History of Physical Therapy in Jamaica

The service of Physical Therapy in Jamaica first became available in the late 1930’s through a Mrs. Kindersley, wife of a Dr. Kindersley, who through voluntary service administered massage, heat treatments and exercises to patients at the Kingston Public Hospital Orthopedic Clinic. In 1940, Ms. Phyllis Wilson, the first Jamaican trained in Physical Therapy returned home to offer her services and take the baton from Mrs. Kindersley.

The first Physiotherapy Department was eventually opened at the Kingston Public Hospital and its value became eminent following the 1953 poliomyelitis outbreak in Jamaica. Physiotherapy, then, became one of the resources the medical profession used to deal with this devastating disease. This served to highlight the importance of Physiotherapy and, as such, the demand for the profession grew. Other facets of the profession also came to the fore, namely the ability to manage neurological and respiratory conditions, as well as the ability to offer rehabilitative services to physical related problems, for example, complications related to paralysis.

Over time Physiotherapy Departments were established at various hospitals within the Kingston and St. Andrew region, including the National Chest Hospital, University Hospital and the Bustamante Hospital for Children, as the demand for services increased. Departments countrywide still in existence opened as follows:

St. James Hospital (now Cornwall Regional) – 1967

St. Ann’s Bay Hospital – 1971

Spanish Town Hospital – 1972

Mandeville Hospital 1976

Savanna-la-Mar Hospital – 1995

With more departments opening across the island and an increase in demand for Physiotherapy services, it followed that there needed to be an increase in the volume of locally trained therapists and after much lobbying the School of Physical Therapy was established in Jamaica.

The School of Physical Therapy

On November 7, 1972 the first and only School of Physical Therapy in the English Speaking Caribbean opened its doors to students. The school, nestled between the Mona Rehabilitation Centre (now the Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre) and the Hope Valley Experimental School, was initially opened under the sponsorship of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and subsequently its management was transferred to the Ministry of Health and Environmental Control. Today, ‘Physio School’, as it is commonly referred to by its students, is administered by the Faculty of Basic Medical Science at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus and offers a three-year Bachelor of Science Degree in Physical Therapy.

At present the minimum entry requirements are five (5) CSEC/GCE subjects including two (2) science subjects, 2 CAPE or Advanced Level science subjects, sixty (60) volunteer hours and an interview. Upon successful completion of the programme, graduation and registration with the Council of Professions Supplementary to Medicine (CPSM) that individual is considered a Registered Physical Therapist and can practice legally in Jamaica.

The Jamaica Physical Therapy Association (JPA)

Ms. Wilson recognized the need to have a local association of physical therapists to:

  • give recognition to, promote and protect the profession of Physical Therapy in Jamaica;
  • standardize clinical techniques and practices so as to maintain quality control;
  • achieve bargaining status.

Thus in May 1964 the JPA was formed, with an executive comprising Ms. Wilson, chairman, Ms. J. Erwin, secretary and Ms. W. Magnus, treasurer. In April 1970, the association with a local membership of nine persons was granted membership in the World Confederation for Physical Therapists (WCPT) at the international congress held in Amsterdam. The association today has a membership of 41 therapists both locally and overseas. The committees within the association such as education, fundraising, ethics and public relations work assiduously to attain a high standard of performance and representation for the profession. The JPA has furthermore been instrumental in facilitating the upgrading of the knowledge base of local therapists through organizing educational seminars relevant to physiotherapy.

Today, the profession of Physiotherapy, the School of Physical Therapy and the Jamaica Physiotherapy Association are all buzzing with activity and excitement as we celebrate World Physiotherapy Day – Wednesday, September 8, 2010 and we look forward to educating the public on the benefits of this noble profession. 

Written by Wendi Peart

Taken from an article written by Mrs. Patricia Smalling (published in the Gleaner September 10, 1997)