Elizabeth Williams

1995 grant recipient

Elizabeth WilliamsElizabeth (Liz) Williams completed a Diploma of Physiotherapy at Lincoln Institute, Melbourne in 1968. She has been a clinical paediatric physiotherapist since, but her research career came much later. A Master of Physiotherapy was completed at The University of Melbourne in 2005.

Liz was inspired to study physiotherapy by a physiotherapist in Echuca, where she grew up and now lives. It was reinforced by a visit to Coonac Rehabilitation in Toorak, where young men, some who were Vietnam Veterans with limb amputations, were playing volley-ball with the physiotherapists. After completing her diploma, her first fulltime position was secondment from the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) to the Kew Children’s Cottages for a year. This experience gave Liz a lifelong interest in disability, disadvantaged children and families. After Kew Cottages, at RCH Parkville Campus, her work included being senior physiotherapist in the cardiorespiratory unit, at a time when heart bypass surgery was first introduced. Later she was senior for the Burns Unit and through support from the head of the unit, presented at an International Burns Conference in Buenos Aries in 1974. After Miss Val Irwin retired, and before family commitments intervened, she served as deputy to Anne McCoy AM, who remains a valued friend and mentor.

Kew Cottages, in 1969, was an institution for almost a thousand intellectually and physically disabled ‘children’ and is now thankfully closed. Many of the ‘children’ there were people with cerebral palsy aged in their 40s and older. Liz’s interest in physiotherapy and disability, combined with the observed ability for society to change what are entrenched practices, still motivates her to use her paediatric physiotherapy skills, knowledge and experience to address the challenges families face when a child is sick or developing atypically.


Research areas and findings

In 1995, Liz was awarded the PRF scholarship that she credits to kick-starting her research completion, as well as supervisor Professor Mary Galea. A publication ‘Investigation of the timed ‘up and go’ in children’ has been cited 110 times. The study was a revelation in that few feasible, clinically practical and meaningful measurement tools were validated for the child population. Other adult tests have now been validated for children.

Liz is an Honorary Senior Fellow at the University of Melbourne having been Lecturer in Paediatrics and later Senior lecturer in Rural Physiotherapy. Her research interests and clinical practice have been population based but clinically individual and family-centred focused. Paediatrics, like gerontology, is a specialised area that covers all the body systems in a particular age group, so requires a breadth of knowledge. Liz received the APA Anne McCoy Award in 2007 from the National Paediatric Victorian Group.

Research impact on physiotherapy

Liz realised when she moved to rural health that many of the challenges for physiotherapists were similar to paediatric practice. These are workforce shortage, clinical education and access to services. She is the Academic Coordinator the Specialist Certificate in Rural Paediatric Practice an interprofessional postgraduate award course based in Echuca, Victoria. In 2011, Liz received an Order of Australia Medal for services to paediatric physiotherapy and rural Victoria. Her interest in child development, coupled with support from Maternal Child Health Nurses, has led to her embarking on doctoral studies at Melbourne. For this she acknowledges the support of supervisor, Professor Mary Galea and her NHMRC Australian Postgraduate Award for support with research. She also acknowledges Professor Joan McMeeken AM and Associate Professor Gillian Webb AM for encouraging her academic career.

Important areas for development in physiotherapy

Liz’s currently undertaking a doctorate at the University of Melbourne where she is seeking to develop improved evidence based strategies for the prevention of deformational plagiocephaly in infants 0-4 months. Recent employment was to establish a formal research program in a rural hospital, a collaborative initiative with the University of Melbourne. She believes this is very important to sustain graduate research skills as clinicians, but also encourage research from the workforce itself.


1. Williams, E. N., Carroll, S. G., Reddihough, D. S., Phillips, B. A., & Galea, M. P. (2005). Investigation of the timed ‘up & go’test in children. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 47(08), 518-524.

2. Williams, E., D'Amore, W., & McMeeken, J. (2007). Physiotherapy in rural and regional Australia. Australian Journal of Rural Health, 15(6), 380-386.