Private practice pioneer profile: Mary Sauriol

By Wendy Campbell:


Mary Sauriol

Physiotherapists in private practice are not unusual now, but when Mary Sauriol entered the field in the early 60’s it was uncharted territory.  I was intrigued when I first heard about Mary from my classmate Jane Atkey, who was working in her Don Mills clinic.  As fairly new graduates from the PT/OT program (1958 was our year) the notion of someone practising in their own business was new and fascinating to us.

Mary grew up in Toronto, graduating from the physiotherapy program at Uof T in 1950. Her first position was at St Michael’s Hospital, working with Lois Healey, another PT who went on to be a pioneer in private practice. Obliged to leave St Mike’s when her first child was born (the rule in those days) she was recruited by Dr Paul McGoey to set up practice in a converted garage on Chestnut Park Road.   In 1963, the long waiting lists for physiotherapy in hospitals had prompted the Ontario Hospital Services Commission to initiate the Private Physiotherapy Plan to widen the scope of where physios could practisse and to make the service more accessible.  Pat McKinnon and Mary started a physiotherapy clinic with Paul McGoey and two other doctors practising in the main house. The organization soon outgrew that space and moved to One Medical Place on Wynford Drive, where Mary ran her clinic until a short time ago.

As the number of physiotherapists working outside institutions grew, the conventional medical model began to change.  The right to treat without a doctor’s referral was a landmark advancement for the profession in gaining autonomy  –  and the ranks of PT’s in private practice continued to grow. There are currently 975 members of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association who belong to its Private Practice Division.

Mary’s many colleagues over the years recognized her support, influence and professional leadership with the Mary N Sauriol Business Practice Prize which is awarded each year to a member of the graduating class who has “developed a thorough understanding of business practices as they relate to the private sector”.  Recognizing the need to equip students for the changing and expanding realms of practice, Business Management was one of the three core elements in the development of the current Masters’ entry level program.

As the 90th anniversary of physiotherapy at the University of Toronto approached, the notion emerged of documenting the history in a book. Mary was recruited to lead the project with the collaboration of the History Project Committee, composed of Nancy Christie, Adele Colthurst, Diane Gasner, Marion Leslie-Bethune and Joan Pape. Moving Together: Physical Therapy and the University of Toronto 1917-2007 serves as both a record of the development of our profession and a tribute to the people who brought it to life.

As well as excelling as a clinician and teacher, Mary has been active in alumni activities, receiving the Alumni Achievement Award for Physiotherapy in 1996 and an Arbor Award in 2009 for her contributions to the University.  Her many professional and academic accomplishments (a BA, MA and BScPT) have been achieved while raising five daughters, and in times where supports for working mothers were much less available.  Makes me think of the quip about Ginger Rogers…”and she did it all backwards and in high heels”.

Brava Mary!