Notable Alumni: Helen Saarinen Rahikka

Helen Saarinen graduated from the University of Toronto, in 1954 with a diploma in Physical and Occupational Therapy, 37 years after the first program in physiotherapy was established. It was at U of T where she first demonstrated her quest for knowledge. She was known as always being a curious student with a quest for new learning and an unrelenting love for physiotherapy. These innate traits fostered in her in those early years at U of T were integral to her career path. Even early in her career, Helen demonstrated leadership qualities that led to her appointment as the first professional consultant to the Canadian Physiotherapy Association. In 1970 as co-chair of the 50th Anniversary Congress of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association she insisted that presenters on the Program at the Congress should be physiotherapists. Some did not “believe” that the profession was ready but the success of the Congress Program was a turning point and marks the beginning of recognition of physiotherapy as a clinical science in Canada.

In 1971, after receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in physiotherapy from the University of Western Ontario, Helen Saarinen moved to Hamilton to become the Director of Physiotherapy Services at the McMaster University Medical Centre and completed her MHSc in Health Care Practice at McMaster University.
In 1977 at the request of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association the Federal-Provincial Advisory Committee on Health Standards agreed that a national expert panel on assessment of quality care in physiotherapy would be established and funded by the Health Standards Directorate of the Health Programs Branch, Department of National Health and Welfare Helen Saarinen was the logical chair for such a panel as Helen through her many collaborations and discussions had been representing physiotherapy concerns to all levels of government. With her insight, strong leadership of the panel two major reports were published: TOWARD ASSESSMENT OF QUALITY OF CARE IN PHYSIOTHERAPY and TOWARD ASSESSMENT OF QUALITY OF CARE IN PHYSIOTHERAPY VOLUME II: INSTRUMENTS TO MEASURE HEALTH STATUS OF PATIENTS RECEIVING PHYSIOTHERAPY. Both these reports were precursors to the PHYSICAL REHABILITATION OUTCOME MEASURES (PROM)* now used by physical therapists internationally. Professor Saarinen Rahikka’s impact on physiotherapy education in Canada cannot be overstated. She developed the innovative, problem-based learning physiotherapy curriculum at McMaster University and a 2-year accelerated degree program which laid the foundation for the first professional Masters Physiotherapy Program in Canada. Those that worked with her at the time speak of her legendary skills in influencing students, colleagues, educators, professional associations and administrators to support her vision.

Professor Helen Sarrinen Rahikka (1933-1996) was the first Chair of the undergraduate program in Physiotherapy and the co-founder of the School of Rehabilitation Science at McMaster University.

* Finch E, Brooks D, Stratford P, Mayo N, Physical Rehabilitation Outcome Measures II. (Canadian Physiotherapy Association 2002). This book is a required text in most physiotherapy programs in Canada