Allied health courses equip regional students for COVID-19 care needs

Did you know allied health professionals make up the second largest workforce in Australia’s healthcare system after nurses? And they perform an important role in the recovery of people with COVID-19.

La Trobe Rural Health School Associate Professor Carol McKinstry says with one in 10 of those with Long COVID expected to have symptoms for 12 weeks or longer, allied health professionals will be vital to their rehabilitation.

“People with Long COVID-19 may need rehabilitation in areas of cognitive impairment, such as problems with concentration, memory and problem solving, as well as physical deconditioning, respiratory impairment, swallow difficulties, communication impairment and challenges in completing daily activities,” Carol (pictured here) says.

That’s where physiotherapists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, social workers and exercise physiologists come to the fore.

“They provide essential services to people experiencing disability, chronic illness and a wide range of other issues affecting health and wellbeing,” Carol says.

La Trobe Rural Health School is working to boost the numbers of allied health professionals in rural and regional Australia and equip them with skills to meet the challenges of the pandemic and beyond. This includes specific training in telehealth services, which Carol says have been embraced by allied health professionals during lockdowns.

“The La Trobe Rural Health School is the largest of its kind in Australia, and offers courses in physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech pathology, social work, exercise science and exercise physiology at one or more of our regional campuses,” Carol says.

Students use equipment in the Bendigo Campus Exercise Physiology lab.

“With workforce shortages of allied health professionals in rural areas, we aim to recruit local students into our courses, enabling them to complete their studies close to home and provide quality practical experience with local health and community services in the regions.”

As a result, the majority of graduates proceed to work across regional and rural areas, helping to address workforce shortages.

Carol says La Trobe’s allied health alumni go on to work in hospitals, aged care homes, education, social services, mental health services and rehabilitation.

“They use evidence-informed practices when working with people to prevent, diagnose and treat various conditions and illnesses,” she says. “And they work with other health professionals in teams to provide specialised support to suit an individual’s needs.”

She says the pandemic has had a two-fold effect on the demand for their skills. “There is also an increased demand for rehabilitation services due to increased complex needs of people whose healthcare was put on hold during the pandemic, and the ongoing need for rehabilitation and reconditioning in aged care and veterans’ services.”

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