MSc Physiotherapy Program

Mission, Vision, Values & Outcomes


To educate student physiotherapists:

  • Who deliver compassionate and effective physiotherapy in dynamic health environments through integration of best evidence and physiotherapy practice management principles, professional standards, and collaborative care.
  • Who demonstrate leadership by contributing to their profession, to their communities and to the physiotherapy knowledge base.


The McMaster Physiotherapy Program will transform physiotherapy education, advocacy, discovery and knowledge exchange.


We Value:

  • Collaboration and Teamwork    
  • Innovation and Creativity
  • Accountability
  • Honesty and Integrity
  • Lifelong learning
  • Citizenship



As experts in movement function and dysfunction and functional performance who promote, improve, and maintain mobility and health, graduates of the McMaster Physiotherapy Program will:

  • Demonstrate clinical competency in physiotherapy diagnosis, prognosis, evaluation, treatment planning, and implementation across health care settings. (*Physiotherapy Expert)
  • Collaborate in a professional, ethical, legal, and compassionate manner to optimize health care delivery. (*Professionalism, *Collaboration, *Communication, *Management)
  • Demonstrate a commitment to society and physiotherapy through advocacy and advancement of the profession. (*Leadership, *Scholarship, *Professionalism, *Communication, *Collaboration)
  • Critically evaluate and effectively apply evidence as a basis for physiotherapy practice in order to determine the effectiveness of interventions and to contribute to the body of knowledge in physiotherapy. (*Scholarship, *Management)
  • Function as effective knowledge exchange brokers using a variety of communication mediums, including verbal and written communication, and technology. (*Communication, *Collaboration, *Scholarship)
  • Demonstrate knowledge, skills and behaviours necessary to safely function as an autonomous and self-regulated physiotherapy professional in all roles. (*Physiotherapy Expert, *Professionalism, *Scholarship)

*Essential Competencies -



  1. Provide students with a variety of innovative learning experiences that reflect current and emerging practices in physiotherapy and education.
  2. Provide students with an academic and clinical educational foundation that enables them to safely practice within the professional, legal and ethical framework of physiotherapy practice.
  3. Promote the importance of professional growth and life-long learning to the continued development of self as physiotherapist.
  4. Deliver a curriculum that is responsive to the educational needs of students and communities served by the McMaster Physiotherapy Program.
  5. Ensure program quality through ongoing assessment of outcomes.
  6. Education the communities served by the McMaster Physiotherapy Program about current and emerging roles of physiotherapy.

Program Overview

The Master of Science (PT) prepares students in their eligibility to be registered practicing physiotherapists in Canada. This program meets Canadian professional accreditation and practice standards.

Our curriculum is developed and modified by faculty who keep themselves apprised of changing trends in health care and physiotherapy practice overall. The faculty are acutely aware of the current and evolving roles of physiotherapists. Physiotherapists are working in increasingly complex sectors which require an advanced skill set. New graduates need to be autonomous primary health care practitioners able to design new programs, develop proposals, evaluate outcomes and supervise others in order to provide the best interventions to the clients who we serve. There is a greater emphasis on independent, evidence-based practice which requires physiotherapists to have critical appraisal skills and additional preparation in research methods.

The curriculum is based on the principles of problem-based, small group, and self-directed learning. There are five academic units along with four clinical placement periods following Units 1 through 4. Clinical placements occur in multiple settings (i.e. acute/hospital, community, rehabilitation, role emerging) and various practice areas (i.e. musculoskeletal, neurological, cardiorespiratory).

Physiotherapy Program Handbook 2019-2020


Unit I - Fundamentals of Physiotherapy Practice (14 weeks)

  • This unit introduces students to the theory and processes of problem based, small group learning using self-regulation and an evidence-based approach. This unit reviews and builds on fundamental pre-requisite knowledge related to anatomy, physiology, statistics, and social sciences.
  •  Health care problems will include healthy aging, and musculoskeletal, cardiorespiratory and neurological conditions.
  •  Theoretical frameworks relevant to the physiotherapy profession will be introduced.
  •  Students will master foundational skills related to performing physiotherapy assessments and treatments safely for musculoskeletal, cardiorespiratory, neurological and other conditions across the lifespan.
  • Students will also be exposed to the concepts of cultural sensitivity, and the implications for practice, as well as personal and professional self-regulation, communication, safety and risk in practice, privacy and consent and inter and intra professional collaboration and teamwork


Unit II - Essentials of Physiotherapy Practice (13 weeks)

  • In Unit 2 students begin to explore complexities of physiotherapy practice. This unit builds on the foundations provided in earlier courses through application of knowledge and skills into different contexts and situations.
  • Health care problems will present with increasing complexity and will be used to develop knowledge and skills in managing individuals with different health conditions, considering co-morbidities
  • Students will recognize typical and atypical development and changes across the lifespan and the role of the physiotherapist in managing changes in physical and cognitive function and psychosocial issues. They will continue to explore issues around cultural sensitivity and diversity
  • Students will apply theoretical frameworks into knowledge and skills.
  • Students will begin to develop proficiency in conducting comprehensive physiotherapy assessments and in creating preventative, restorative, and compensatory management plans that incorporate the domains of the individual, task and environment.
  • Students will further develop their understanding of research methodology, including study design, sampling, risk of bias and statistical analysis
  • Students will also explore issues related to several areas of professional practice including ethical decision making, client advocacy, working with support personnel, therapeutic relationships and professional boundaries and electronic record keeping


Unit III - Optimizing Physical Function and Mobility Across the Lifespan: Multi-system Dysfunction (10 weeks)

  • Building on Unit 1 and 2 concepts, Unit 3 introduces students to the complexities of evaluating and treating individuals with multi-system dysfunction. The unit focuses on a set of acute and chronic conditions that affect multiple bodily systems, resulting in primary, secondary and composite impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions.
  • Students will become proficient in demonstrating the necessary skills and knowledge to develop comprehensive assessment protocols for individuals with multi-system dysfunction and using assessment findings to inform the development of a management plan consisting of preventative, restorative and compensatory interventions
  • Health care problems will cover individuals with concussion, osteoporosis, whiplash associated disorder, multiple sclerosis and Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • Students will expand on previous knowledge related to the roles and responsibilities of a physiotherapist and the contexts in which a physiotherapist can practice. This includes developing knowledge regarding self-regulation, models of care, public and population health, managing conflict, managing a practice, advocacy and leadership
  • Students will also expand their knowledge related to research methodology with a particular focus on systematic reviews


Unit IV - Optimizing Physical Function and Mobility Across the Lifespan: Multi-system Dysfunction and Emerging Roles (12 weeks)

  • Unit 4 builds on concepts introduced in unit 3, related to the complexity of evaluating and treating individuals with multi-morbidity causing multi-system dysfunctions; the focus is on the role of physiotherapists in managing clients with multi-morbidity, as well as their role in inter-disciplinary and emerging environments and in population health
  • Students will become proficient at development management plans for individuals and groups, with a particular focus on interdisciplinary collaboration and empowering people to develop self-management strategies for their acute and chronic conditions
  • Health care problems will include individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, traumatic amputation, fibromyalgia, complex regional pain syndrome, cystic fibrosis, asthma, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure, temporo-mandibular joint disorder, and thoracic pain and dysfunction
  • Students will further expand upon knowledge related to the roles and responsibilities of physiotherapists as it related to methods for continuous program and service quality improvement, entrepreneurship, practice management, ethical decision making, conflict resolution, supporting people through care transitions, and the use of technology to increase access to physiotherapy services
  • Students will continue to develop research knowledge study design, critical appraisal of research literature and outcome measurement; this knowledge will culminate in the initial stages of the developing of a systematic or scoping review
  • Students will be required to complete one elective  course, selected from a list of specific courses, in unit 4 or 5, to enhance preparation for professional practice.


Unit V - Transition to Independent Practice (10 weeks)

  • Unit 5 is the last unit of study for students in the MSc(PT) Program at McMaster. The unit supports students in their preparation to transition from a health professional student to a self-regulated, independent practitioner.
  • In this unit, students will integrate learning from across the previous four units for various settings (i.e. acute, rehabilitation, community) and body systems (i.e. musculoskeletal, cardiorespiratory, neurological). Students who did not participate in their elective course in unit 4 will complete their elective in unit 5.
  • Health care problems will include individuals with burns, traumatic brain injuries, stroke, pregnancy related pelvic girdle pain, mental health conditions, no established diagnosis and chronic radicular pain.
  • By the end of this unit, students will be proficient in performing comprehensive, entry-level physiotherapy assessments and developing management plans for individuals across the lifespan and along the continuum of care.
  • At the conclusion of this unit, students will submit and present a group research project which acts to integrate the skills and knowledge related to research methods over the duration of their studies in the MSc(PT) Program.
  • Students will prepare for transition to independent practice by developing a proposal for a new physiotherapy role, business or program, and further exploring the concepts of professional self- regulation, challenging communication, and ethical practice.

 Curriculum Design

PBT - Problem Based Tutorial Courses
  • Small group learning (6-8 people)
  • Learning based on real-life clinical scenarios
  • Student driven learning process
  • Tutor-facilitated learning
CL - Clinical Laboratory Courses
  • Large and small group learning and discussion
  • Faculty and clinician facilitated
  • Skill development and demonstration
  • Practical hands-on sessions
  • Community visits
  • Small group activities
  • Large group discussions
  • Guest lectures
  • Student presentations
REBP - Research Experience
  • Small group research opportunity in second year of study
  • Faculty members or clinicians from community act as supervisors
  • Opportunity to work with students, faculty or clinicians from other health care disciplines
Clinical Practice Courses
  • Clinical experience in a variety of health care environments supervised by regulated health care professionals


Course Listings

Click here for the course listing located within the McMaster School of Graduate Studies Calendar.

Educational Framework

The MSc(PT) Program curriculum has been renewed using the concept of a spiral curriculum. A spiral curriculum occurs when there is an iterative revisiting of topics, subjects or themes across the program (Harden, 1999; Fraser et al, 2019). Within a spiral curriculum, the complexity of a topic or theme increases with each successive introduction – so new learning is related to previous learning (Harden, 1999; Fraser et al, 2019).

The benefits of a spiral curriculum include: 

  • Integration of knowledge and skills over the course of the program (vertical integration) and between concurrent courses (horizontal integration)
  • Reinforcing and solidifying information each time a student revisits the subject area
  • Application of early knowledge to later course objectives

The MSc(PT) is composed of the following essential elements to our ‘SPIREL’ curriculum:

S – self-directed
P – problem-based
I – integrated (and interprofessional)
R – reflective practice
E – evidence-based
L – life-long learning 

The MSc(PT) program’s mission, educational philosophy, values, student outcomes and program outcomes form the foundation for the physical therapy curriculum.  At the core of the curriculum design are patient/client centered care and the physiotherapist as an expert in function and functional capacity. This is based on the integration of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) ( within a clinical decision making framework and the Essential Competencies for Physiotherapists (

The curriculum emphasizes a self-directed, problem-based, evidence-based, and integrated approach.  The curriculum is supported by organizing elements – which provide the foundation on which all units of study are built. These elements are:

  • Holistic approach to physical function (MSK, CVR, Neuro, Integumentary, Multi-system)
  • Health environments (context of care, care continuums)
  • Physiotherapist roles
  • Communication and technology

Additionally, there are themes which can be identified throughout courses and the curriculum (known as trans-curricular themes), and that are used to assist in preparing students to function in an increasingly complex social and health care systems. These themes are:

  • Safety
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Collaboration and Teamwork
  • Professionalism and Professional Standards
  • Clinical skills competency
  • Clinical reasoning and decision-making
  • Leadership and Advocacy
  • Reflective practice
  • Client-centered care

With exposure to the SPIREL curriculum, its’ organizational elements and trans-curricular themes, graduates of the McMaster MSc(PT) Program will be competent to practice physiotherapy autonomously at an entry level, in Canada.   

Click on each term from our SPIREL curriculum to learn more about how it relates to the Physiotherapy Program at McMaster:

S - Self-Directed Learning (SDL)

  • SDL is a component of life-long learning, which is an expectation for all physiotherapists as practitioners within a regulated health profession
  • Provides students with essential skills such as…. that are needed to work within changing practice contexts
  • In the framework of the Physiotherapy Program at McMaster:
    • Students use SDL to determine their own learning goals and how to best achieve them (i.e. selecting appropriate learning resources, measuring own progress, setting timelines)
    • Faculty facilitate SDL by asking questions, stimulating critical thinking, challenging students’ points of view,  providing feedback and evaluating student performance

P - Problem Based Learning (PBL)

  • A conceptual framework that contends that knowledge is best remembered in the context in which it is learned, and that acquisition and integration of new knowledge requires activation of prior knowledge
  • Requires the learner encounters a problem first as the initial stimulus for learning, which actively involves the learner in the learning process, allowing
    • The learner to shape learning to meet personal needs through independent study appropriate to individual learning styles
    • Integration of information from many sources, including student peers into a conceptual framework for use in dealing with future problems

I - Integrated & Interprofessional Education (IPE)


  • Knowledge and clinical skills are introduced and revisited in multiple courses in one unit (i.e. term) – which is known as horizontal integration - as well as over the course of the Physiotherapy Program – which is known as vertical integration.  For example:
    • Students may discuss a clinical case in the problem based tutorial course, review relevant assessment and treatment techniques in the clinical laboratory course, and discuss underlying anatomical and pathophysiological changes anatomy and physiology sessions in one term
    • The same condition is then revisited but with more complexity (i.e. more secondary complications, workload demands) in a subsequent unit and students have the opportunity to apply what they already know and enhance this knowledge with new learning


  • An important component of the educational framework with rehabilitation and health sciences
  • Within the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster, the Program for Interprofessional Practice, Education and Research (PIPER) provides opportunities for students to develop interprofessional competencies such as collaboration, communication and conflict resolution.  To learn more about PIPER click here:
  • Students in the MSc(PT) Program are required to participate in a minimum number of interprofessional events prior to completing the MSc(PT) Program.

R – Reflective Practice

  •  Many health care practitioners experience clinical scenarios that are complex, uncertain and unique. Reflective practice occurs when an individual uses reflection as a means of learning from experiences to not only advance one’s expertise, but also to navigate through complex problems that arise in professional practice (Schon 1987; Ziebart, 2019)
  • Reflective practice is linked to life long and experiential learning, which are essential to maintaining competency in professional practice
  • Examples of how reflective practice will be developed over the course of the MSc(PT) Program include:
    • Self-regulation activities – students set goals for their learning and attempt to monitor, regulate and control their motivation, cognition and behaviours,
    • Reflective writing assignments
    • Large and small group discussions within courses

E - Evidence Based Practice (EBP)

  • An expected student outcome of the MSc(PT) Program is to develop graduates who are able to critically evaluate and effectively apply evidence as a basis for physiotherapy practice in order to determine the effectiveness of interventions and to contribute to a body of knowledge in physiotherapy. Thus, EBP is an important part of our educational framework
    • To achieve this outcome, students in the MSc(PT) Program learn how to:
      • Evaluate and use evidence to support their clinical decisions
      • Incorporate the needs and values of clients in clinical decision making
      • Develop effective clinical skills
  • In the second year, students will advance their EBP and research skills by working in groups on research projects and presenting the results of this work to peers, faculty and the clinical community

L - Life-long Learning

  • Relies on ongoing development of individual competencies in the course of the professional pathway
  • It will involve social professional and technical changes
  • Requires motivation and education and the competence to reflect on your learning and apply the learning to different situations
  • Over the course of the MSc(PT) Program students will have the opportunity to develop the skills that will facilitate and promote life-long learning

References (Educational Framework)

Fraser S, Wright, AD, van Donkelaar Pv, Smirl, JD. Cross-sectional comparison of spiral versus block integrated curriculums in preparing medical students to diagnose and manage concussions. BMC Medical Education. 2019; 19:17

Harden RM. What is a spiral curriculum. Medical Teacher. 1999;21(2): 141-143

National Physiotherapy Advisory Group (NPAG). NPAG Competency Profile for Physiotherapists in Canada (2017). Available from:

Schon DA. Educating the Reflective Practitioner: Toward a New Design for Teaching and Learning in the Professions. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; 1987.

World Health Organization. International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF). Available from:

Ziebart C, MacDermid JC. Reflective practice in physical therapy: a scoping review. Phys Ther. 2019;99:1056-1068.

Student Evaluation

Formative  and summative approaches are used to evaluate student performance on a regular basis throughout the MSc(PT) Program. A variety of evaluation methods are used to assure faculty, patients, clients, and society that students and graduates possess the required knowledge, skills, and professional behaviours to function as competent autonomous professionals.

The selection of an evaluation method is based on educational purpose (e.g., formative or summative), learning objective domain (e.g., cognitive, psychomotor, affective), measurement properties (e.g., reliability, validity, generalizability), and feasibility (e.g., time needed, resources required, costs).

Some student evaluation methods used in the MSc(PT) Program include:

Tutorial performance: 

  • Performance of the group as a whole, as well as individual group members (including the tutor) in tutorials is evaluated on a regular basis throughout each Unit. 
  • The final student grade in the tutorial is based on contribution to content, contribution to process, evidence-based practice skills and professional behaviours (i.e., self-assessment, peer-assessment, and tutor evaluation).

Written exams:

  • Content comprised of multiple choice questions (MCQs) and short answers are used to assess knowledge, and application of knowledge.

Modified essay questions (MEQs):

  • Designed to assess aspects of clinical reasoning and problem-solving using a paper problem as a stimulus. 
  • The MEQ presents the student with progressive amounts of information about a practice problem in a sequence predetermined by the examiner. At successive stages, the student responds to the information and is asked to make and explain his/her decisions.

Written Assignments:

  • Evaluate knowledge, critical appraisal skills, critical thinking, analysis and synthesis skills, and reflective thinking skills;  
  • Test the understanding of principles or relationships; and 
  • Foster independent thinking and learning. 
  • Develop and evaluate writing skills. 
  • Essays are assessed on content, organization, style, and mechanics. A problem write-up which focuses on a particular case scenario/client problem is a variation of the traditional essay.

Direct Observation:

  • Used primarily to evaluate technical/behavioural skills. 
  • This type of evaluation may be used in practical examinations to evaluate a student’s interviewing skills, assessment techniques, and/or use of therapeutic interventions.

Objective and Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) 

  • This is an objective evaluation measure used to assess components of clinical competence.
  • It has potential for testing a wide range of knowledge and clinical skills, and can be utilized to evaluate a large number of students during one examination period. 
  • It can be used as a formative or summative measure of student performance and also provides valuable feedback to faculty for the purpose of curriculum revision.
  • The OSCE is structured in such a way as to sample student performance in a variety of areas and to make maximum use of the time available. Students rotate around a series of timed stations. There may be up to 10 stations of 5 or 10 minutes duration. At each station, students are asked to perform a specific task such as taking a patient history, performing a physical examination or diagnostic procedure, teaching/counselling/advising a patient, writing a prescription or report, charting, performing a treatment technique or other clinical procedure, and interpreting findings such as lab reports, and x-rays. 
    • Examiner stations, where an observer is asked to score a student’s performance, usually entail interaction with a standardized patient or use of a mannequin. 
    • Marker stations, where a student is asked to answer written questions, record findings or interpret patient data, do not require an observer but entail subsequent marking.
  • Evaluation criteria are determined in advance on the basis of course objectives and student learning activities. A standardized rating form is used for evaluation by the examiners. Safety and professionalism are included within the evaluative criteria.


  • Physiotherapists must be able to articulate and defend an opinion or position, and, to present information and ideas in an organized and clear manner.
  • Individual and group presentations are integrated across the curriculum.

Learning contracts:

  •  Typically used to evaluate student performance during clinical placement experiences and for remedial work. 
  •  The use of a learning contract reinforces the student’s role as an active participant in the process of learning. 
  • Comprised of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) goals and is developed by the student and approved by a faculty member and / clinical instructor(s)
  • Goals specify what the student will learn, how this will be accomplished, within what time frame, and what specific evaluation criteria will be used.


Academic Integrity: 

McMaster University unequivocally states that scholarly integrity is required of all its members. All MSc(PT) students and faculty are expected to be aware of and abide by the Academic Integrity Policy at McMaster University: 

Physiotherapy Northern Studies Stream (NSS)

The Northern Studies Stream (NSS) was established in 1991 to specifically address the shortage of OTs and PTs in Northwestern Ontario through various recruitment and retention initiatives.

The goals of the current NSS are threefold:

  1. To increase student awareness and knowledge of the health determinants that are unique to northern and rural communities;
  2. To increase student awareness of Aboriginal health issues, culture and health practices relevant to the First Nations people living in northern and rural Ontario; and
  3. To increase student skills in addressing professional practice issues while engaging in clinical education and living in a northern and/or rural community.

If interest in the NSS is uncharacteristically low, students may be assigned by the PT Program to a clinical placement (any Unit) in NSS.

With 25 years of documented success, the current NSS is focused on providing clinical education opportunities for students across northern Ontario. Approximately 50% of students in the PT Program will have the opportunity to participate in clinical education placements in northern Ontario.

Accreditation Status

The Master of Science (Physiotherapy) Program at McMaster University has completed the accreditation review process administered by Physiotherapy Education Accreditation Canada (PEAC). PEAC is an incorporated body under the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act and operates as the accrediting agency for physiotherapy education programs in Canada. The status of Accreditation - Fully Compliant was granted to the program on April 30, 2015 for the period until April 30, 2021.

A description of Accreditation – Fully Compliant follows: (Per PEAC policy ACC-02 Disclosure, Appendix B)

Accreditation-Fully Compliant

  • A program is in compliance with 100% of the accreditation criteria with in the Accreditation Standards.
  • There are no deficiencies.
  • There could be identified issues and weaknesses that the program must improve upon.
  • Progress towards improving issues and weaknesses must be reported in regular Progress Reports to PEAC.
  • If progress is not made, the program’s accreditation status could be changed to partially compliant or probationary.

More details regarding the definitions of the levels of accreditation are available at
For more information about PEAC: Physiotherapy Education Accreditation Canada, Suite 26, 509 Commissioners Road West, London, Ontario, N6J 1Y5, (226) 636-0632,

Regulation of Practice

All physiotherapists in Canada must be registered with the appropriate provincial regulatory body in order to practice in that province. Each regulatory body has a separate and distinct registration process, however, in all circumstances, a degree in physiotherapy is required.

Graduates must successfully complete the Physiotherapy Competency Examination (PCE) in order to practice in the province of Ontario, and most other provinces in Canada. This examination is administered the Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators (The Alliance).

General Information

Mailing Address:

School of Rehabilitation Sciences
Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University
Institute of Applied Health Sciences,
Room 403, 1400 Main St. W. Hamilton, ON L8S 1C7


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