A Life in Practice

Ask our Professional Advisor Cheryl Hefford what the most memorable moment of her career has been and her words just flow.

“As a physiotherapist I’ve treated pregnant mothers and newborn babies, people in the last days of their lives, and everything in between. I’ve worked clinically in five countries, in hospitals, private practice, the military, and University. I’ve worked non-clinically for the Board and voluntarily for PNZ and the McKenzie Institute. Out of all this I cannot pick a few most memorable moments – there have been too many. Helping people restore function from being in a coma to return to work is very rewarding. Helping a sports person achieve their lifetime dream, helping provide people with optimal outcomes for those whose dreams have been shattered, and providing instant relief for people in severe pain and giving them the means to treat themselves are all part of the job that physios out there do every day.”

Cheryl’s been a physiotherapist for fifty years, the last 20 of which have been with the Board, first as a contractor and then as our first ever Professional Advisor. Now after a career that has spanned changes including the introduction of ACC, and training becoming a four year university degree, she is retiring from practice.

“There haven’t really been low-points,” says Cheryl, “but there have been a lot of great experiences, and they’ve been all to do with the people. It’s a profession that’s about people - I have met some wonderful people as patients. With their various conditions or injuries they have taught me everything I know clinically. I have treated princes and paupers, and people from all walks of life and many different cultures. It is a huge honour.

“We also have amazing colleagues in physiotherapy. I have been fortunate enough to have known, and in many cases learnt directly from some of the best, such as Robin McKenzie and Brian Mulligan. I have seen a number of my junior colleagues and students reach great heights in the profession over the years and to this day I have had the pleasure of working alongside great colleagues with great minds.”

Of course over such a long and varied career Cheryl’s seen plenty of change in the profession. Her top three are the introduction of ACC which led to the growth of private musculoskeletal practice; the increased rigor and professionalism that came with the introduction of the degree qualification; and, as with so many other professions, the internet. “As a result of all these things I think physiotherapists have become better practitioners. They are more informed, better able to engage in critical thinking, more aware of ethics and patient rights, and know how to keep better patient records.”

Having so much change in the profession to look back on, Cheryl is in a unique position to look forward. “I think as a profession we need to embrace the development of greater roles in primary care and inter-professional practice which will contribute to improving access to healthcare. Physiotherapists are uniquely placed to make a huge contribution to the management and prevention of the non-communicable diseases that threaten our aging population.
“But also, physiotherapy is a female dominated profession and as such their pay equity with other professions with a similar level of qualification is poor. The success of our health system should not rely on perpetuating this discrepancy.

“And technology, including telehealth, has a lot to offer including allowing opportunities for reaching people who might not otherwise have access to physiotherapy. There are exciting developments in artificial intelligence new technologies which open up new ways of doing things that I can’t even yet imagine.”

Given the extraordinary contribution Cheryl has made to the profession, the question is what now? Her answer is a typically modest understatement. “No idea. Definitely more family time.”