Grad profile: Taking action for better health outcomes

David Bowman, Health (Physiotherapy)

- June 7, 2023

David Bowman. (Provided photo)
David Bowman. (Provided photo)

This article is part of a series focusing on the grads of the Dalhousie Class of 2023. Spring Convocation runs from May 29 to June 7 in Halifax and Truro. Read all our profiles here as they are published, and for more information visit the Convocation website.

  • Name/Preferred Name: David Bowman
  • Pronouns: He/Him
  • Degree (plus any previous degrees): Joint MSc Physiotherapy - MSc Rehabilitation Research, Honours BSc Integrated Science (Earth Sciences Concentration)
  • Where you’re from: Dundas, Ontario

How significant is it for you to receive this degree?

Culminating the academic journey of the past three years at Convocation is incredibly significant to me. As someone interested in the intersection of evidence-based physiotherapy practice and rehabilitation research, this degree combination has allowed me not only to understand where these two disciplines interact and complement one another, but also to discover how I can use my training in both fields to effect unique changes in healthcare and academia alike. I am particularly excited to be receiving these degrees alongside the rest of my MSc Physiotherapy cohort, who are all excelling in the early months of their clinical practice, as well as my colleagues in the broader Faculty of Health who are making meaningful impacts in healthcare and research across the country.

What were the highlights of your degree?

I thoroughly enjoyed the data-collection component of my MSc Rehabilitation Research thesis. For context, the study aimed to teach participants how to complete a novel motor task over the course of a six-week period. We selected dart throwing as this task, and had participants come to the laboratory 18 times over the course of 6 weeks to observe and practice dart throwing. All in, this worked out to over 30,000 darts thrown and scored over the study timeline. It was a lot of fun to watch participants practice, learn, and improve a skill that they might actually end up using outside of the constraints of the study! It was also very rewarding to present this work to my MSc Physiotherapy colleagues during our annual research day, and illustrate how our findings had impacts on clinical physiotherapy practice to potentially improve patients’ skill acquisition and health outcomes.

What will you miss about your time at Dal?

There is something so special about Dalhousie, Halifax, and Nova Scotia that will likely resonate with me for the rest of my days. I will miss the morning walks to classes in the Forrest building and working together with my classmates practicing hands-on skills after hours in preparation for our upcoming exams. Similarly, I will miss the collaboration and teamwork in my lab as we worked together to develop plans for our projects, shared insights, and used our individual strengths to help one another move towards our research objectives. During my time at Dal, I was privileged to connect not only with individuals within my academic cohort and faculty, but also groups in the running, rock climbing, and outdoor recreation communities — I will thoroughly miss our interactions and cherish the memories of these times spent together.

What was your journey to Dal and to this program?

I had initially become interested in studying physiotherapy near the end of my undergraduate degree, which was in an unrelated field (earth sciences). I applied to a number of physiotherapy schools but was not accepted on my first round. I took a year to reflect on why I was interested in entering this profession, and also considered ways that I could remain involved in research during my physiotherapy training. At that time, Dalhousie was the only school I identified offering a combined MSc Physiotherapy and MSc-level research degree, which was attractive to me considering that I felt too unfamiliar with the field to commit to the joint PhD option offered at other schools. I found a supervisor at Dal, Dr. Shaun Boe, who was willing to take me on in his lab and guide me through the application process for both degrees and relevant scholarships. I was fortunate enough to land an interview with Dal’s physiotherapy program, and received an offer of admission to both the research and physiotherapy programs in the same year. It was certainly a process that was at times difficult to navigate, but I often reflect and consider how different my path might have been if I had been accepted to a different school during that first year of applying — there are a lot of amazing experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise had in that circumstance.

What topics/research/work did you become passionate about during your degree?

My thesis research focused on the acquisition of novel motor skills through the use of a technique called action observation — in other words, learning a skill by watching someone else perform it. This work was specifically interested in how learning based off of feedback from errors is conserved in action observation. This was a very rewarding project to work on because it not only made contributions to the fields of motor learning and fundamental neuroscience, but also shared implications for clinical physiotherapy as well. For instance, action observation can be a valuable tool for re-learning a motor skill after a brain injury such as a stroke, or after an injury that prevents an athlete from practicing their sport. I was extremely interested in finding ways that we can accelerate this process using techniques other than hands-on physical practice of skills, and I was able to dig deeper into answering these questions through completing this thesis.

What’s next for you?

Presently, I am practicing as a physiotherapy resident in Ottawa, Ontario in an outpatient orthopaedic clinic, while also working remotely as a research assistant affiliated with Dalhousie’s Rehabilitation, Balance, and Exercise Lab on an intervention study focused on goal management strategies and healthy lifestyle changes. I am also working towards publishing my Master’s thesis through ongoing collaboration with Dalhousie’s Laboratory for Brain Recovery and Function. I intend to stay current in the evolving field of physiotherapy by taking courses to improve my clinical skills and promote better patient outcomes, and I look forward to continuing my involvement in the research sector as a complement to my clinical practice.


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