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Australia's first Doctor of Physiotherapy students graduate from Bond

Students from Australia’s first Doctor of Physiotherapy Degree have finished studies and entered a workforce struggling to meet the demand for physiotherapy skills.

Twelve of the 17 class members from Bond University’s inaugural graduating class have found full-time employment even before receiving their degrees.

The strong take-up of employment from the first batch of graduates mirrors the growing need for trained physiotherapists, according to Associate Professor and Bond University’s Head of Physiotherapy Dr Nancy Low Choy.

When the degree started, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations found 50 per cent of surveyed employers did not receive applications for advertised physiotherapist positions. In May 2008 the Department of Immigration and Citizenship listed physiotherapy as an in-demand skilled occupation.

Dr Low Choy said Bond University’s graduating class had entered the workforce at a time when the population was ageing, and chronic diseases, disability and childhood obesity was on the rise.

“The ageing population is diverse and includes Masters Games competitors through to the ill and infirmed,’’ said Dr Low Choy. “Physiotherapists aim to improve the mobility and quality of life of these patients.

“With childhood obesity across Australia on the rise, the impact on agility, fitness and the general health of young children is relatively unknown and requires more research.’’

Dr Low Choy said both fields of practice provide increased scope for physiotherapy applications.

“It’s fitting that Australia’s first wave of physiotherapists have been trained and exposed to the clinical environments on the Gold Coast and wider South-East Queensland where there is such a large number of young families and retirees who have migrated from interstate.’’

Starting salaries for graduates are approximately $52,000-$54,000 per annum in the public system, and slightly more in private practice.

Dr Low Choy said awareness of physiotherapy and its benefits was growing but the public needed to be more informed about the breadth of physiotherapy practice.

“There has been a popular perception that physiotherapy is a very narrow, niche vocation where you mainly work with elite athletes and sporting teams. The image is exciting but this perception of physiotherapy is misleading because only a very small percentage of people trained in this discipline go on to be fully employed within elite sports.’’

The inaugural graduates spent 42 weeks – almost half the degree - in clinical environments with a core focus on musculo-skeletal, cardio-respiratory and neurological physiotherapy.

The Doctor of Physiotherapy Degree - with its focus on Problem-Based Learning (PBL) - was designed in conjunction with Canada’s McMaster University and is the first Doctor of Physiotherapy Program in Australia. It was developed in response to the industry call for physiotherapists to have more extensive clinical training and be work-ready.

“The community has started to recognise physiotherapy is not limited to a sore hamstring caused by a football game. More and more patients are now seeking physiotherapy consultations and with this increased demand, physiotherapists need to be independent and not reliant on being spoon-feed as new graduates.

“Focusing on PBL rather than lecture theatre-based learning allows students to more actively gain the knowledge and skills they need for practice in the profession.

“About half of registered physiotherapists work in the private field, and there is good opportunities for career progression in the public system as well.’’

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