accompanying educational program to be delivered in a community setting with an AIDS service organization worker and a peer leader. Most people with HIV have access to an AIDS service organization, but they don't know they could benefit from rehabilitation. You don't know what you don't - If people don't know that services like physiotherapy and occupational therapy can provide great benefit, they won't know to ask for them. So we will train the peer leader and AIDS service organization worker to implement these health promotion modules to help people learn about rehabilitation as well as how to advocate for themselves. The workshops will use an e-module as a resource but the workshops will focus on small group problem solving and interaction. Importantly people will learn what rehabilitation is and how to advocate for themselves. If we are people with the appropriate skills and knowledge, they will have greater access to care and as a result, their quality of life will improve.
What's one course or event that you’re planning to attend in the next year that you’re really looking forward to?
I have an exciting event coming up in October in Barcelona. We're doing a panel discussion at a European Medical Conference related to HIV where they have limited knowledge about rehabilitation. We are the leaders in HIV and rehabilitation research in Canada. The UK has tremendous clinical expertise in models of care for people living with HIV. So we're joining clinicians from the UK and some people from Europe who are living with HIV and will create a discussion that will hopefully benefit all of those who attend.
What has been one big 'Aha' moment that has helped shape your professional life?
"I need to stay in physiotherapy and fight for my profession to ensure that it grows and gets the stature that it deserves."
This goes back a really long way and this is an 'Aha' moment that really shaped my professional life. Early in my career, there weren't a lot of opportunities to do graduate degrees for physiotherapists, so many physiotherapists would go into medicine. I was considering medicine while I was doing my masters because I wasn't completely sure what direction I should take. There weren't a lot of options or opportunities as a physiotherapist.
One of my professors said to me that most physiotherapists take the easy way out and they don't stay to fight for their own profession - they go into medicine. In that moment I knew - this is what I need to do. I need to stay in physiotherapy and fight for my profession to ensure that it grows and gets the stature that it deserves.
What's something that you learned the hard way that you would like to share with others?
Be aware that there's always another story. So remember that what you observe and what you see is from your perspective - be careful not to make assumptions. If you are trying to learn about a difficult or complex situation, take the time to learn about the other person and understand their perspective. I think sometimes in this very busy world in which we live, we want to react, we want to make a decision and we want to move on. But, we can't always do that quickly.
What's the most valuable piece of advice you've ever received?
"Follow your heart. When you find your passion, it will take you a long way."
What's something you've recently learned that you're really excited to implement into your work?
I'm very excited about the Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) program that we will be starting here at McMaster University. I've been working closely with speech-language pathologists to develop the curriculum and get the program off the ground by 2017. Interprofessional collaboration is an important component of the Rehabilitation Science programs at McMaster so it will be really exciting to add SLP to the mix.
What role do you believe technology can play in rehab for both practitioners and patients?
I think it's huge and it feels like it's just the beginning. In the next 5 years, it will help transform all areas of rehab including:
- Distant and remote practice
- Communication with patients, such as sending reminders and tracking performance
- Using outcome measures and having clinically meaningful data
- Collaborating with other practitioners
McMaster University has a unique medical and rehabilitation program based around the Problem Based Learning (PBL) model. How does this method of learning help prepare students for a career as a physiotherapist?
I should ask you that question! (I received my Masters in Physiotherapy from McMaster University).
We really strive to build students' confidence in self-directed learning. It is critical that students understand how to access information on their own, as well as how to define what kind of information they're looking for. If you can't ask the right questions, you won't find the right information and you won't get the right answers.
When we started doing PBL we didn't have all the technology and resources that we have now. So I think that it's even more important now to be able to ask the right questions and access the information efficiently and effectively and to find reliable information.
Integrated with the PBL method is how to evaluate the resources and how to be an evidence-based practitioner. Equally as important is learning how to work in a small group, how to be a team player and how to give constructive feedback to yourself and to others.
In summary, PBL helps develop many critical skills that all healthcare practitioners should possess:
- Ask questions
- Problem solve
- Be self-directed
- Be evidence-based
- Apply information
- Integrate learning
- Have interpersonal group skills
Do you believe this form of learning helps foster creativity and innovation?
I'm biased, but of course, I do. It doesn't put you in a box. You're not always relying on the wise old faculty member to tell you what's right or what to do. There is independence in learning with PBL that encourages you to stretch yourself. This encourages creativity and innovation.
Patty Solomon, PhD
Dr. Solomon is a Professor in the School of Rehabilitation Science. Dr. Solomon was the Associate Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences and Director, School of Rehabilitation Science from 2011-2018. Dr. Solomon is among the first rehabilitation scientists to develop a research program in the emerging area of HIV, disability and the role of rehabilitation. She has received CIHR funding for her research related to disability experienced by women living with HIV and on the influence of aging on adults living with HIV. She has been on the board of directors of two AIDS service organizations and is currently working with a team to examine HIV and disability in a global context.
Dr. Solomon is also the past Assistant Dean of the Physiotherapy Program. She is interested in educational research and development and has published and consulted extensively in the areas of problem-based learning, educational innovation, interprofessional education, and curriculum design. Dr. Solomon lead the initiative on interprofessional education within the Faculty of Health Sciences from 2005-2010 and established the Program for Interprofessional Practice, Education and Research (PIPER). She has received over $ 2.5 million in funding to support research and evaluation on interprofessional education and collaboration.