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Diane Lee, PT, shares how her career choices have allowed her to travel the world, along with advice on how to make it happen.

How did you move from being a physiotherapist to being a travelling physiotherapist?

Dr. Andry Vleeming and the Pelvic Girdle book I authored provided the invitations to travel and teach.  Initially the invitations were within Canada and the USA, but as I started lecturing with Dr. Vleeming, the world opened up.  

The process was quick – one year of speaking was all it took to get started.  Slowing it down is more difficult!


Therapy is relational; you are a catalyst that merely illuminates the path to change.

What do you teach?


In addition to keynote presentations at various conferences, my teaching abroad involves two-day lecture-demonstration courses, four-day lecture practical courses and a six-month online, in-class intensive course on The Integrated Systems Model.  


This is an evidence-informed, clinical reasoning approach that helps clinicians integrate all the evidence from multiple streams of medicine and physiotherapy. It is a whole person/body approach that considers the relationship between regions of the body and how dysfunction in one part can impact function of another, and how to know when to treat what.  


Recently, my presentations and courses abroad have had an abdominal wall (thorax- and pelvis-related) focus given the research I have been involved with on diastasis rectus abdominis with Professor Paul Hodges. My premier course is called the Integrated Series Model Series and covers more than women’s health conditions, including how to treat the whole person/whole body for most conditions you can think of.



Having someone lay their hands over yours and guide your sensorial learning expedites expertise immensely.

What is your favourite experience teaching in a different country?


There are so many… Japan, Iceland, Africa – how to pick?!


In Hakone, Japan, I had a very special traditional Japanese hotel experience. I had my first Japanese bath, slept on a futon and saw Mount Fuji.


In Iceland, I found such a special place and people.  I loved the natural geothermal pools in the north and the northern lights.


My best experience was Kapama, South Africa. In 2015, Jenny Pynt of StuVac Seminars invited me to develop a course on Women’s Health and the Integrated Systems Model (ISM) as part of a safari at the Kapama Private Game Reserve in South Africa.  We took part in two safaris each day, and in between, I introduced physiotherapists from all over the world to ISM and the impact of correcting posture and function of the thorax/abdominal wall and pelvis on pelvic floor muscle function.  


At the Kapama Game Reserve in South Africa


It was the first trip that I had the opportunity to teach with my daughter (Chelsea Lee), who is an outstanding yoga therapist. Chelsea led the end of day yoga movement therapy practices that released our tight hips from bouncing around the safari trucks for six hours every day.  

Watching her work, seeing how well she has integrated the ISM concepts into yoga therapy and watching the physios embrace her, ISM, and the way we teach and work together was a highlight of my international travelling career.  We are going to do this again with Jenny on the Great Barrier Reef in September 2017, and we’re going back to Kapama in 2017. Oh yes, the animals were spectacular too!


During the yoga therapy class at Kapama.



What resonates the most with your audience when you’re teaching?


When lecturing to large audiences, I always try to get them doing something practical.  Most clinicians want to feel what you are talking about in their own bodies. They want to feel and understand the speed with which the nervous system can change how your body performs.  


In smaller group courses, I try to limit the ‘show and tell’. This form of teaching often makes people feel ‘less than’. I use a lot of ‘walk-through’ types of labs where clinicians can gain the experience of making a difference to someone themselves.


It is very difficult to learn good palpation skills from a video or book. Having someone lay their hands over yours and guide your sensorial learning expedites expertise immensely. It helps clinicians simplify the complicated and organize their knowledge to clinically reason the best decisions for treatment.   What resonates is seeing the ‘aha’ moment. The ‘I got this – I can do this’.  



Are there any cultural norms that you need to adapt to when teaching?


When teaching in Japan, I require translation.  In this situation, forget about using jokes or stories.  The jokes don’t translate well, no one laughs, and the stories take too long to tell.  There are many cultural things to be aware of in Japan (don’t hug people, learn to bow properly, use chopsticks, take off your shoes at the door, don’t be late – ever).


Even when you ask them to, they don’t ask many questions. They will hold you in high esteem (until you have a beer with them and exchange ‘name cards’) and love it when you can remember their names (but who doesn’t?).


Also—eat everything and don’t ask what it is – it will be delicious.


Out in Japan.



Where have you traveled around the world?


I have taught specialised courses on the thorax, pelvic girdle, head and neck, abdominal wall and on women’s health in:

  • Israel

  • Canada

  • USA

  • United Kingdom

  • Iceland

  • Norway

  • Finland

  • Europe

  • Australia

  • Hong Kong

  • Dubai

  • Singapore

  • Japan

  • South Africa

  • Galapagos; and

  • United Arab Emirates


My favourite places were Japan, Iceland and Finland, the latter for the people, the culture and beauty of their country, and their intense desire to learn.



Can you share your favourite top three tips for physiotherapists who treat patients?


From Cliff Fowler, my second mentor who is now retired, I learned two things I continue to teach today:

  1. Learn from your patients and be open to having your mind changed
  2. Trust your hands
  3. Expect most things to change quickly – get to ‘wow - what just happened’ and don’t worry about why or how for the moment. Don’t expect to be able to figure everything out. If it feels better and works better, it is better.

  4. Therapy is relational; you are a catalyst that merely illuminates the path to change.



What advice can you share with physiotherapists thinking of following in your footsteps?


Go for it; make it happen!



Diane Lee, PT, Clinical specialist, BSR, FCAMPT, CGIMS, RYT200


I worked as a physiotherapist in Louisiana and Texas for a total of 5 years and really enjoyed it. Eighteen years later, I am looking into possibly working outside the country once again. Where should I start?!


Hi Chantal,

Great! It depends on which country you're thinking of working in - have you contacted the Global Health Division? 

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