A group of patients are in A149, a shared therapy space beside Providence’s cafeteria, the Seasons Café. Lining the wall by the windows are stationary bikes that physiotherapists use with their patients. But today, the bikes stand idle. The group is centralized in the middle of the room, lining both sides of two long tables adorned with cups of brushes, tubes of colourful paint and blank white canvases. Therapeutic Recreationists (TRs) Tracy Martin, Katie Fairweather and Caitlyn Costello have turned the room into Providence’s version of a paint lounge.

“You have to be a jack of all trades,” says Tracy, TR for Palliative Care…. or, for this team of five full-time female staff, a ‘jill’. They help with each other’s group programs and cover for each other as needed for one-to-one support. “We all have our strengths. Tracy’s good with trivia and music, Katie with art, Caitlyn likes to focus on discussion groups and current events, Stephanie (Ellis) knitting and sewing and I like our more physical programs like Tai Chi, dance, etc.,” says Mary Scarborough, TR for Outpatient Clinics.

Members of the interprofessional team, they take a holistic approach to working with a patient, helping individuals restore their confidence and sense of being as they integrate back into the community.

“When TRs see a patient, something has changed,” explains Cindy Martin, the TR Professional Practice Lead. “For example, a golfer who has had a stroke. The TR works with the person to figure out a way to work within the patient’s limits to still be able to golf. We had one patient who liked being in a boat. The TR coordinated with a marina and the patient was lowered into a boat with his wheelchair.”

Every patient is at a different place in their recovery. While in hospital, they’re focused on those crucial things they need to do. Secondary are often their hobbies. TRs find out about a person’s passion in terms of leisure, connecting with and helping them adapt to his/her new normal.

“The leisure lifestyle is so important and linking with community resources allows patients to be social, happy and moving. It helps prevent them from having another life event,” says Stephanie, TR for Geriatric and Medical Rehab.

Mary agrees, adding, “Patients go home from hospital with a stack of papers and equipment. Leisure is not their priority at that time. Two weeks later, once they’ve settled in, they wonder, ‘Now what do I do?’ We’re here to help, assessing patients to see what their leisure needs are and to provide meaningful recreational programs within their changing capacity levels.”

Schooling for the profession is a four-year degree in Therapeutic Rec. They learn about the physical components of the human body (what happens with different diseases, how it affects the brain, etc.) as well as the psychological side. They do practicums, hands on work in a variety of settings, working with different ages then deciding where they want to specialize. “A lot of this is really about personality,” says Cindy.

Mary and Katie, TR for Stroke and Neuro Rehab, were both students here themselves. Caitlyn, TR for Orthopaedic and Amputee Rehab, started in personal training before joining Providence. Stephanie has a degree in gerontology and was at a Best Practice day when she heard about Providence. And Tracy… well, everyone knows this former Living Our Values award winner from her laugh. “I’ve been here over 25 years, I started in the Complex Continuing Care program before moving to rec.”

Each of the TRs see between 15-25 patients weekly, broken down by group activities and one-to-one. The group meets collectively to catch up on the first Thursday of each month. At this particular meeting, they discuss plans for their Providence’s 160th anniversary painting event, share learnings from a recent conference and talk over potential external TR site visits as well as other programming.

“It’s the therapy component. Our tools are our leisure, artwork, golf, bead work, flower arranging – we’re still working on the same functional goals as other professions,” explains Stephanie. “When patients need help brushing their teeth, we get them to paint to help improve their grip strength.” Mary adds, “Getting them to paint, getting them to scan the work they’re doing is seen as an enjoyable task, so they are engaged longer. They’re not thinking of it as home work.”

Resourceful, adaptable, creative, the value of these skillsets is seeing the person as a whole and advocating on their behalf. Mary says, “It’s a rewarding job, seeing someone who thinks their life is over and bringing back that joy.”

And it’s about offering patients independence and empowering them. “We may see something in them that they don’t see, ”Tracy says. “I had one woman who took an art class with us. She did so well,
I had her teach the next class. She was nervous at first, didn’t think she could do it… but she did. This was a great confidence booster for her.”

When asked why they chose this profession, there is a thoughtful pause before sharing some of their ‘ah ha’ moments.

“For me, it’s the feeling of community,” says Katie. “People that have been in our programs have become mentors. We had one guy who ran a radio station, so we gave him an opportunity to do something similar. He organized a play list and we brought patients for the show.”

Says Mary, “Depression is a reality for our patients. Being able to see them thrive after working with them makes this all worthwhile.”

Stephanie nods in agreement, “It’s like working your way out of a job. Watching as your patients improve then flourish in the community.”

The group of patients are putting the final touches on their works of art. Smiles abound as they show each other their creations. The afternoon has offered them a new perspective, a breath of fresh air in their care journey. “This makes it all worthwhile, offering them up a new perspective,” says Tracy. “When you connect with a patient – and it doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does… it’s amazing! I go home and think this was the best day ever. I felt like I made a difference in this patient’s day. This is why I love what I do.”