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Burns and trauma course in WA

Emma Breheny

The Burn Injury Research Node—a joint venture between Fiona Wood Foundation, Notre Dame’s School of Physiotherapy and the Institute for Health Research—established a postgraduate program in burns and trauma rehabilitation management in 2015 with the hope of sharing local expertise.

Associate Professor Dale Edgar, a physiotherapist with extensive experience in burns rehabilitation, is head of the Burn Injury Research Node, and has been extensively involved in developing the course, alongside Professor Peter Hamer, APAM, and Professor Fiona Wood.

‘We’ve done a survey of the programs around the world and there’s certainly a lack of any education in the burns and trauma space and, in particular, burns and trauma rehabilitation,’ Dale says of the impetus to start the program.

By encompassing burns and trauma, the program develops skills for working with more heterogeneous client groups than solely burns patients.
Professor Wood, a burns specialist and surgeon, has been widely recognised as a leader in the treatment of burns and was named Australian of the Year in 2005 for her work. The foundation bearing her name continues to push the boundaries of knowledge to improve outcomes for burns victims.

By encompassing burns and trauma, the program—structured as either a masters, graduate diploma or graduate certificate—develops skills for working with more heterogeneous client groups than solely burns patients. The hope is to transfer some of the learnings from burns rehabilitation to rehabilitation of any form of trauma.

Professor Wood and other leading names teach in the course, which has a focus on rehabilitation from the moment an injury is sustained and encompasses treatment of both physical and mental scarring.

To date, it has attracted occupational therapists, nurses, a paramedic and, of course, physiotherapists from a range of settings, both rural and metro. In less than 12 months, enrolments have grown from three to 15.

‘The fact that we’ve got a range of experience levels means it’s really quite exciting to watch the discussions that evolve,’ Dale says.

The course, a combination of online, face-to-face and research learning methods, is designed to run in parallel with full-time work and is also seeking to attract students from around the world. The first four units cover pathophysiology, evidence-based practice, a review of the literature base, and practical skills in muscle and exercise techniques and scar management.

The program has adopted Professor Wood’s mantra of ensuring that every time clinicians put their hands on someone, they are making a positive difference. The idea of starting rehabilitation earlier is also central to the course.

‘I’m hoping to see more doctors and paramedics flexing their muscles and starting the rehab process as soon as they come into contact with a patient, which is very early on in their journey,’ Dale says.

To ensure the learning is flexible and can be accessed by students anywhere, all lectures are delivered online and are followed-up with tasks and discussions.

‘Multiple senior people teaching in the course will jump on the discussion boards every two days, which allows the discussion to stay fresh and, hopefully, drives people to think at a higher level,’ he says.

In their second-year of full-time study, all students undertake a one-month face-to-face intensive in Perth.

The research component of the course involves students developing their own research project to be undertaken in the clinical environment in which they work, while an entire unit on evidence-based practice focuses on discussions with co-workers.

‘Students have to discuss what they learned that week with a colleague who’s not doing the course, so there’s immediately some chitter-chatter and cross-pollination among people who may not be thinking in the same way,’ Dale says.

In Dale’s eyes, these workplace discussions are the first step towards service improvements.

‘Students start to look at their service in different ways and then actually start to think: how can we make the patient journey better?’

He describes the feeling of satisfaction at reading students’ reflective journal entries noting changes within emergency departments, their specific roles and their approach to treatment.

‘I would love to see this program drive people to be exponents of change within their own environments,’ he says.


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