Project Manager Profile: Karen Leung, Surgery and Rehab Service

“I am inspired when I see the “ah, ah” moment when mothers of disabled children realize that they are not alone, that their children are valued.” – Karen Leung


Article from Dalhousie University Alumni Profiles

“In this issue, we are delighted to highlight the accomplishments of Karen Leung (Hill). (Daughter of the late School of Physiotherapy alumni professor, Dr. Kenneth Hill.)

Karen and her father Dr. Ken Hill


When posed with the question, “Why did you choose a career in PT?” Karen’s response is not one of a lifelong dream but rather, she explains, “Since I grew up in a family of physiotherapists it was the only thing I could think of at the time and I must have passed Miss Lloyd’s interview!”

Karen graduated from Dalhousie University in 1980 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physiotherapy, and later completed a Master of Science degree in Physiotherapy from the University of Western Ontario, with a focus on balance control in the elderly. Karen’s experience in research, teaching and clinical practice, has centered on physiotherapy for seniors and those with neurological disorders.

Throughout her career, Karen has seen the many changes in the science behind physiotherapy and the techniques being used. She also sees the foundational stones of the field that have not and should not change. In Karen’s eyes, “Those with empathy and compassion, who provide a safe and positive environment for the client, and who are committed to lifelong learning – are the people who make the best therapists.”

When not busy in the Lacombe clinic in Alberta, where Karen works with women with pelvic health issues and older adults with balance concerns, Karen volunteers for a local humanitarian agency. This passion for global health began in 1991. While between jobs Karen accepted an invitation from her father, Dr. Kenneth Hill, to accompany him to Kenya and spend 3 months together training rehabilitation staff at Nyaburi School for the Physically Handicapped. This experience stuck with her, and in 2012, when she heard of funding changes that might impact the work being done at the school, Karen returned to Kenya, taking on the role as rehab coordinator for A Better World Canada. She has invested her time and skills in the program ever since.

It is not hard to see why, when you hear Karen relay stories like that of young Gideon.

‘Gideon was only 10 years old and herding his father’s cattle when he was injured by a train and lost both legs. Not being able to get around or go to school, he came to Ndanai Small Home where he lived in residence while attending a government primary school. We got to know Gideon as he grew and noticed his athletic skills playing seated soccer. He was physically strong and a good student. We started to dream of finding a sport wheelchair for him so he could take part in sport meets. Last year, we found just the chair at our local equipment recycling unit. One of our volunteers specialized in bicycle maintenance and got Gideon set up. Last summer, he exceeded all expectations and won first place in two wheelchair races at the national games for the handicapped.’

Gideon (left) with his new wheelchair


Karen continues, “Life changing stories like these only occur because of the commitment of volunteers”, notably including Eric Rajah, Director of A Better World Canada and Joanne Rowland, School of Physiotherapy alumni from the Class of 1969. Karen explains that when her dad could no longer travel, Joanne Rowland and PT classmates Barb Towle and Wanda Jackson from the Class of ’69 took up the torch to support the program.

Having worked alongside of Karen for several years now, Joanne Rowland offers, “Karen … is an amazing coordinator for this program and sets realistic and attainable goals. She is an excellent communicator and gives wonderful positive feedback to all of us, especially to the Kenyan therapists we work with.”

Karen’s advice to those who have an interest in taking their physiotherapy skills to low resource countries is to “step out of your comfort zone and just do it. Your most important skills are compassion and listening to people. Get involved with the Global Health Division of Canadian Physiotherapy Association. Make sure you take advantage of cultural preparation courses and select an organization that will support high standards of professionalism.”

Following the example of her father, Karen plans to share the rich and rewarding experiences of her time in Kenya with the next generation of up and coming young physiotherapist professionals in the hope that her passion for the rehabilitation program will inspire new volunteers to carry on the work.”