Women: take up the research mantle


Anne-Marie Hill believes more women should get involved in research so the profession can continue to lead the way in the translation of evidence into practice.

As we celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science this month (11 February), it is heartening to see so many more women coming up and taking the lead role in research. And it is an opportune time to reflect and encourage more female physiotherapists to take up the mantle and become involved in research and leadership because I believe it is fundamental to the progression of our profession.

I believe that women in our profession have demonstrated they work effectively in this space and have fantastic perspectives on the big questions that engage our profession and how to successfully conduct research. For best outcomes for our patients and our profession, I also believe that it is critical to have better representation of women across the board at all levels of research and leadership.

As physiotherapists, it is really important that we support each other. Therefore, for women in science, it’s important they provide support and assistance for other women to move up the ladder. I’ve been fortunate in my career to have been helped by other senior physiotherapists and researchers (both men and women) who have taken the time to mentor and encourage me and importantly, have provided concrete support to help me get to the next stage of my career. It makes a difference.

I worked clinically for many years and I loved working with patients, and hadn’t considered research as an option. However I became aware, over time, that the field of aged care didn’t appear to have the same rigour or evidence base as other areas of the profession. There was also evidence of the presence of some ‘ageist’ stereotypes about the value of physiotherapy in working with older clients or being involved in this field, so I thought I would do something to help improve it.

Before I started doing a postgraduate diploma in physiotherapy in 1996 I had to search around to find one that focused on aged care. There were virtually none, and I was lucky that Dr Annette Brown, in Western Australia, was one of the very few physiotherapy academics who ran a postgraduate course that focused on gerontology.

Also there weren’t many female senior physiotherapy researchers that I could look to at that stage. I was fortunate, though, to be inspired by some outstanding female role models at Curtin University and broadly through the profession. In particular, the women leaders in the APA Gerontology Group, including Dr Jenny Nitz of Queensland and Dr Shylie Mackintosh of South Australia, formed an additional source of inspiration as they were so positive and focused.

I encourage younger female physiotherapists to consider research as part of their career. It is such a rewarding area to work in because of the feeling that you can really look at things in a more overall way, and come up with the big picture of what therapists should be doing to help deliver the best outcomes for patients.

Older people is what I focus on and it is reassuring to know that the treatments that physiotherapy deliver are effective. I think that physiotherapy is a highly valued and well-regarded profession because it does work off such a strong evidence base.

As a profession we want all consumers to know that when people see a physiotherapist they can feel confident they are getting the best treatment possible. Therefore, it seems fundamental to me that if we want the profession to continue to expand and to be one of the key first-line defences people have for their health, then it is absolutely vital that we expand and translate strong evidence base into practice.

Part of that should include talking about the evidence to the public through social media, public events and seminars, in our practices, online and whenever possible.

Professor Anne-Marie Hill is a Specialist Gerontology Physiotherapist (as awarded by the Australian College of Physiotherapists in 2007) and researcher at the School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science at Curtin University in Western Australia.


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