The career I always wanted
Embarking on the two-year specialisation training program, physiotherapist Alisa McLachlan hoped for greater professional satisfaction and more confidence when treating complex patients. It was the right move.
When Alisa McLachlan FACP, a Specialist Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist (as awarded by the Australian College of Physiotherapists in 2019), was studying physiotherapy as an undergraduate at the University of Melbourne, she had a strong drive towards high achievement right from the start.
‘I wanted to become the best physio I could be,’ says Alisa. ‘I looked up to the clinicians and lecturers I learnt from and aspired to be like them.’
Graduating in 1995, she embarked on her physiotherapy career with ‘excitement and optimism’.
Alisa wasn’t sure where her clinical interests lay and her first job—a rotating grade 1 position at the Austin Hospital in Melbourne—gave her a thorough grounding in different areas of physiotherapy.
‘I learnt from experienced physiotherapists in their field, such as Professor Sue Berney APAM in cardiothoracic, Kath Philip in musculoskeletal and Dr Anne Daly FACP in pain, and was grateful for their mentorship.
'Realising I had a lot to learn, I started dipping my toe into some musculoskeletal professional development courses,’ says Alisa.
A move to Sydney saw Alisa working predominantly on her own in private practice.
‘I found this experience very challenging,’ she says. ‘I could see my own failings as a physiotherapist as I struggled to manage more complicated patients.
'I went to lots of courses but found it difficult to implement all the many techniques I was learning.’
This feeling of frustration led her to enrol in a Master of Health Sciences (Manipulative Physiotherapy) by coursework degree at the University of Sydney.
‘I knew I wanted to invest in my career.’
The master’s degree, completed in 1999, gave Alisa greater satisfaction and confidence in her work.
She says, ‘I was happy juggling small children and clinical practice—albeit slightly frustrated that becoming more experienced and competent did not translate to a significant
increase in remuneration.
'I continued working part-time in private practice in Sydney, Auckland and Melbourne while having three children.
‘As I emerged from the “tunnel” of raising a family, I found myself at another turning point in my career.
'I was in my early 40s, had been working as a physio for more than 20 years and thought I had at least another 15 to 20 years of working life ahead of me.
'I enjoyed being a physio and did not want to throw away everything I had put into it so far.
'But I was also a little bored with the repetition and grind of clinical practice and there were still times when I was very much aware of my failings as a therapist with
'This led me to pursue the specialisation training program. I wanted to work towards building a more fulfilling and interesting career in the future.’
Completing the training program from 2017 to 2019 (as a 46-year-old mother of three) was the most difficult yet rewarding experience of Alisa’s career and she says she has never regretted it.
‘The study was stimulating and the critique of my current practice was challenging,’ says Alisa.
‘What I didn’t expect was the added bonus of becoming part of the College. Travelling around Australia, watching, learning and spending time with other specialists was immensely rewarding.
‘The two years of the program were also challenging for our family.
'I had to sacrifice both personal and professional time (and therefore money) in order to dedicate enough time to study.
'I had teenagers at home who still needed my support. But with some extra domestic help, flexibility and consistent work, we all managed to survive.’
Alisa says that becoming a specialist physiotherapist has enriched her professional life in many ways.
‘I can legitimately charge more and spend more time with complex patients. I feel more confident about my ability to help these patients, which increases my work satisfaction.
'I get referrals from wider sources and repeat referrals, leading to greater knowledge in particular clinical areas and better patient outcomes.
'It has opened up opportunities for teaching and for involvement in research projects, creating a more varied and stimulating work week.’
Specialisation, says Alisa, has ‘given me the career I wanted back in 1995’.
For more information on becoming a Clinical Specialist, click here or contact the Australian College of Physiotherapists at email@example.com.
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