Oliver Physiotherapy

eschews gadgets, focuses on one-to-one patient care, education

Physiotherapist Kristie Stefishen was approached on the street recently by one of her patients who told her they were happy their treatment worked.

Almost sheepishly, the patient added that they would not be making another appointment.

“I said that’s fantastic,” Stefishen recalls. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Stefishen, owner of Oliver Physiotherapy since 2008, knows it’s better to try to resolve a person’s problem than to keep the patient coming back for ongoing maintenance visits.

“The way I operate is to make the person better and hope that if they have another thing, they choose to come back to us,” she said.

Physiotherapist Trish Stevens, who works part time at the clinic, nods in agreement.

“Our plan isn’t to be making money off you by maintenance,” Stevens said. “The old chiropractor thing of come in once a month for maintenance – that’s not a thing.”

Kristie Stefishen (left), physiotherapist and owner of Oliver Physiotherapy, and physiotherapist Trish Stevens discussed how things work at the clinic. (Richard McGuire Photo)
Kristie Stefishen (left), physiotherapist and owner of Oliver Physiotherapy, and physiotherapist Trish Stevens discussed how things work at the clinic. (Richard McGuire Photo)
Kristie Stefishen (left), physiotherapist and owner of Oliver Physiotherapy, and physiotherapist Trish Stevens pose at the entrance to the clinic. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Clients of the clinic on Fairview Road in Oliver will probably notice immediately other differences between Oliver Physiotherapy and some larger businesses.

“We are only with one person at one time,” said Stefishen. “I can’t speak for other clinics, but I know a lot of places, even places where I worked, you are mandated to see a certain number of people, whereas here we only see the person we’re with… I stay with that person until we’re done… We don’t rush them out.”

Machines and devices aren’t a big part of Oliver Physiotherapy’s approach and are only used occasionally.

“We don’t tend to use a lot of machines,” said Stefishen. “We actually have one ultrasound and one TENS for the entire clinic.”

Instead, said Stevens, the approach is more about patient education and helping patients to take responsibility for their health and movement.

While “hands-on” is used, Stevens cautions that it can actually impede people from getting better if they think the physiotherapist is fixing them, rather than understanding that the patient must play a role in their own treatment.

“I always say if you take a tennis lesson and don’t practice, you wasted the money for the lesson because you’re not going to get better,” said Stevens. “You have to do the work to be better.”

Stefishen is originally from North Vancouver. After four years in Australia where she studied physiotherapy at Curtin University in Perth, she and her husband moved to the South Okanagan for his job in the wine industry.

Oliver Physiotherapy has several stationary bikes for patients to use. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Oliver was a good place for her new business in 2008, she decided, because there were physiotherapists in Penticton and Osoyoos, but nothing in between.

“I started in my house, so it’s been a funny progression,” Stefishen said. “We started in the den and then slowly we got bigger, and then I no longer had a living room in my house because the business was then the living room and the den.”

In 2010, she built an addition to house the business in a big garage. Finally, in 2016, she bought and moved into the present building at 471 Fairview Road.

“It’s a progression different from a lot of businesses,” said Stefishen. “We progressed as we’ve grown, as opposed to having to grow into ourselves… It was the least stressful way to go.”

Currently there are four physiotherapists and two front staff. Everyone works part time for two or three days.

In a business where there are more openings than there are physiotherapists, staffing also progressed in a less conventional way.

“I almost feel like more staff found us than we found them,” said Stefishen. “It was kind of funny because people joined me as I either had children or was away on holiday and needed someone to fill in.”

That’s how Stevens and others came, she added, suggesting that she was able to retain staff by keeping it a fun place to work.

While all four physiotherapists took the same basic training, they’ve also pursued other courses that interested them as their careers advanced. This means they all have their own specialties.

An example is the GLA:D program (Good Live with Arthritis in Denmark), which provides group sessions for patients with knee and hip arthritis. That program is a specialty of physiotherapist Janet Bednarczyk.

Unlike some physiotherapist offices that include staff from other disciplines, Oliver Physiotherapy only offers physiotherapy.

The reception area at Oliver Physiotherapy was staffed this day by receptionist Marilyn. To the right are real rooms for seeing patients -- walls rather than curtains separate the the rooms. (Richard McGuire Photo)

The different services cover the gamut from sports injuries to chronic pain, and intramuscular stimulation to manual therapy and joint mobilizations. And clients come from a range of ages.

Most people are either referred by their general practitioner or by a friend who is a previous patient.

“It’s really hard to say what we treat the most,” said Stefishen. “I could go through a couple of weeks without seeing somebody with a neck [injury] and then I get five necks in one day.”

Stevens noted that just because someone comes in with one problem, it doesn’t mean other issues, which may be related, are overlooked.
“It’s a whole-body approach,” she said.

Considering its origins in Kristie Stefishen’s den, followed by years of growth, it’s reasonable to ask her if she has future expansion plans for Oliver Physiotherapy. But the answer is no.

“I’m so happy with the way this business is right now,” she says, while acknowledging you can never ask anything to stay them same. “I feel it was never meant to be a big business, and I get paid to do what I love.”

Still, she intends to keep doing courses and learning so she can better help her patients.

“As soon as I walk into the office, I’m so happy to be here,” she adds. “I never want that to change. If we got bigger, it would change.”

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471 Fairview Road
Oliver, BC  V0H 1T0