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Dr. Nancy Salbach appointed to TRI Chair at UofT and KITE Senior Scientist

On April 1, 2021, KITE welcomed Dr. Nancy Salbach, our latest Senior Scientist and Toronto Rehabilitation Institute Chair at the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute at University of Toronto (UofT).

On April 1, 2021, KITE welcomed Dr. Nancy Salbach, our latest Senior Scientist and Toronto Rehabilitation Institute Chair at the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute at University of Toronto (UofT).   

As a physical therapist and epidemiologist, Salbach’s research focuses on advancing stroke rehabilitation practice and increasing access to community exercise programs for adults with balance and mobility limitations from stroke and other chronic conditions.

In addition to her current appointments, Salbach is also a professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute at UofT. 

We spoke with Salbach about her latest appointment. 

1. Tell us about what you do. What is your research focus? 

As the director of the Knowledge-to-Action Lab, my research focuses on optimizing the mobility, exercise participation, and health of older adults with balance and mobility limitations resulting from the effects of stroke and other chronic health conditions.

With trainees in my lab, I develop and implement rehabilitation guidelines, tools, and strategies, like the iWalkAssess mobile application, to facilitate best practices in rehabilitation. In community settings, I develop and implement novel exercise programs in partnership with community organizations to increase exercise participation among people with balance and mobility limitations. These community exercise programs include the UHN-licensed Together in Movement and Exercise program and provide an exit point for rehabilitation services. 

2. What do your new roles as TRI Chair at UofT and KITE Senior Scientist entail? 

As TRI Chair at UofT and KITE Senior Scientist, I will champion and advance two main research pillars, namely, restoration of function, and enhanced participation, of the KITE Research Institute. 

I will also have graduate teaching responsibilities such as supervision of Doctoral and Master stream students, and mentorship of Postdoctoral Fellows and more junior investigators. I will also continue to teach within the Master of Science in Physical Therapy (MScPT) program at the University of Toronto.

My research and mentorship activities will contribute to further the development of an innovative, entrepreneurial, healthy and supportive research environment at KITE.

3. What do you look forward to most about your new roles and what do you hope to achieve? 

I have longstanding collaborations with KITE scientists and Toronto Rehab Institute (TRI) clinicians. In fact, almost 50% of my peer-reviewed journal publications include TRI-UHN co-authors, including scientists, educators, and clinicians; and 70% of the grants I have obtained have included TRI-UHN principal or co-investigators. I am looking forward to strengthening my existing research and mentorship relationships and creating new ones. 

I find it rewarding to mentor and collaborate with trainees and junior scientists with team building, research design, grant writing, study implementation, and knowledge translation. Because of my interest in the role of facilitation to create practice change and strengthening stroke rehabilitation services, I look forward to getting to know the professional practice leaders and clinicians in neuro-rehabilitation at TRI-UHN better. I am excited to continue my work with TRI scientists and TIMETM (Together in Movement and Exercise) Steering Committee members to further advance in-person and virtual versions of the TIMETM program.

4. How did you get into physical therapy and epidemiology? 

I was athletic in high school and sprained my ankle at least twice. I was treated by a physical therapist and thought that would be a good job for someone like me, especially since a close family friend, Diane Gasner, was a physical therapist. My first job was at the Montreal General Hospital. On the neurology service, I helped people with stroke learn how to get out of bed and walk again. I found this rewarding. My patients inspired me. So did the amazing physical therapists I worked with. 

I was passionate about using standardized assessment tools. When I began to work clinically, physical therapists were still documenting a patient’s balance impairment as ‘mild’, ‘moderate’, or ‘severe’. After 2 years of working in acute care, I returned to McGill looking to generate evidence for physical therapy practice. Helping people with stroke to walk was a focus of my research. For my Masters, I identified tests of walking speed that picked up improvements in patients. In my PhD, I developed a walking program where people with stroke practiced walking over obstacles, at different speeds, and even walking backwards. This program improved walking distance, walking speed, and balance confidence. Dr. Nancy Mayo, a world-class expert in outcomes measurement, supervised me during my Masters degree in rehabilitation sciences. As an epidemiologist and physical therapist, Nancy encouraged me to complete a PhD degree in epidemiology. What I learned during my PhD in epidemiology and biostatistics under Nancy’s supervision provided a foundation for every grant and paper I have written since.

5. Describe your ideal research collaboration with another researcher at KITE. Where would you like to see your work make an impact? 

An ideal collaborator is someone who wants to be involved with a research project and whose role is clearly defined. Collaboration is all about building relationships and communication is key to setting expectations for the relationship. I expect my work will have a particular impact on the quality of stroke rehabilitation services and on increasing access of people with balance and mobility limitations to group, task-oriented exercise programs in the community to maintain or improve their health.

My colleagues in clinical practice, including my PhD students who are all physical therapists, continually inspire me with their commitment to improving the lives of their patients. 

I’d like to dedicate this TRI Chair to frontline acute care and rehabilitation workers who have been adapting to an ever-changing and challenging environment for more than a year now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They represent the UHN motto 'Courage Lives Here' and they are my heroes.