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Finding new ways to work: Dal's School of Physiotherapy goes paper free

Posted by Trudi Smith on May 10, 2018 in News, Citizenship, Innovation

And, we're challenging our other Schools and College to do the same!

Where's James? The School of Physiotherapy's technician James Crouse cleans and packs up one of the spaces to be renovated. (Provided photo)

Circumstances forced Dal’s School of Physiotherapy to become virtually paper free, but now that they have, they’re not looking back.

It started in 2015 with renovations to Physio’s main office, and two of their lab spaces. Before proceeding, they needed to get rid of the overflowing filing cabinets jammed into every available space. Three years and 20 surplus filing cabinets later, they achieved their goal — and found new ways to work in the process.

Joanne Tortola, Physiotherapy’s administrative manager, explains: “People always wanted to get rid of their excess paper, but lacked the time and resources. The renovation was the incentive they needed.” To assist with the process, the School hired summer students to work with faculty and staff to determine what files needed to be kept. Those files were scanned, and the others were shredded and recycled.

From filing cabinets, to community spaces

When asked what the biggest benefit of the project was, Joanne answered: “space.” Rooms that were filled with cabinets and old materials are now streamlined, modern and functional labs. What was once a hallway is now a lunch room for faculty and staff. “Everyone eats in here now,” says Joanne. “Before, we were at our desks. Now we can catch up and connect on our breaks.”

One of the renovated lab spaces, where students and researchers can work together. (Trudi Smith photo)

While regulations dictate that some records need to be stored on paper, the team agrees — no one wants to go back to the days of predominantly paper files. Physiotherapy’s previous administrative manager, Judie Woodward, had done much of the work to transition to a virtually paperless office and the team has built and expanded on her project. Most day-to-day paperwork, like copies of human resources and finance forms, are scanned and stored on Dal’s secure Network Attached Storage (NAS), while originals are sent on to the Dean’s Office or central administrative units. Historical and archival materials, like class syllabi, are stored there as well. For those who have been assigned permissions, the electronic files are available and accessible from everywhere – even when working from home or off-site.

A domino effect

The project has had a domino effect, with Physiotherapy making more and more of their tasks and processes paperless. For the first time this year, prospective students will be able to submit every part of their admissions applications electronically. The School’s new clinic is also paperless, with patients given iPads to fill out forms and surveys that are then added to their electronic files.

The School has also been able to utilize HSP Net to manage their clinical placement and evaluation process, reducing the need for mail-outs, and providing some self-service options for students and clinics. Clinical education assistant Judith Hollett calls the system “a lifesaver.” We, and countless trees, would have to agree.

The Physiotherapy team pose with their trophy (L-R) Judith Hollett, Anne Fenety, Kelly Underwood, Lil Crump, James Crouse and Joanne Tortola (Provided photo)

Moving forward: The Dal Health Paper Free Challenge

Feeling inspired by Physiotherapy’s story? In line with our strategic direction to mobilize supports for innovation by harmonizing organizational, structural and administrative processes, we’re challenging our other Schools and College to get rid of their filing cabinets and go paperless! Although we can’t promise you a renovation, we do have some fun incentives to get you started.

What’s the prize:

  • The winning School/College will receive $500 to spend on a sustainable initiative of their choosing. They will also get to display Mr. Green, the sustainability gnome, in their office until he moves on to the next winner.


  • School with most filing drawers eliminated will win. Drawers in vertical and horizontal cabinets will be counted as one.
  • You will have until August 31, 2018 to eliminate as many drawers you can!
  • Show us your work! We want to see at least four photos of your progress tagged with #DalHealthPaperFree on your social media account. If you don't have social media, contact, and we'll help you share your story.

How to enter:

  • Email Suzie Officer ( by June 29, 2018 to let us know if you’ll be participating. Please also send the total number of drawers you have!
  • On August 31st, email Suzie your final tally of drawers eliminated.
  • ·We’ll announce the winner in the September edition of the Dal Health Monthly.

We want to participate, but we’re too busy!

  • Don’t worry – we’ll be running the competition again next summer. And, you’ll get lots of inspiration from this year’s competitors.