Today is World Physical Therapy Day – the international day celebrating physiotherapy and physiotherapists. This year’s focus is on rehabilitation after COVID.
We caught up with Board Chair Janice Mueller and asked her what that means in the context of Aotearoa New Zealand.
“We’ve continued to dodge a major bullet in terms of our COVID cases, which means we’re not looking at anything like the same need for acute-COVID treatment and post-COVID rehabilitation as other countries are.
“Physiotherapists in New Zealand are facing a different set of challenges – and because our scope is so broad these challenges are diverse. We’re seeing private practices come under incredible pressure due to simply not being able to see patients face to face under Level 3 and 4, but at the same time DHB physiotherapists are facing very high demand volumes as DHBs try to clear the backlog of elective surgery.
“And then there are our colleagues in education who are trying to maintain good clinical placements for their students and ways to support them.”
There has been light at the end of the tunnel, however, with the profession rising to the challenge.
“Through the COVID response we’ve seen a real sense of community in the profession with people looking out for each other and working together to get though. Now we’re seeing private practices looking to rebuild and many are adapting, with changes in our workforce flowing through.
“Part of that has been the adoption of telehealth, which is also a theme in this year’s day, and part of it is thinking about how to adapt. We’re not going to see a return to pre-COVID business as usual for at least another couple of years, so we can find different ways to work within that context.
“At the Board we’re definitely engaged in a conversation with the profession and with the Ministry about what work under a future Level 3 might look like now we’ve seen it in place twice, as well as what works at other levels.
“In the longer term we’re waiting to see what the profession looks like post-COVID. For example, are a significant number of people who had left the profession returning? We’re seeing a lot of expat Kiwis coming back and bringing new skills more generally – is this happening in our profession?
“In the short term it’s likely more recent graduates will stay in the country because the traditional new grad OE isn’t available to them. We’re seeing fewer overseas registrations, but with Aotearoa New Zealand looking like a safe haven from the pandemic, there’s likely going to be real interest in coming here long term.
“This is all going to shape the future of the profession and we’re starting to grapple with what that will look like. I’m looking forward to our strategic planning conversation in October, and the 2020/21 workforce survey is certainly going to provide some fascinating insights.
“But back in the here and now, I can only say that this is a good day to celebrate our profession. We’ve seen physiotherapists really step up to the challenges of the COVID response as practitioners and as health professionals. Our collective response has made me very proud to be a physiotherapist and part of our profession.”