World Physiotherapy Day shines a light on the importance of physiotherapists

08 September 2020

In the global fight against COVID-19, the foremost focus for scientists and researchers has been in treating the virus, preventing its transmission, and finding a cure. Everyone has followed the numbers, active cases, deaths, new clusters, but what of those who have recovered?

It is becoming increasingly obvious that COVID-19 is unlike anything we’ve seen before as a society. Not only do we not yet understand how contagious the virus is, as time goes by we are seeing the after effects of catching it can be varied in both severity and longevity.

This Tuesday 8 September was World Physiotherapy Day, a global event recognising the important and trusted role physiotherapists play in the community to improve the health of their patients.

The theme for World Physiotherapy Day 2020 is "rehabilitation after severe respiratory illness" and the role that physiotherapy and physical activity can have in helping people through recovery.

It’s one thing to know that there may be a desperate need for those who understand rehabilitation after respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19. It’s another to ensure that students leaving university have the requisite understanding to deal with the wide array of potential side effects.

School of Physiotherapy Associate Dean Dr Shane Patman and Senior Lecturer Alison Kirkman noticed the need for a supplement to their student’s already packed final semester and introduced contemporary case studies and latest knowledge in their final year course ‘Complex Cases and Professional Issues’.

“Our behaviour in our teaching since we've been back this semester has been very much modified and heightened around things like infection control and COVID safe precautions,” Dr Patman says.

“There’s a lot of focus in those areas. But now we’ve got a whole cohort of millions around the world who have been through COVID-19 now realising that it has some ‘nip in the tail’ type of stuff.

There's a bit of a lag of symptoms, there are consequences that perhaps weren't obvious at the beginning of the journey, and it's time to turn our attention to how we can support optimising outcomes and whether rehabilitation is part of that or whether we could do things differently at the front end of the journey so patients turn out better at the end. There are lots of considerations.

The fine line to walk between being ‘ahead of the curve’ and teaching evidence-based knowledge is an ongoing challenge for education in any medical field, but recently it has been more tenuous than ever. Misinformation and conspiracy surrounding COVID-19 has led to a global society unsure of what to think and feel, it is more important than ever to have factual information, grounded in rigorous research.

“It's maybe not being ahead of the curve,” Dr Patman says, “It's making sure you're not behind the curve. You can quickly find yourself behind everybody else, and if you’re too risk-averse you’ll become the outlier of not doing things in an accelerated, brave and nimble way.”

This sums up the School of Physiotherapy’s approach to educating the next generation of healthcare professionals.

“Yes, the pandemic is awful, but there are people living and surviving the virus. There is a cost to surviving though, and it is that people will need to rehabilitate, and that’s why physiotherapy is here, we've got a great program here at Notre Dame so we're preparing grads to take on the challenge of working in that space.”

“The ethos of physio is historically underpinned with science, but it is an art as well. We’re part of the community, we're available, we’re a valued contributor, and we're here for the long run. We're here to support people.”

Find out more about World Physiotherapy Day and the School of Physiotherapy.

Media Contact: Breyon Gibbs : +61 8 9433 0569 |