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Original Research

Rural rehabilitation practice: perspectives of occupational therapists and physical therapists in British Columbia, Canada

Submitted: 20 January 2013
Revised: 2 July 2013
Accepted: 4 July 2013
Published: 17 February 2014

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Author(s) : Roots RK, Brown H, Bainbridge L, Li LC.

Robin RootsHelen BrownLesley BainbridgeLinda Li

Citation: Roots RK, Brown H, Bainbridge L, Li LC.  Rural rehabilitation practice: perspectives of occupational therapists and physical therapists in British Columbia, Canada. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2014; 14: 2506. Available: (Accessed 22 October 2017)


Background:  Providing rehabilitation services to address the health needs of rural residents requires overcoming the challenges of geography, limited referral options and a shortage of occupational therapists (OTs) and physical therapists (PTs). However, little is known about how rehabilitation professionals in rural areas enact their practice to meet and overcome these challenges. To address this gap and contribute to enhancing health for rural residents, this study was designed to explore rural rehabilitation practice from the perspectives of OTs and PTs in rural British Columbia (BC).
Methods:  A purposive sample of OTs and PTs in rural communities (population <15 000) in northern BC was recruited for this qualitative study. Potential participants received an invitation mailed to workplaces and were selected to ensure a variety of work experiences, roles and practice settings. In semi-structured interviews, participants were asked to describe the skills and knowledge they perceived as unique to rural practice and strategies they used to overcome challenges. Guided by interpretive description, transcripts were analysed inductively using broad-level coding, and findings were collapsed into interpretive categories. Interpretations and implications for education, practice and policy were reviewed with participants to ensure relevance to rural practice.
Results:  From interviews with 6 OTs and 13 PTs, serving a total of 15 rural communities, rehabilitation practice and participants’ definition of health were understood to be substantially shaped by rurality or the contextual features of geography, determinants of health and access to services. Participants considered general practice ‘a specialty’ requiring advanced skills in assessment. They described ‘stretching their role’ and ‘participating in, and partnerships with, community’ as ways to overcome resource shortages. Reflective practice, networking and collaboration were deemed essential to maintaining competence. Rural clinical placements, mentoring and improving access to continuing professional development were regarded as central to the recruitment and retention required to sustain optimal levels of service to residents.
Conclusion:  The research findings illustrate the unique influence that the rural context has on the practice of OTs and PTs in BC. They underscore the importance of facilitating learning about rural health within professional training programs and of providing accessible professional development resources to address health human resource shortages and meet the rehabilitation needs of rural residents.

Key words: occupational therapy, physical therapy, professional practice, rehabilitation.

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