Hamilton Health Sciences Home
Hamilton Health Sciences clinical externs Cindy Li, Leo Giron and Arsh Kanotra look forward to launching careers in physiotherapy and occupational therapy.
May 12, 2023

Physiotherapy, occupational therapy students gain valuable work experience

Health Care: The Next Generation

Staffing shortages triggered by the pandemic continue to impact hospitals across the province, including Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS). One of the innovative ways that HHS is addressing shortages is through the provincially-funded clinical extern program, created by the province to provide additional health care support to hospitals.

Senior university and college students in physiotherapy, occupational therapy, nursing, respiratory therapy and paramedic programs can apply to work at HHS hospital sites as clinical externs. These students work at least one shift per week, with a typical shift being eight to 12 hours. Meet three HHS clinical externs who are finishing master’s degrees in physiotherapy and occupational therapy at McMaster University, and are expected to graduate in August.

Life experiences lead to occupational therapy/physiotherapy careers

Injuries are part of the game for many elite athletes. In Leo Giron’s case, chronic knee inflammation he experienced as a teenager sidelined him from playing soccer for eight months.

A clinical extern stands in a hospital hallway, smiling

Clinical extern Leo Giron was introduced to physiotherapy as a teen when he experienced chronic knee pain.

But there was an upside to this injury since it led Giron to his future profession as a physiotherapist.

“I was introduced to physiotherapy because of chronic knee pain when I was 16-years-old,” says Giron, who saw a physiotherapist for Osgood-Schlatter disease – inflammation below the knee where the tendon from the kneecap attaches to the shinbone. Young athletes who play sports involving running, jumping and landing are most at risk of developing Osgood-Schlatter disease.

Giron is finishing his master’s degree in physiotherapy from McMaster University. And for the past year, he’s been working as a clinical extern at HHS Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre (JHCC) while in school.

From soccer field to physio field

Clinical extern Leo Giron played varsity soccer with McMaster and Brock teams.

Giron grew up playing competitive soccer, including on varsity teams during his undergraduate studies in medical sciences at Brock University, and then at McMaster.

Studying physiotherapy introduced Giron to career options in his field beyond treating injured athletes. “I was surprised to find out how wide-ranging this profession is,” says Giron, who as an HHS extern helps patients with conditions including congestive heart failure, COPD and delirium.

“These patients need to keep up their mobility while in hospital,” says Giron, who assists patients with exercises, walking and tasks like getting out of bed and getting dressed.

Inspired by veterans

Cindy Li is working as an extern at JHCC while finishing her master’s degree at McMaster in occupational therapy.

A clinical extern supports an older patient, using a walker to walk down a hospital hallway

Clinical extern Cindy Li provides support to a patient going for a walk

Occupational therapists focus on ensuring patients are able to participate in day-to-day activities, while physiotherapists treat people whose movement is impacted by injury or illness.

Li developed an interest in occupational therapy while completing her undergraduate degree in life sciences at University of Toronto, and job shadowing occupational therapists working with older adults at Sunnybrook Veterans Centre.

“I learned a lot about occupational therapy and thought it would be a really interesting career choice for me,” says Li. Her work as an extern includes supporting JHCC nursing staff and the rehabilitation team. “The extern program has been really helpful for the hands-on practice,” she says.

Supporting emotional well-being

Fellow occupational therapy extern Arsh Kanotra will also finish her master’s degree in occupational therapy at McMaster this summer.

A young woman wearing a black top and blue pants stands outside a hospital, smiling

Clinical extern Arsh Kanotra developed an interest in pediatric mental health.

“I always knew I wanted to work in health care but I didn’t know in what role,” says Kanotra, who is working as an extern at JHCC while in school.

Kanotra took a gap year between undergraduate and graduate studies to consider her career path. During that time she worked at an optometry clinic and noticed that some older clients were losing their vision which impacted their mobility, independence, and emotional health.

“I wondered if there was a profession that provided supports and intervention to people struggling with mobility, and stumbled upon occupational therapy,” says Kanotra, who has since developed an interest in pediatric mental health.

“Occupational therapists can help with overall emotional health because a person’s mental health influences their everyday lives,” she says.

As of April, HHS had 11 occupational therapy externs and five physiotherapy externs working at its sites along with 194 nursing externs, nine respiratory therapy externs and two paramedic externs.