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The important role of physiotherapy in reconciliation

The important role of physiotherapy in reconciliat
Photo: The important role of physiotherapy in reconciliation
Growing up in the Western suburbs of Sydney, Indigenous man, Scott Willis’ ambition was discouraged by schoolteachers, who told him he’d never reach his goal of becoming a physiotherapist.

A goal born of a childhood knee injury, which opened his eyes to the unique importance of the profession.

“It really opened my eyes into what the physiotherapy profession looks like, how it intersects in so many different areas, and how rewarding it would be to be part of a health profession.”

Today, Mr Willis is the Nation al President of the Australian Physiotherapist Association.

But getting there wasn’t an easy path to travel.

Mr Willis worked three jobs while studying at university to help his family meet their financial obligations, and had access to limited resources to assist him.
He says the stigma of coming from a low socioeconomic area, and having an Indigenous background created additional barriers, however he worked hard to overcome them, moving to Tasmania to secure a new graduate physiotherapy position.

“I was not overly smart, but my work ethic made up for it and continues to do so.”

Mr Willis’ life experiences have culminated into a combined passion for both physiotherapy and reconciliation, along with the role in which his professional can play in closing the health gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“Reconciliation is evident and relative to every profession and industry. It’s part of who we are as a nation, and will continue to be part of our journey of healing,” he says.

“Physiotherapy is a large part of any patient’s health recovery, irrespective of their heritage and should be accessible to all.

“Physiotherapy extends beyond that of treating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and we want all physiotherapists to understand their role in reconciliation and be motivated to make a difference, regardless of whether they work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

“We as health professionals have the opportunity to educate and guide our patients/consumers on their own path of discovery, education and journey on indigenous issues.”

Mr Willis says while the profession is on the right path with many initiatives already in place, there is always room for improvement.  we can always do better.

“Until the health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians is closed, our work is not done.

“Making a difference in the physiotherapy profession, our everyday life and each and every conversation we have with others, is vital to continue the work we have already done, and hold us in good stead for the journey to come.”

Mr Willis says he’d love to see more Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people becoming physiotherapists, to the benefit of both the individuals and the community at large.
“I think the values that my family instilled into me about respect, empathy, team work, work ethic, treating everyone politely, having good manners, and never judging others, has made me a leader that listens, respects all aspects, never judges and has empathy for all. 

“A profession like physiotherapy has given me so many opportunities to assist, contribute and guide communities for the betterment of the country, and learn so much about myself, about my past, about my indigenous background and assist me in my own personal journey of reconciliation.”

Reconciliation is a journey for all Australians, says Mr Willis, but will take time for everyone to understand.

“I am on my own journey of discovery of my culture, my family, and my childhood and where I can make a difference and value add to reconciliation. 

“As a health professional, I hope to assist in closing the gap, reducing racism through education, promoting the importance of our indigenous past and future, and how our past mistakes are not ever seen again in this country, is very important.”

As a physiotherapist, Mr Willis hopes to see funders, consumers, other health professionals, and the community to understand the full benefits that physiotherapy can have on their life, on their daily activities, on their ‘back pocket’, and on the health budget. 

“In terms of reconciliation, I feel I have the platform to assist everyone on their own personal journey by educating, holding their hand and guiding them through some of the perceptions, barriers, ideas and biases, and turning them into a positive view that can assist them to navigate our indigenous past and future.”

As part of the APA’s commitment toward Reconciliation and Closing the Gap, it has created a new podcast series, The Deadly Physios, which can be accessed via Apple Podcasts , Spotify or on the APA website.

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.