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From patient to practitioner: Recent MScPT grad advances diversity and disability advocacy

Posted by Dawn Morrison on July 31, 2023 in School of Physiotherapy, Alumni & Friends
Gavin Noble (MScPT 2022) was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child. Photo: Bruce Bottomley
Gavin Noble (MScPT 2022) was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child. Photo: Bruce Bottomley

When Masters of Physiotherapy grad Gavin Noble completed a recent clinical placement at the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John’s, he remembers experiencing feelings of pride and déjà vu.

As a child, Gavin was diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP). Growing up in the town of Middle Arm, NL of just 600 people, he didn't know anyone else with the condition and grew up in an environment without much education on CP, disability or inclusivity.

After he was diagnosed at 8 years old, Gavin spent time at the Janeway where he received quarterly checkups. Returning decades later as a physio practitioner was a ‘full circle’ moment.

“It was surreal because I remember being a kid and walking through the Janeway, and now I’m on the other side. I get chills just thinking about it. Because when I first started walking those hallways as a kid, I didn’t know what was happening. And now as an adult and having all this knowledge, I knew I could help kids just like me. So, I feel like I have a better insight into physio than a lot of people, because I got to see both aspects of it.”

Gavin says the varied work experience he received as part of his Master’s program was the most impactful aspect of his advanced education in physiotherapy. “My first placement was in Bonavista, NL. This was primarily outpatient hospital care with some inpatient care. My second Placement was at ProActive Wellness in St. John’s, NL, which was private practice. My third placement was Western Rehabilitation Centre in Corner Brook, NL, primarily rehabilitation for people post-stroke and amputation and bringing people back to their normal, everyday life,” he says.

He also completed an acute care placement at St. Claire’s Mercy Hospital in St. John’s, and finally one at the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre, where he received check ups as a child. “This was paediatric rehabilitation — my favorite of the five,” he says,

As a graduate of the MScPT program who has CP, Gavin is passionate about disability advocacy within physiotherapy. He feels his unique perspective as both patient and practitioner is missing, and much needed within the profession.

“Gavin’s leadership is making a difference in tackling ableism in physiotherapy education and health care; these contributions are important to creating a more inclusive health workforce, and more equitable access to patient-centered health care,” says Assistant Professor and MScPT Graduate Co-ordinator, Marie Earl.

Advocacy and awareness

Like many students, when Gavin finished high school, he wasn’t sure which path to take at first, switching majors four times until finally settling on what he wanted to do. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology and Exercise Science from Memorial University before entering the Masters of Physiotherapy program at Dalhousie.

“Once I got into kinesiology, I started seeing the benefits of exercise,” he says. “I played every sport growing up, but I never really paid attention to the exercise aspect of it and how it could help. But I quickly learned that if kinesiology could help somebody like me who was supposed to be in a wheelchair by the end of high school but is now completely independent, kinesiology and exercise can help anyone.”

He says CP and disability awareness and advocacy is of critical importance within the field.

“It would be great if people with cerebral palsy were made aware earlier of their condition, received education about it, and were able to counteract any myths about it or any disability that may hinder their progress down the road,” he says.

“I think if I had seen people like me in the workforce growing up, I would have probably been more encouraged. When people tell you, ‘you can't do this or that because you have a disability, it’s very difficult. I feel like if there were more diversity in the workforce across the board, it would be very uplifting, not just for people with CP but all kinds of disabilities.”

Cerebral palsy (CP) refers to a group of disorders in the development of motor control and posture, occurring because of a non-progressive impairment of the developing central nervous system. The motor disorders of cerebral palsy can be accompanied by disturbances of sensation, cognition, communication, perception, and/or seizure disorder. Over 80,000 Canadians are affected by cerebral palsy, it is the most common physical disability in childhood.

“I know my condition, but there are hundreds of other conditions that need a light shone on them. I want to use my story to encourage people not to let their disability get in the way, and use it to their advantage if they can,” Gavin says.

“Just because I have CP doesn't mean I have to stay at home and just do nothing all day. I can go to work and help people; be social. Have a fun, happy life.”

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