Crediting an eminent clinician


Speaking to Skye Mitchell, APA member Barbara Dorsch reflects on her career after being appointed Member of the Order of Australia on 26 January.

Barbara Dorsch was appointed Member of the Order of Australia, AM, in the recent Australia Day Honours, for significant service to physiotherapy as a clinician and educator, and to the community. Barbara was ‘absolutely flabbergasted’ when she found out and says ‘it was very appreciated. You don’t expect to get anything out of being involved in all those committees, but it was really a great surprise.’

Beginning her long career in 1963 with a Diploma of Physiotherapy, Barbara went on to work in public hospitals in Sydney and then in London before returning to Sydney to take up a position at the Multiple Sclerosis Society of NSW. She worked there from 1975 to 1980 and then in private practice until 2002.

Barbara has been a committed advocate in supporting education and research in physiotherapy, which includes becoming a founding member of the APA Neurology group in 1977. ‘For five years I had been working at the national hospital for nervous diseases in London. I worked in their rehab unit and 60 per cent of our patients had multiple sclerosis. When I came back to Sydney and started working at the multiple sclerosis centre, I realised that a lot of physios were terrified of neurological conditions, so I started the neurology group with three other women,’ Barbara explains.

From 1978 to 1980, she was on the continuing education committee of the APA’s New South Wales chapter, and 1982–1987 she was member and chair of the Acupuncture group and a proactive organiser of seminars and courses featuring overseas and local experts.

On retirement in 2002, and as a senior physiotherapist, Barbara did locum work in many country towns, mainly in New South Wales but also in places such as King Island in Tasmania. Between 2002 and 2009 Barbara made several visits to Indonesia totalling around six months, working in neurosurgical departments in Jakarta, Bandung and Surabaya, and in Yogyakarta after the 2006 earthquake. She was instrumental in profound changes in neurosurgical rehabilitation in that country.

For more than 15 years Barbara has been in a Saturday morning walking group, with walks each weekend for over an hour in different parts of Sydney. She is involved in researching and organising walks in different terrains suitable for older walkers, and readily gives useful advice to members about individual problems and how to handle difficult terrain.

Barbara welcomes anyone who is retiring or working part-time to join the APA retired member group and urges young physiotherapists to attend one of their lectures. In addition to being involved in many community organisations, she has been the chair of the group since 2012, organising lectures and the annual Christmas party.

Barbara is driven to continue to advocate for the profession because ‘there are many more physiotherapists now, the profession is continually growing, and since I started my career in the ‘60s, there’s a much bigger demand for physiotherapy services. Education and professional development are important to Barbara and at 76 years young, she says she is still learning. ‘As physios, you are always learning all the time. If you think you’re not learning then it’s time to pick up the book, read the latest research or do some more courses. Watch people move every time you sit down at the shopping centre, or the railway station, you can watch people in front of you try and work out what their ailments are … your eyes and your hands are really your best assets as a physio.’

The APA congratulates the following APA members who also received Australia Day honours.

Professor Mary Galea for significant services to medical education in the field of clinical physiotherapy, and to professional associations.

Dr Julie-Ann Bernhardt for significant service to medical research and as an advocate for women in science.

Jennifer Ball for her services to physiotherapy, volunteering and teaching.

Ann Buchan for significant service to medicine as a neurological physiotherapist.


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