Changing Landscapes: The Advanced Generalist; Improving career structure for rural physiotherapists

Ms Kelly Thurlow1

1University Of Newcastle Department Of Rural Health , Taree, Australia, 2Manning Rural referral Hospital , Taree, Australia


The scope of physiotherapy practice in rural and remote areas has potential for workforce change. Rural and remote physiotherapists are seen as specialist generalist, with clinical skills required for them to work across a wide variety of conditions and across the lifespan. However, there is often a lack of career advancement for the rural health professionals.
There is strong evidence that advanced practice physiotherapy (APP) roles in the emergency department (ED) can improve service, performance, patient and staff satisfaction, and decrease waiting times. APA in rural areas could enhance both service delivery and provide a training pathway for career advancement.

An advanced practice physiotherapy role employed under the University of Newcastle Department of Rural Health, provided a service to the Emergency Department at a Rural Referral Hospital.
Data was collected over a 6 month period from the physiotherapy service looked at the number of patients in triage Category 3-5, seen as a primary contact role meeting the national four hour timeframe.

Results: Category 3 42 patients seen and 64% within the 4 hours
Category 4 144 patients seen 87% within the 4 hours
Catergory 5 133 patients seen 92% within the 4 hours

Over all advanced practice, roles within physiotherapy can improve outcomes for a Rural Referral Hospital. Additionally the benefits for the physiotherapist is to improve career pathway and role recognition, increase in workplace satisfaction and acknowledged an improvement in their own core
skill base and this, is an important factor in this development of a career role.


Kelly Thurlow graduated from the University of Sydney in 1996 with a Bachelor of Health Science (Physiotherapy). Kelly has been an advocate for Rural and Remote health for many years working in rural facilities in Far North Queensland and providing mentoring for new graduates in remote locations such as Thursday Island. She has additionally worked on large state-wide projects looking at workforce such as the HP redesign for Queensland Health as the rural and remote representative, as well as previously being on the APA Rural issues Committee
For the past 9 years Kelly has worked as a lecturer with the University Of Newcastle Department Of Rural Health located in Taree NSW. Part of her role involves clinical supervision for undergraduate students undertaking placement in the Emergency Department at Manning Rural Referral Hospital, providing over 65 student teaching weeks per year.
Her interests remain around advocacy for rural and remote health and the advanced practice models of workforce re design. She is keen to see the development and application of advanced scope roles across the physiotherapy workforce and development of formalized and Australia wide training pathways.