By Sarah C. Marshall, PT, MSc

At McGill University’s School of Physical and Occupational Therapy (SPOT), Convocation is a time for celebrating graduates and award winners. This year, we are celebrating in a way previously not imagined! Everything has gone remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a message from School Director and Associate-Dean, Dr. Laurie Snider, she reminded graduates that, “Although you are leaving the university, your learning is not over. Your education as a health professional is a powerful tool. The science of rehabilitation is constantly changing. The health system is constantly evolving. Now is your time to commit to lifelong learning. This is the beginning, not the end.”

We begin by sharing some thoughts from our superstars in the Graduate Program (in no particular order). These hard-working grad students from around the world are being recognized for their excellence in research. “While much can be said about my many rich experiences at McGill, I am especially grateful for the time that professors take out of their busy schedule to sit down and have a casual chat. These informal chats have a strong impact and help immensely,” says Arthur Woznowski-Vu.  Stephania Palimeris explains that, “Receiving this award acknowledges my dedication as a clinician and researcher in the field of rehabilitation for the elderly population and reaffirms my passion and drive to this professional career path I have chosen.”

Catherine George wishes to thank her benefactor with these words, “I haven’t had the opportunity to meet you or your family but I appreciate your generosity and willingness to give back to society. Being an occupational therapist (OT) and helping people brings me great joy, too. As an OT from a different corner of the world, it is humbling to receive this award.”

Ahlam Zidan, another scholar from far away  explains that coming to McGill in January 2020 was difficult,  “I had left my family and my whole life behind in Libya, in order to pursue my dreams and ambitions, not just those related to the field of rehabilitation but also personal goals to be a productive person in society. I received this award [and it] reminded me that I belong here and I am capable to do more. Additionally, this award confirmed without doubt, that this is the environment where determination and perseverance will pay off and be very rewarding.”

A native of Mumbai, India, Trineta Bhojwani appreciates receiving the Kavita Kulkarni Memorial Prize. “I received this award during the current COVID-19 pandemic. It was a very difficult and stressful period for me being away from family in such times. However this award came in as a very positive encouragement, it reminded me of the purpose I was here for and I am even more motivated towards giving my best to the field of rehabilitation.”

Graduating doctoral scholar, Zachary Boychuck says, “What I have enjoyed most about my clinical and research training at McGill is the opportunity trainees are afforded to learn from and work with leaders in both the research and clinical worlds, without treating either in isolation, as it demonstrates the iterative nature of applied-clinical and knowledge-translation research.” Caroline Elfassy appreciates the support of SPOT alumna, Judith (Jo-Jo) Kornbluth-Gelfand, “With the help of this fellowship, I will be able to better focus on my research, which aims to develop an outcome measure [for children born with a congenital condition]. I hope to one day contribute to the pediatric community as [Jo-Jo] has done.”

Anthony Teoli explains that, “The diversity of professors and their perspectives and learning approaches has helped to shape how I think.” Also influenced by the expertise in the field is Nathan Augeard. He is most impressed by, “The leading-edge doctoral student training and the numerous opportunities to connect with other researchers in the field.”

Nikki Ow, recipient of the Alice Chan-Yip Multicultural Award thinks that, “Through this award, there is continued awareness of multiculturalism among rehabilitation professionals. As the world becomes more and more globalized, health care professionals must be more aware that the fabric of society is made up of different pieces. Each piece with its own meaning and value. Understanding the cultural influences on one’s perception of health is very important in interpreting research data especially when the information comes from the patient.”

Professional program graduates were also honoured by the leadership, faculty and staff of the School and had some lovely words to say about their awards and experiences.

Annaëlle Mezrahi indicates that for her, “The most memorable experiences at McGill were made by the unique friendships formed inside the physiotherapy and occupational therapy cohort. It is bittersweet to have finished my studies at McGill, but I will always cherish all the memories that were made here. I look forward to coming back to the University as an alumna.”

Ashton Banfield feels that, “It is an honour to have my achievements recognized and it is a reminder of how hard I have worked to achieve my goals. As someone who had minimal financial support throughout my academic career, I greatly value this award and what it represents. I believe that it is so important to support students and to actively recognize the effort that they put into their studies.”

Julia Lapenna, recipient of a clinical award of excellence said, “I took my clinical learning very seriously and always made sure to take advantage of every moment of each placement; therefore, this award means a great deal to me. The clinical placements allowed me to apply myself in four different environments, explore various interests and tap into my curious nature to help shape the clinician I would become. I truly believe that, as a student, one’s accomplishments are a direct outcome of how invested and dedicated one is to every learning opportunity available.”

Amanda Proietti indicated, “There are many experiences I enjoyed while studying at McGill, but one of my favourites was during our small group sessions as part of our psychosocial well-being class. I had the opportunity to get to know 10 students in our cohort on [a] deeper level, created unforgettable memories and learned lessons that I will carry with me forever.”

Bridget Babcock expresses her thanks with these words, “This achievement validates all of the hard work and effort I have put into completing my degree. During my final semester, I had the privilege of completing my placement at [a teaching hospital]. To this day, that specific placement is one that I find myself reflecting on the most. Aside from the unbelievable staff, my supervisor and colleagues, the patient population I interacted with was truly unique. I found myself learning more from my patients and their life experiences than I ever could have imagined. Although emotionally challenging at times, this placement strengthened me not only as a physical therapist but also as a person, to which I am grateful for.”

Samuel Camiré-Bernier, just recently a new father, says, “I am grateful to be nominated for this prize. I always did my best to achieve excellence through my placements and have the optimal interactions with my patients. This valorize the efforts I made and pushes me to continue to dedicate myself for my patients. In these times of difficulty, this award is greatly appreciated as I now have a newborn ????” [editor’s note: the emoji is Samuel’s!]

“My clinical placements allowed me to put theory into practice with the guidance of clinicians who I look up to. I worked with real patients who passed on many life lessons to me and who showed me that people are much more than their condition,” shares Melina Dimitropoulos. Daria Zaichenko explains that her, “Best experience at McGill was the high-quality education that [she] received from [her] professors who put lots of effort to provide us with the knowledge.”

Double-winners included Daniel Badra, Brittany Baranski, Ashley Messias, and Monika Polakowska.

Daniel said, “I also enjoy the challenges that help make me a resilient and competent professional. My time spent with the patients were one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I’ve seen people gasping for air after walking 5 metres, I’ve seen the most amazing parents supporting their children living with a disability, I’ve seen the most courageous men and women relearning to function after a paralysis, and I’ve listened to war veterans so serene and grateful for their life despite all the horrors they’ve lived… I am so grateful to them for teaching me the true meaning of perseverance and hard work”

Brittany Baranski reflects that, “I wanted to go to a university that valued the student learning experience and prioritized hands-on instruction. McGill is well-known as the best University in Canada and it far exceeded my expectations in providing me with a solid foundation from which to serve my clients. I am so proud to be a McGill Alumni and I am absolutely loving working as an OT. I am truly honoured to receive this prestigious award and I hope to live up to the call.”

Ashley Messias indicates that, “The highlight of this program has been the clinic placements. They provide you with knowledge and experience that is not obtainable from a regular classroom and demonstrate what working as a physiotherapist is all about. As well, I appreciate how close we became as classmates throughout the years in this program. The atmosphere was always open and positive, with everyone helping one another.”

Monika Polakowska sums it up saying, “I particularly liked the Global Health Forums and the thoughtful talks we all shared afterwards – students, guest speakers and faculty. It was a great atmosphere and encouraged me to complete one of my [clinical] stages in Waswanipi, QC. Thank you for supporting my early career exploration and development by providing me with the financial support to attend next year’s CAOT conference. 2020 is definitely not easy as a new grad, so it is very exciting to have something like next year’s conference to look forward to.”

Very sincere congratulations to all graduates and award recipients!


Full list of SPOT award recipients:

Judith Kornbluth Gelfand Pediatric Fellowship: Caroline Elfassy

Barbara Rosenthal Prize: Catherine George

Kavita Kulkarni Memorial Prize in Rehabilitation Science: Trineta Bhojwani

Margherita Rapagna Memorial Prize in Rehabilitation Science: Ahlam Zidan

Dr. Alice Chan Yip Multiculturalism Award: Nikki Ow

Richard and Edith Strauss Fellowship: Anthony Teoli

Gevorg Chilingaryan Award of Excellence: Zachary Boychuck

Gloria Gilbert Chronic Pain Award: Arthur Woznowski-Vu

Hearn Family Award Nathan Augeard

Helen M. Gault Award (OT): Brittany Baranski

Helen M. Gault Award (PT): Daniel Badra

Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists’ Award: Ashton Banfield

Edith Aston-McCrimmon Professional Award (OT): Monika Polakowska

Edith Aston-McCrimmon Professional Award (PT): Annaëlle Mezrahi

Patricia Ann MacDonald Wells Van Daele Memorial Award  Stephania Palimeris

Nicol Korner-Bitensky Altruism Award (OT): Brittany Baranski

Nicol Korner-Bitensky Altruism Award (PT): Daniel Badra

Carol Rutenberg-Silver Memorial Award: Bridget Babcock

Sandra Perlman Memorial Prize: Samuel Camiré-Bernier

L’Ordre professionnel de la physiothérapie du Québec (OPPQ) Clinical Prize: Ashley Messias

Canadian Physiotherapy Association Award: Ashley Messias

Canadian Physiotherapy Association Leadership Award: Melina Dimitropoulos

Canadian Physiotherapy Association Cardio-Resp Division Student Award Daria Zaichenko

L’Ordre des ergothérapeutes du Québec Award Clinical Prize of Excellence: Julia Lapenna

Canadian Occupational Therapy Foundation-Future Scholar Award: Monika Polakowska, Amanda Proietti, Pamela Cantor, Viktor Tran

Ann Collins Whitmore Student Research Award  Matei Cotoros, Anita Mahi, Shirin Patel, Tianqing (Josephine) Wei

SPOT Global Health Award Chelsey Saunders, Zack Legault & Daisy Petrucci


Congratulations to all!

Details of awards can be found here:

Photos of all recipients can be found here after June 30: