A Bridge to Practice: Cristian Renteria

Associate Professor Katherine Berg congratulates Cristian Renteria at the OIEPB Graduation Ceremony.

When internationally educated physical therapists (IEPTs) come to Canada, the road to becoming licensed can be complex and overwhelming. The Ontario Internationally Educated Physical Therapy Bridging (OIEPB) program, hosted by the Department of Physical Therapy, helps IEPTs navigate the system, prepare for their licensing exams, and gain experience working in the Canadian healthcare system. Writer Alyson Musial sat down with 2014 alumnus Cristian Renteria to learn about his unique journey to becoming licensed physiotherapists in Canada.


A: What drew you to Canada?

C: I am originally from Colombia. My mother immigrated to Canada in 2001, and I followed her in 2007 when I was 27 years old. I was excited to reunite with her!  In Colombia, I worked as a physiotherapist in neurology, homecare and administration. I was excited to work as a physical therapist in Canada, because Canada is a leader in physiotherapy research.

I first moved to Quebec, and did a year-intensive program learning French (I was already fluent in English). However, I found that -at least in those days- becoming a licensed physiotherapist in Quebec was very difficult, because it practically required going back to University. So, I researched how things are done in Ontario, and I liked that Ontario offers a Physiotherapy Competency Exam (PCE) that all physiotherapist have to pass, regardless of where they were trained. The test has two components: a written and practical exam. This seemed fair to me and I was up for the challenge. Before leaving Quebec, I started the process of having my qualifications reviewed with the Physiotherapy Alliance of Canada, which took two years. It was very frustrating having to wait to move forward with my career.

When I moved to Toronto, I was amazed at how multicultural the city is. I noticed immediately that so many people had accents just like me! It felt like a great fit. I worked as an administrative assistant in a chiropractic clinic.

A: What are some of the challenges you faced earning your licence to practice in Ontario?

C: I was very eager to write my PCE and get back to the profession I love; I hadn’t practiced in 4 years at that point! In one year I attempted the exam three times, and did not pass. At the time, you were allowed five attempts at the test. The types of questions on the exam were very different from the tests I had become accustomed to in Colombia.

After my first attempt at the exam, I heard about the Bridging program, but I really wanted to accomplish this on my own. After the next two tests, I knew I needed to have an open mind and commit to the program. Its purpose is to help people just like me, so I gave it a shot.

A: What was your experience in the Bridging program?

C: I started the Bridging program in March 2013. What really impressed me was its emphasis and approach towards adult learning. One of the first things our instructor told us was that learning as an adult is different than when we are, say, teenagers. We also all have busy adult lives that need to be taken into consideration. The program’s approach to adult learning was refreshing, and helped me have an open mind towards new ways of learning and strategies for test-taking. I realized the exam itself required special skills.

The teachers were more like mentors, and I also learned so much from my colleagues in the program. To learn and study with physios from all over the world, who all have their own challenges and unique experiences, was an amazing opportunity and built a rich learning environment.

I completed two clinical placements. The first was at Trillium Centre in the hand specialist program, and the second was at Toronto Rehab working in neurology. I gained hands-on experience in how to document work and communicate with patients in a Canadian-specific context.

I came to the Bridging program thinking “I need to pass this exam, I need to pass this exam”. That was my priority. However, I quickly realized that this program’s purpose is to make you a better physio, and when you are focused on becoming a better physio, passing the test comes as a result.

Mid-way through the program, I wrote the written exam and passed. Then in 2014 I passed the practical test. I was finally fully licensed. It felt amazing.

A: What are you doing now?

C: Now I work in a private practice in Toronto. I am also doing my Masters in Physiotherapy through the Advanced Standing Option at University of Toronto, which will allow me to complete the program in one year. The Bridging program made me realize how much I want to learn and grow as a physiotherapist, and my Masters is another step in this journey.

A: What advice do you have for other IEPTs?

C: My advice is to be open to the change and challenge of becoming a Canadian physiotherapist. The Bridging program is so helpful, but you must allow yourself to learn and integrate yourself into the way things are done here in Canada. Physiotherapy in Canada has very high standards, but reading textbook after textbook won’t get you there. What you need to do is understand what it is to be a physio in Canada, then open yourself to the process.