Physiotherapy at fifteen

Professor Prue Morgan with students
Professor Prue Morgan, Head of the Monash Department of Physiotherapy, with physiotherapy students at Peninsula Campus.

When Monash’s physiotherapy course began in 2006, there was no other program like it.

The course was part of a new allied health precinct set up by the University on the picturesque Mornington Peninsula, an hour’s drive from Melbourne.

“We were starting from scratch to address local workforce needs,” says Department Head, Professor Prue Morgan, who has been part of the staff team since the course began. “We needed to scale up rapidly, to build and develop the local workforce capacity.”

“We had no infrastructure back then – one of our staff had to develop and equip a research laboratory so we could conduct research, and we had to set up from scratch four practical teaching laboratories which helped us become the teaching intensive department we are now.”

This pioneering spirit extended to the educational approach to the discipline: “It was practical and hands-on, innovative, integrating disciplines such as basic biomedicine, pharmacology and anatomy into a comprehensive and practical course.”

A high quality curriculum – which focuses on current real-world applications, such as telehealth, clinical simulation, and the communications skills of graduates – explains why the Department of Physiotherapy’s Bachelor’s course continues to outstrip other similar courses in the elite Group of Eight for student satisfaction. This high quality curriculum also greatly enhances graduate employability.

The Department punches well above its weight when it comes to securing research funding. Seven staff have secured Category 1 funding in the last ten years – quite an achievement for any discipline – alongside 40 PhD students working to operationalise that research activity.

Professor Morgan is invested in nurturing young leaders and encouraging the future leaders in both education and research. “Four of our staff have received Vice Chancellor’s Education Awards, which is significant for a small Department,” she says.

“When we started, we were looking for future stars who would enable us to develop critical research and education capacity,” says Professor Morgan. “We didn’t have 100 years of precedent to draw upon, so we needed to build and develop this capacity.”

Today the Bachelor of Physiotherapy (Honours) course is extremely popular, regularly receiving 1000 applications for around 100 places available – the same can be said of the Doctor of Physiotherapy, introduced in mid-2020, which has also been incredibly successful, growing from 25 students in its first year to more than 60 a year later.

As with other health sciences, broader social shifts have brought physiotherapy into sharp relief in recent years. Sedentary behaviour, caused by long hours working at desks, has reinforced the importance of physical activity, and these issues are receiving increased public attention.

The pandemic has also had an impact. “It has been an opportunity to speak about physical activity to the public,” Professor Morgan says. “There is a growing understanding of the role of physiotherapy in intensive care, and more public attention on what physiotherapy can offer, particularly for those with long COVID.”

“The pandemic forced us to consider innovations in telehealth, which is no mean feat in a discipline as hands-on as physio,” says Professor Morgan. “We are developing sustainable options for the future of treating remote and regional patients using technology.”

Researchers like Associate Professor Peter Malliaras, who is conducting ground-breaking work that remotely measures a patient’s range of motion and movement, are leading this charge.

“Students not only learn how to deliver services remotely, they also address the question of how best to engage different patient groups,” says Professor Morgan. “They consider which patients can be treated safely in this way, and whether patients are able to safely follow advice provided using telehealth.”

As the Monash Department of Physiotherapy moves towards the end of its second decade, Professor Morgan believes that the focus on real-world practicality and technological solutions, which have been of critical importance for patients during the pandemic, will see the department continue to turn out some of the world’s most respected experts in the field.

Meet some of our physiotherapy alumni and find out about their career journeys since graduation and reflections on this milestone celebration for the Department:

About Monash University

Monash University is Australia’s largest university with more than 80,000 students. In the 60 years since its foundation, it has developed a reputation for world-leading high-impact research, quality teaching, and inspiring innovation.

With four campuses in Australia and a presence in Malaysia, China, India, Indonesia and Italy, it is one of the most internationalised Australian universities.

As a leading international medical research university with the largest medical faculty in Australia and integration with leading Australian teaching hospitals, we consistently rank in the top 50 universities worldwide for clinical, pre-clinical and health sciences.

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