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Kaylene Normand in her cap and gown, wearing an Indigenous sash, at convocation.

Kaylene Normand

Personal experiences drew Rady grads to careers as healers

October 27, 2023 — 

Kaylene Normand was a competitive swimmer as a child who developed exercise-induced asthma, an experience that led her to set her sights on a career as a respiratory therapist.

“I just really want to make sure that other kids and other adults are able to participate in their lives to the fullest ability without having to worry about whether or not they can breathe,” said Normand, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy at the University of Manitoba Fall convocation on Oct. 26.

Now working at St. Boniface Hospital, Normand was the recipient of UM’s Gold Medal, which is awarded to the student the highest standing in an undergraduate faculty, college or school. Prior to the convocation, she also received three other awards at a luncheon hosted by the College of Rehabilitation Sciences.

“This is really exciting. It feels like a cumulation of so much work and effort,” Normand said.

Normand was one of 128 graduates at UM’s final Fall 2023 convocation ceremony, held at Bannatyne campus. In total, there were 13 respiratory therapy graduates, as well as 51 from the Master of Occupational Therapy program, 49 from the Master of Physical Therapy program, and 15 from the Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) program at the Max Rady College of Medicine.

Dr. Reg Urbanowski, dean of the College of Rehabilitation Sciences, congratulated the graduates on choosing a career path as healers.

“You are going to have people who are in pain, people who are fighting for their lives, people who are going to you to reorganize their lives and help them find some meaning in it again. That’s a very strong calling you answered, so I applaud you for that,” Urbanowski said.

Hayley Ward accepts an award from Atoosa Reimer of Sport Physiotherapy Canada's Manitoba section.

Hayley Ward (L) accepts an award from Atoosa Reimer of Sport Physiotherapy Canada’s Manitoba section.

Physical therapy grad Hayley Ward also found it was personal experience that drew her to her “calling.” While she was captain of the Bison women’s soccer team in 2018, she suffered a knee injury that required surgery.

“I got connected to an expert who helped me not only get back to playing but helped me feel stronger and more confident in my ability than I had been previously. After that I knew PT was what I wanted to do for people,” she said.

Prior to the convocation, she received an award for her community involvement and leadership qualities. Currently, Ward is working at a private practice clinic in Winnipeg. She also has a rehab consultant role on a project with Cirque du Soleil.

“I am passionate about growing the profession and have a special interest in high performance, physical literacy-enriched rehab, and bridging the gender gap in sports and movement. In the future I hope to continue growing in the high-performance world and to give back to community through volunteer efforts and continued education,” she said.

Ulyana Omelchenko accepts an award from Brenda Semenko from the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists.

Ulyana Omelchenko (R) accepts an award from Brenda Semenko from the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists.

Ulyana Omelchenko is a mother of two with a previous degree in philosophy from Simon Fraser University. She turned her focus to occupational therapy after an experience working in art therapy with a woman who had experienced a stroke.

“She could no longer put on her coat, hold the paintbrush or ask for help. I vividly remember her despair,” Omelchenko said. “I saw how important it was for people to have access to do what matters to them, and I wanted to be part of the process that leads people to be able to do that.”

Prior to the convocation ceremony, Omelchenko received three awards, including one from the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists. She just started a position at Victoria General Hospital.

“I love that this work is direct client care, that it involves so much collaboration with different members of the team, and that it will provide me with so many opportunities for further growth and learning,” she said.

‘Skills are in demand’ for MPAS grads

Dr. Peter Nickerson, dean of the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, congratulated the MPAS grads, who he said will improve the lives of patients with compassion, honesty and integrity.

He also reflected on how Manitoba became the first province in Canada to recognize and regulate physician assistants when the program was established in 2008.

Miyosha Tso Deh in her cap and gown at convocation.

Miyosha Tso Deh

“Your University of Manitoba education and training has prepared you to be adaptable to any clinical environment, from primary health care to consulting to specialty practice or hospital-based roles. No matter what setting you find yourself in, you will excel. Your skills are in demand, you will make a difference in the lives of your patients and colleagues,” Nickerson said.

MPAS graduate Miyosha Tso Deh said that crossing the stage to receive her parchment was an incredible and unbelievable experience.

“The MPAS program was intense,” Tso Deh said. “There were lots of tears and lots of laughter, but more tears than laughter. It was a lot of hard work, and our class accomplished a lot in two years. The community was incredible and very supportive.”

Tso Deh wanted to become a physician assistant to help close gaps in the health-care system. She is already working as an emergency physician assistant at Grace Hospital.

Watch a social media video of highlights from the convocation ceremony.

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