Prestigious award is a first for physiotherapy
Anne Holland’s ongoing contributions in the area of pulmonary rehabilitation have been recognised internationally.
Professor Anne Holland, APAM, has been curious about understanding and improving treatment options for people living with chronic lung disease for nearly 30 years.
The pioneering lung researcher’s work developing and testing novel non-drug treatments and initiating new home-based pulmonary rehabilitation treatment models has advanced thoracic medicine in Australia and New Zealand.
In April, the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand awarded Anne its highest award: the prestigious Society Medal.
Anne is the first allied health professional to receive the award since its inception in 1992.
In 2016, she received the American Thoracic Society Pulmonary Rehabilitation Award in recognition of her contribution to the science and practice of pulmonary rehabilitation globally.
She has been a board director of The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (2015–19) and was a board director of the American Thoracic Society from 2019 to 2021.
Anne is equally thrilled and humbled to receive her most recent award, and cites her achievements with the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand and thoracic societies globally as career highlights.
‘It is a recognition of not just my work, but the work of other health professionals in allied health and other disciplines that makes an important contribution to the lives of these patients.
Particularly, it is recognition for physiotherapy, of what we contribute to patients with respiratory disease.
It shows we can contribute at a very high level and take a leadership role in respiratory health.
I hope my work shows a career path for others, and what we can achieve in partnership with our colleagues from other disciplines to advance our fields.’
Anne holds a joint academic and clinical research position across Monash University and Alfred Health.
The strong link between university and hospital provides her research team with valuable opportunities to embed investigation of the management of lung conditions into clinical practice.
Treatments considered within the person-centred approach include oxygen therapy, self-management and peer support.
Of particular interest is improving patient access to and uptake of treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease through low-cost home-based care and telerehabilitation.
‘Our research aims to improve the lives of people with chronic lung disease through novel non-drug treatments and optimal supportive care.
Having home-based treatments makes rehabilitation more accessible and removes barriers to accessing treatment, such as travel time and costs.
Patients are also more comfortable in their own environment.’
Last year, the home-based pulmonary rehabilitation model was included in the National Health and Medical Research Council’s ‘10 of the best’ showcase of projects that support improvement in human health.
‘We are trying to provide comprehensive care for those patients and this is recognition of how the home-based model might impact on practice.
So that’s really, really exciting,’ says the NHMRC Leadership Fellow (2021–25).
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, she says, is responsible for more potentially preventable hospital admissions than other chronic diseases, and is a major contributor to healthcare costs.
Her pulmonary rehabilitation model of exercise, training and education has proven a highly effective treatment.
‘Our trial showed that rehabilitation could be delivered entirely at home, with the same clinical outcomes as centre-based rehabilitation.
Those who completed either type of rehabilitation program were 56 per cent less likely to be admitted to hospital during the following year, significantly lowering healthcare costs.’
The global coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of this work.
‘We saw a rapid uptake of this work last year with COVID-19, when centre-based rehabilitation programs closed to protect vulnerable patients from infection.’
Interestingly, a career in respiratory research wasn’t high on Anne’s list of interests after graduating with a Bachelor of Applied Science (Physiotherapy) with Distinction from the University of Sydney in 1994.
‘I wanted to go into neurological physiotherapy.
When I started work in the hospital system I had a real interest in acute care and that’s where my interest in respiratory came in.
I never really had ambitions to be involved in research, but I did have these clinical questions that I wanted to answer.’
Curiosity led to a master’s degree and then to a PhD from the University of Melbourne in 2004.
‘I kept on going the whole ride.
The thing about research is it always reveals more questions.
I don’t know what all future questions will be, but I am very confident that there will be some.’
And she’ll happily take research cues from patients.
‘I am always learning from our patients.
Living with a chronic respiratory disease is really challenging, and seeing the way that people work out new ways to manage their health and to engage with society and do the things that they need to do in the face of debilitating symptoms is incredibly inspiring.
I really value the opportunity to make some contribution to improving the lives of those people and to collaborate with professionals, both clinically and in research.’
Anne’s work is also influencing career pathways for clinicians and researchers.
She has provided mentorship for more than 40 clinician–researchers across multiple disciplines, including medicine.
Her research program provides postdoctoral training for eight clinician–researchers and she regularly hosts visiting research fellows from around the world.
Thoracic societies globally, including the American Thoracic Society and the European Respiratory Society, have published her work and she has been cited in 27 clinical guidelines and position papers on pulmonary rehabilitation, pulmonary fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, skeletal muscle dysfunction, oxygen therapy and respiratory management.
‘I’ve led some of these projects and our aim is to provide policymakers with as much information as possible around the importance of pulmonary rehabilitation and what should be funded.
It’s a great way to collaborate with amazing people from across the world who have incredible knowledge.
You work together to do something that you hope will make a difference to the way that patients are managed more broadly.’
Her ability to influence decision-making on funding alternative treatment pathways for patients with respiratory disease is only possible, she says, through the support and work of her team.
‘I’ve been fortunate to have a great team of people working with me, many of whom are physiotherapists.
But we also have exercise physiologists, public health people and nurses from other disciplines within our research team.
They do a fantastic job of executing these projects.’
For the next two years Anne will focus on leading an implementation trial of the pulmonary rehabilitation model at 14 different clinical sites across five states.
‘It’s rolling out to places that haven’t used that type of model before and embedding it in normal clinical pulmonary rehab programs.
Because the model is already developed, we should start getting data pretty quickly.’
She is excited about future developments in pulmonary rehabilitation and expects Australia’s physiotherapy profession to continue taking a leading role globally.
‘We have a lot of international leaders here, a deep group of clinician–researchers who are influencing clinical practice across the country and globally.
They are succeeding because they are showing by example—what the evidence is and what the provision should look like.
We’re in a very fortunate place here and, in many ways, we do lead the world.’
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