We met Jacqueline McAllister to chat with her about physiotherapy practice, living in BC, and pelvic floor health.
Your bio says you grew up in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. What was growing up there like?
I grew up an hour and a half northwest of Calgary. I describe it as classic Canadiana: forestry, ranching, the mountains. We weren’t ranchers, but we grew up on acreage. My parents were teachers and they were also very active, so as kids we did skiing, skating, kayaking, and canoeing.
Because we lived in a cottage community, every once in a while we’d have cottage families come in and we’d get to play with them and have free reign of the whole community. It was pretty ideal at times.
Do you still keep up with classical voice and piano?
I still sing daily! Piano’s aren’t cheap so I don’t own one, but I own a guitar. Music is still very much a part of my life. I don’t play guitar as well as I sing or play piano, but guitar also is a folk song outlet, whereas my music training is classical. Guitar is portable, and accessible to campfires! Classical voice training doesn’t have the same social impact! [laughs]
When did you come to Victoria? How has it been living here?
I came to Victoria in 2018 and have been really enjoying it. It feels like a nice fit. Before that I’ve worked in BC, Alberta, the Yukon, and New Zealand.
I have a labradoodle, Sadie — she’s wonderful — and we get out and do a lot of hiking and walking around Victoria. She’s a Vancouver Islander. A few favorites are Dallas Road and Elk Lake. I also like a lap around Lake Matheson because it’s quick but also close to the city; you really still get a sense of wilderness and a chance to decompress when you’re there. I moved right before COVID, though, so it’s been hard to get out; I’m looking forward to doing more stuff once it becomes safer.
How did you happen to become a physiotherapist?
I was exposed to physiotherapy by being an athlete. I spent five years on the Junior Canadian Whitewater Slalom Kayaking team, and I met several physiotherapists during that. They all seemed smart and helpful and encouraging. As an athlete, I had injuries – a back injury and a wrist injury. Thankfully, these both got better!
I think physio also just fits me and my character. I always knew I wanted to do something in the medical field. I now have an extensive background in physiotherapy, and also do work in acupuncture and vestibular health as well.
You note in your bio that you have a keen interest in pelvic health. Did anything draw you to that area in particular?
There’s a huge need for it, first and foremost. A study done at McMaster University showed that of women who had low back pain, 96% of those women had some form of pelvic dysfunction!
So it’s clear that pelvic health is super important, common, and not just for particular demographics like older people or women who’ve given birth. Many athletes also benefit from having a strong pelvic floor as well, and can run into problems with it too.
Another part, for me, was witnessing friends and my sister go through having children, and seeing the general acceptance of the idea that if you wanna run after giving birth, you should wear a panty liner. In physiotherapy, the pelvic floor is one of the only places that has level one evidence in terms of how effective physio is for helping people.
I also found that, after looking at my career, I really liked working with people who are and have been pregnant. There’s so many things we can do to make life more comfortable for them that are non-pharmaceutical, and it can make a big difference.
What would you say is most challenging in your work?
The approach I take is very much a collaborative approach with my patient. The half hour or hour I spend with someone, however, is not going to make them any better if in the rest of their day and week they don’t somehow garner some level of ownership or take steps to improve. I want patients to be empowered to make change in their lives. One of the biggest challenges is actually having people come in with the attitude of “I came here so you can fix me;” that doesn’t fully jive with my professional philosophy, and also doesn’t work best in terms of helping patients recover.
You do yoga, right? How did you become a certified yoga instructor?
I started doing yoga in university. I really enjoyed it and did it regularly. When I later moved to Northern BC, there was no yoga, and I missed it.
Later, I was speaking to an occupational therapist friend of mine, who mentioned they were going to be in India to attend a yoga teacher training. I was going to be travelling around the same time, so I said “hey, let’s meet up and travel together!” I also then asked them, “hey, what would you think if I also did the training?” My thought was that I’d get bendy and learn how to meditate; but it was not like that. [Laughs].
The training was in Hatha yoga in Madurai (in the South). Yoga is a spiritual practice as well. Or may be at its core. I’m still not an expert in this sense. It’s a lifelong process. Being immersed in a different world and way of living was powerful for me. It was very different and culturally opening for me. It really challenged a lot of the core values and beliefs that I grew up with. Which is good.
I think any chance we get to examine and have our beliefs challenged, to think about why certain new ways of looking at the world fit or don’t fit into what we already know, is a valuable exercise.
What’s new in physio these days?
When we get into pelvic health, it’s often, more so than other areas of physio, seen in a more biopsychosocial model. In the conventional Western medical model, people were traditionally seen as a series of machines; if a machine has a problem, ideally we just fix it and forget! Pelvic floor issues are not just “things to be fixed,” they can shut down other areas of your world, your life. For me, I want to be a part of the success of helping a patient be able to recover so they can live the fullest dimensions of the life they choose.
So in the biopsychosocial model, we try to look at the whole person. For example, if you have incontinence when you run, you won’t run. And if running is something you do to destress, then stress builds since you’re not running. Then because you’re stressed the relationships you have with family and friends might become strained. Everything can snowball and it can have a big impact on the way folks live their life.
So with physio, especially with the pelvic floor, we bring in ‘classic physio’ ideas of strengthening, and also use other tools, like breathing techniques, stress management and relaxation.
There’s really so much research and new evidence and techniques being developed in physio all the time. It’s a good time for physio and medical sciences.