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Introducing our new fellows

Marina Williams
7 November 2016

Passing the ACP’s rigorous two-year training program of research, clinical exams and case studies is not easy, but achievable, according to graduates Tania Althorpe, Michelle du Plessis and Kieran Richardson. They have each attained the highest level of expertise in their field of physiotherapy. Here, they share their career and study journeys.

Tania Althorpe, FACP, Sports

Putting herself under pressure to learn something new and to undergo peer review is what ‘upskilling is all about’ for Tania.

‘Specialisation makes you actually do the things you plan to do, and puts you under pressure to not only learn those things but to then start applying them into clinical practice over an extended period of time,’ she says. ‘It’s fine to do a short course or attend a seminar and learn a few things, and then come back to your clinic and put them into practice; but when you become busy, it’s easy to skip what you learnt. With specialisation, you cannot do that.’

Tania says the course encourages students to stay on top of research and to understand ‘what is going on within the physiotherapy profession’. For her, it was the challenge she needed to get the most out of her career.

‘This helps you stay relevant and engaged,’ she says, cautioning that work-life adjustments are necessary for success. ‘You are going to be even busier when taking on specialisation. There’s no easy way about it; if it doesn’t take time and effort it wouldn’t be worth doing. When you pass, it’s acknowledgment for all the hours that you put in and the personal sacrifices along the way. I highly recommend specialisation but you need to be committed to the process. It is a long journey, not a short sprint.’

A Master of Sports Physiotherapy, lecturer and course coordinator at Curtin University, Tania co-owns West Coast Physiotherapy Centre with husband Brett, a current specialist candidate.

‘We have always worked together, and we promote an active lifestyle and a holistic approach to injury management, supported by research,’ Tania says. ‘Doing specialisation is important to us, and, for me, I need to be a strong clinician to be teaching a course. In private practice, you don’t know what you don’t know, which is where the masters comes in and helps develop people; specialisation then consolidates this learning further and enables you to give back to others two-fold—you can support your profession by being as scientifically balanced and evidence-based in your professional practice as possible, and you can mentor and teach others.’

Michelle du Plessis, FACP, Musculoskeletal

A passion to find long-term solutions through manual therapy modalities, education and exercise is inspiring Michelle on a daily basis.

‘I absolutely love what I do and the specialist program has taken my physiotherapy to a whole new level. It has improved my clinical reasoning, assessment and communication skills to more effectively manage patients with complex presentations,’ she says.

Undertaking the program while juggling full-time work and a family has been a challenge, but one worth the time and effort, Michelle says. To focus, she sold her practice and joined the clinical team at BodyLogic Physiotherapy, where a number of physiotherapists are accredited as specialists.

 ‘I was fortunate to get a job in a clinic where there are specialist physiotherapists who are brilliant. My colleagues were encouraging and supportive, as were my mentors,’ Michelle says. ‘The journey was like a layering process—each time you learnt something new, it added to the way you clinically practise. While peer review was initially challenging, it is probably the best way of learning.’

With a study load of 10–20 hours per week on top of full-time work, Michelle says students learn to manage ‘work-life time effectively’. She travelled interstate frequently and had mentoring and peer reviews by musculoskeletal specialists in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

‘I am very grateful to these clinicians for their input and mentoring— it has been invaluable and a great experience I would highly recommend,’ she says.

‘I did sacrifice time spent with my family and I definitely had less time for socialising, [but] you stay focused, knowing that it is not forever. What did suffer initially was regular exercise, but, thankfully, I realised I needed to do it to help with the stress of studying. It also helped relieve neck and shoulder pain. I had to practise what I preach and get moving.’

Michelle and 2015 graduate Michael Sharp, FACP, have recently opened the first specialist physiotherapy practice (Quest Specialist Physiotherapy) in the northern suburbs of Perth. She will continue at BodyLogic on a part-time basis.

‘As a specialist physiotherapist, in addition to working clinically, I see my role to promote physiotherapy by collaborating intra- and inter-professionally, which can be done by reviewing complex cases, providing second opinions and mentoring. The specialisation process gives you the confidence and enjoyment to efficiently manage complex patients and share the knowledge.’

Kieran Richardson, FACP, Musculoskeletal

Learning as much as possible about the human body is driving Kieran to discover new ways of non-surgical management for musculoskeletal pain and injury. Refining his physiotherapy skills through the specialisation program is the latest step in a career that started on graduating from Curtin University (CU) in the mid-2000s.

Kieran first worked in a hospital and then private practice, where he became immersed in the intricacies of musculoskeletal care. In 2012, he completed the Master in Clinical Physiotherapy course at CU and is ‘incredibly satisfied’ to add ‘Specialist’ to his name.

‘To be recognised by the College as one of the top clinicians in the musculoskeletal field is very humbling—some of my favourite, inspiring and influential physiotherapists are specialists, and to be considered in their league is an honour,’ Kieran says.

Kieran is busy mentoring other physiotherapists and educating Perth GPs on musculoskeletal health guidelines at professional development sessions. He also works as a sessional academic at CU on the Master of Clinical Physiotherapy program.

‘I’ve had a number of patients already referred to me for second opinions based on my new qualification,’ he says. ‘It’s mind-blowing to think of the amount of patients in Australia who have unnecessary imaging, injection therapies or elective surgical procedures without ever having the option to consider physiotherapy management first.

‘I’m on a mission to communicate this information inter-professionally and to the general public, as well as help improve the confidence of physiotherapists, so they can do likewise.’

Kieran says the program is an ideal ‘next step’ for physiotherapists wanting to expand their skills.

‘If you are the sort of physiotherapist who continually strives to improve, are naturally fairly organised and already read clinically relevant papers, then you’ll have no problems fitting the requirements of the program into your schedule,’ he says.

‘Having your clinical reasoning consistently challenged and refined by the top physiotherapists in the country was the highlight for me. Specialisation refines your skills, highlighting your strengths and passions while eliminating unnecessary elements of your practice and identifying areas for growth.’ 


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