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Coming from a business-oriented family, Joseph El-Hamchaoui has the entrepreneurial spirit in his DNA – but also a desire to help people. So when it came time to start his undergraduate education at the University of Alberta, he broke with tradition to study healthcare.

Joseph El-Hamchaoui

Joseph El-Hamchaoui

A decade later, as he becomes the first graduate of the U of A’s Master of Business Administration (MBA)/Master of Science in Physical Therapy (MScPT) program, he’s grateful to have experienced the best of both worlds.

The combined graduate degree program – launched in 2019 to give physiotherapy students business, management and leadership training – offered El-Hamchaoui the chance to combine his love of helping patients with his interest in business practices.

“The path that I ended up in just married the best of the worlds inside me. I am passionate about seeing people transformatively improve their active health and growing businesses, and I love giving back to my local communities.”

El-Hamchaoui, who began studying at the U of A in 2011, was in the third year of earning his bachelor of science degree in the Faculty of Science when he took a neuropsychology course taught by physiotherapist Crystal MacLellan through the U of A’s Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine. He was immediately intrigued.

“She’d talk about the success stories and the patients who were helped to recover through physiotherapy – small things we take for granted, like opening your hand to accept change. Being able to give people those small pieces of happiness in their day made something click in my mind that it might be one of the most fulfilling careers I could have.”

After earning his BSc in 2016, El-Hamchaoui began a master’s in physical therapy and was halfway through the program when the combined MBA/MSc program from the Alberta School of Business and Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine became available.

The degree is the first of its kind in Canada and, seeing a chance to combine his two main interests, El-Hamchaoui became its first student. He hopes to have his own clinic one day.

“I’ve always had an interest in entrepreneurship in general and, aside from the direct nitty-gritty of running a business, this program also offered me an opportunity to expand into leadership and policy-making, which is important in healthcare these days,” he said. “There’s quite a few synergies when you combine these two programs.”

Through the MBA, he learned about managing employees, leadership, accounting, economics, ethics, finance, marketing, data analysis and business strategy.

Now employed at an Edmonton physiotherapy clinic, El-Hamchaoui divides his time between seeing patients and helping the clinic develop a marketing plan. It’s just what he’d hoped to be doing as he starts his career.

“It’s been great so far and is unfolding the way I’d hoped it would,” he said. “My goal for the next year is to become the best physiotherapist I can be to help people feel better and then help the clinic grow through the best of my training.

“When I reflect on my caseload, I’ve seen a lot of people at their worst go into full recovery, so that’s been gratifying. I can say now with more confidence that everything I trained in has been helpful in getting my patients to feel better,” he said.

“And on the business side, my employer is happy because I’ve taken on some initiatives to help the clinic grow, and even with COVID-19 constraints, we’re starting to see some new patient assessments coming in, which is an important metric for a clinic.”

His years as a U of A student have helped him understand who he is, he added.

“The biggest journey has been character development. You get to know and refine who you are and who you want to be. I’m a whole different human than when I first started here.”

His U of A experience also taught him to push outside his comfort zone, he added.

“I started taking courses in my undergrad that I never thought I’d take, like neuropsychology – and it shaped my career.” Extending his studies for an extra year to take the combined graduate program was another challenging step. His classmates were puzzled as to why he’d stick around when he could be done with his university education but, for El-Hamchaoui, it was a no-brainer.

“You just have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable – that’s where growth is. The U of A has been great in continuing to put me into an environment of opportunity.”

El-Hamchaoui’s studies were supported with a Michael Lang MBA Award in Business, a Jason Lang Scholarship and an MBA program entrance award.

| By Bev Betkowski

This article was submitted by the University of Alberta’s Folio online magazine. The University of Alberta is a Troy Media Editorial Content Provider Partner.

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