Birds of a Feather: Heather McNeil


I can't believe I haven't had one of my absolute best friends and fellow physiotherapist, Heather McNeil on the blog yet! Heather and I became fast friends in PT school and it has been so amazing to watch her career grow and thrive over the past few years. Heather started off her career in private practice in Toronto but has more recently returned to her west coast roots. Not only was this move perfect for Heather but it worked out pretty well for me too- I love visiting her out in Kelowna and doing ALL the activities with her! Heather hikes, paddle boards, does yoga and is pretty darn good at capturing the beauty of her new hometown (trust me you'll want to move to British Columbia after checking out her Instagram account, @featherphysio). She practices what she preaches and is a pure lover of movement! Let's get to know her more- take it away Heather!

You made the jump from practicing downtown Toronto to Kelowna. What made you decide to leave and how did things change for you after that?


Oh man leaving Toronto was hard. So much harder than I anticipated. I had made my own little family there through my classmates and co-workers. Toronto is where I treated my first ever physio patient, where I taught my first ever yoga class. It was super easy to get to courses there, networking was a breeze because a lot of my classmates lived close by, and I was working with people who were very active in the orthopaedic physio community. 

I always knew I would come back to BC though as the vast majority of my family lives here and I was missing the mountains. Life here is very different from downtown Toronto! I often have to travel 4-8 hours to get to courses I want to take and I don’t know many other physios out here. However, I am happy to be able to drive instead of fly to see my parents and I love how easy it is to go hiking after work. Now I fly back to Ontario at least once a year to see my ‘family’ there.

Why physio and yoga?


Why not? ;) Physio because I love knowing how things work. I love helping to solve the puzzles of the injuries/dysfunctions that people come in with. Because movement is awesome, and makes me feel awesome, and I want to help people move often and well so they can feel awesome. Yoga supports this 100% while also taking care of people’s minds and spirits. Yoga encourages people to move their bodies in ways they normally wouldn’t. When else do you just take five minutes to work on your balance or to thoroughly breathe into you left side? To think about how your feet are connecting with the surface on which you are standing? Yoga invites mindful movement, it fosters a deeper connection to the body – so that we can know and love our bodies and in doing so, take much better care of them. 

Who have been the most influential people on your career?

During my time at McMaster I was fortunate to make a group of wonderful friends (of which you are one!) Right after graduation I would not have survived if I weren’t able to discuss my daily new grad struggles with these ladies! More recently I completed the Intermediate Exam through the Orthopaedic Division and this required many (many) hours of mentorship. Three Okanagan physios stepped up to the plate to help get me through! Vince Cunanan, Jen Gulley, and Amanda Nichol have been so amazing over the past couple of years- thank you!

How have you failed in the past year and what did you learn from it?

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It’s longer than a year ago but in late summer 2016 I was preparing to do the Intermediate exam in 2017. I had very few direct mentorship hours, but I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal to get all of them (55 hours!) done by the January 31st, 2017 deadline. I started making crazy schedules and my mentors were very obliging and willing to help me out so we got started. Once November came around it was clear that I was going to be just smashing in hours wherever possible in December and January while having no life but more importantly, not actually learning and taking in the material I was studying. This doesn’t work well for me. I was hating it. I had already sent in my registration and cheque to pay for the exam but I contacted the organizer and withdrew. I felt like a failure for having to do this and felt really silly telling my mentors and coworkers but it was honestly the best thing I could have done. I took the next year to complete my hours, learned an incredible amount as I studied the manuals alongside my mentorship sessions, and successfully passed the exam this past spring.


My takeaway from this was that I wasn’t satisfied with just doing it for the sake of doing it and getting it done. Maybe it would have been possible. Maybe I would have passed, but I would have been so stressed that I wouldn’t have learned half as much as I did taking the extra year… and what’s the point of spending the money and taking the time if you are not going to learn the skills?? Also, people move from Ontario to the Okanagan to have a slower pace of life and to not be stressed every day so I had to embrace that.

What are three items under $100 that you couldn’t live without?

  • My cat Darty (she was free)
  • My Desire Map planner – I am such a paper planner person, it’s like appointments and plans in my phone don’t even exist
  • My fan app, it’s a free iPhone app that actually just makes the noise of a fan. Low, medium, or high. It’s so much easier for me to fall asleep to white noise!

What is your advice for a new grad?

How much time do you have…? Ok I’ll pick the three things that have been most important to me.

  • Take a deep breath. You got this! You know way more than you think you do, and your patients will trust you if you are caring and confident. Take some time to think about what knowledge would be truly helpful to you in your area of work before you start signing up for courses.
  • Get a mentor, even if its just someone to email with once a week or once a month. In my first few months of work I was the only physio at the clinic I was working at and I frequently felt lost. Conversations and meetings with a mentor re-assured me that I was on the right track and I still use information I learned from her nearly six years later.
  • Stay in touch with your classmates. Social media makes this pretty easy these days and it is so cool to see what your cohort is up to! Plus, they are always going to laugh at your humerus physio jokes…. Especially if they are better than mine.




Thanks Heather! Great advice and insights! If you want to connect with Heather check out her website or visit her social channels (Instagram,  Facebook or Twitter) and see what adventures she's up to next!


Emma Jack