Understandably the public heard a good deal about the vital role doctors and nurses played in responding to the pandemic over the last two years but less so their allied health colleagues.
A growing and highly qualified workforce, allied health practitioners work in diverse settings including community, primary, secondary and tertiary care, schools, correctional facilities, hospices, marae’s, disability services and aged care – to name a few!
Because of that we wanted to hear from and promote the voice of allied health and who better to do that than Briana Baass, Chief Allied Health Officer with Safer Care Victoria, Australia Dr Martin Chadwick, Chief Allied Health Professions Officer with the Ministry of Health in New Zealand and Sarah Stevens, National Clinical Manager – Professional Rehabilitation with Geneva Healthcare in New Zealand.
We put six questions to Briana, Martin and Sarah this is what they had to say.
What attracted you to the health sector, particularly the allied health profession?
My mum returned to work as a nurse at the Austin Hospital, when I was just a baby. I believe she placed me in the Austin Hospital crèche from 7 weeks old, so perhaps that gave me a love of hospitals from an early age! In my later years of school, I knew I enjoyed working with people, but I also enjoyed physics and the theory of physical movement. Prosthetics and Orthotics was a perfect blend of those. Plus it’s super fun getting to work with bandsaws and plaster.
The ability to work with people and to make a direct impact on their health and wellness.
I’m passionate about people and wanted to help people. A move into Health was a given for me from a young age. I considered medicine and nursing but chose an Allied Health role – occupational therapy. It’s afforded me many rewarding experiences and opportunities to make a difference, such as enabling a child to move independently for the first time with a powered mobility device and modifying environments to enable a person to return home with their whānau.
What motivated you move into increasingly senior allied health leadership roles?
Early in my career I noticed that clinicians often ended up in leadership roles, but that we didn’t necessarily learn the skills required for those roles in our undergraduate studies. I became passionate about developing the knowledge and competencies required to be a good health service manager. The ACHSM management program, followed by the Fellowship program, were brilliant in terms of helping me to hone these skills and understand the broader health system context. I believe it’s important for health leaders to commit to continuous professional development, the same way we did when we were in clinical roles. My leadership roles have been such a joy in terms of being able to blend the clinical understanding with health service management skills.
Recognising the gains that could be made at more of a population level if there was a greater realisation of the potential of the Allied Health professions.
Passion really, for people – those who use our services and our amazing allied health team. Being able to empower allied health professionals to be their best selves, thrive in their work, and support their development is a real privilege. I also enjoy bringing the allied health voice to the broader health leadership table and being part of designing solutions that work for our people and communities. These things coupled with my desire to learn and grow from others in leadership roles within and outside of the health sector were key motivators.
The public became very attuned to the role of doctors and nurses through the pandemic but what were your observations of the key role allied health played?
Yes, I did really feel for all of the allied health clinicians every time I heard people talking about the “heroes; the doctors and nurses”. But it also makes me think of all of the other workers that sometimes get forgotten like Interpreters, Aboriginal Liaison Officers and the wide range of non-clinical staff that work extraordinarily hard to keep the health system going during a pandemic. In terms of allied health roles during COVID19, they formed psychosocial response teams, played navigator roles, and provided phone support for people in the community who were on a ‘COVID positive pathway’. These community members were often very scared and confused with multiple clinical, as well as social, challenges. We also know from global experience that allied health are critical in providing care for people facing ‘Long COVID’, who are often experiencing quite complex symptoms.
There are several roles during the pandemic that are usually invisible to the public eye, Med Lab Scientists as an example. I think this gave more of an insight into the many professions that are critical to ensuring the health system runs and provides the services it does.
We are a flexible workforce and we have demonstrated our agility throughout the pandemic to do whatever was necessary and helpful. We worked alongside and helped our non-allied health peers and adapted our services to ensure our patients and clients had continued access to life-supporting and health/function enhancing services. We quickly embraced a move to telehealth (assessment and rehabilitation) services where clinically appropriate. This coupled with continued in-person essential services allowed our most vulnerable people to remain in their homes and stay out of hospital.
What is the focus of your respective roles at Safer Care Victoria, the Ministry of Health and Geneva Health?
It’s a great role as I get to collaborate with the other Victorian Clinical Chiefs, such as the Chief Paramedic Officer, Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Nursing & Midwifery Officer, to try and find solutions that can improve the health outcomes for Victorians. We get to work closely with the divisions with the Department of Health as well as with the centres of clinical excellence, the improvement teams and the safety teams within Safer Care Victoria. My main focus is on helping to design a system that enables the best outcomes for our community. And we know that the evidence tells us that many clinical pathways have better outcomes if they include a greater allied health contribution.
To work with my medical and nursing colleagues in giving a clinical perspective within the Ministry. This is inclusive of providing Ministerial advice as well as liaising with the sector.
My role is to ensure we understand the needs of our communities, maintain local connections, and strengthen relationships so we can deploy allied health services that meet the needs of our people and whanau in these communities. It is about recognising the capability of our allied health professionals and the opportunities to positively affect health outcomes for everyone.
For people thinking about moving into allied health leadership roles what advice would you give based on your unique experience?
I would offer three tips:
- Be passionate about it. Holding management and leadership roles in our health system is an extremely honourable position to hold in the community. So it deserves passion. Be enthusiastic and deliberate about acquiring the competencies required to be a high performing health service manager. Don’t be passive and wait for someone to give you the training, go out and find opportunities to learn – both the theory and the practical.
- Be inclusive. The provision of healthcare is a team endeavour. It works best when we include a diverse range of thinking into our decision-making. In allied health, we have a saying: ‘stronger together’. I think that it’s critical that we use our leadership roles to advocate for the right workforce at the right point in the care pathway. It’s not about pushing others down to help us rise, it’s about working together to get the best outcomes for our community.
- Be at the table. It’s not always easy to get ‘a seat at the table’. Boards and Executives don’t necessarily understand the full contribution that allied health can make to the conversation.Whether it’s a patient case conference, a digital health committee, or an adverse event review committee; speak up and be a true member of the team.
Take advantage of opportunities as they present, keep building your skillset, and seek out a mentor or someone to help you on your journey. Don’t try to do it alone!
Know your communities, know your people and know your service users. Be human centric. Remain humble, authentic, passionate, values based, vision focused, and believe you can be part of a human and health care solution.
For people considering a career in health, in your view what makes allied health a meaningful choice?
I would highly recommend considering one of the many disciplines that fall under allied health. These roles can be intellectually challenging, as well as heart-warming. You get to make clinical decisions to help support someone’s treatment and ultimately improve their quality of life. It’s hugely rewarding. Plus you might get to work with bandsaws and plaster!
Simply put, the vast majority of the Allied Health professions get to walk with a person on their journey, it is not just a transaction.
What we do makes a difference in people’s lives. The focus is on recognising people’s capability and supporting them to live, belong, participate, and contribute within their whānau and community. We are a connected workforce made up of many parts – ensuring the best healthcare for people who access our services.
My journey has seen me work with people across the lifespan and across health, education, and commercial sectors. It never gets boring, it’s always about people, and it always feels meaningful.
What a privilege it is to love what you do.