Written by Dhanya Shri Vimalan

Access to allied health services is critical in addressing health inequality and improving health outcomes among regional and remote communities. The shortage of health professionals in Western Australia’s regions is a growing concern for many communities, so we spoke to Jeanette Gordon, a Curtin University physiotherapy graduate. She is big on bridging the gap between metro and rural areas.

Jeanette was born in South Africa and lived there for the first 11 years of her life. She attended Mount Barker Community College for her high school education and, upon graduation, moved up to Perth to study physiotherapy at Curtin University. In 2009, Jeanette and her family moved to Australia and made a home in Albany, where her family continues to farm to this day.

Jeanette says that enrolling in a physiotherapy degree at Curtin was not her first choice, but she is glad she did.

“In school, I was very set on getting into medicine, but unfortunately, I didn’t get the ATAR required in year 12 to go straight into medicine. I come from a big sporting and athletic background, and this influenced my decision to study physiotherapy. By my second or third year at Curtin, I really fell in love with it because, by the third year, we were more exposed to different placements in rural areas.”

Curtin has a key focus on developing the regional health workforce of WA and partners with organisations across the state to provide work-integrated learning opportunities for health sciences students in regional and remote areas.

Jeanette moved up to Perth from Albany when she was 17 years old, and being thrown into a new environment was difficult at first.

“In addition to studying at Curtin, I came up to play semi-professional soccer. Everyone was older than me, so when you’re new to an area, or club, or university, you want to start making friends, and it is hard when you are the young 17-year-old, and everyone is around you is 18 or older,” she says.

However, that did not stop her from networking and making new friends. Jeanette was fortunate to have a few of her friends from Albany move up to Perth with her, but she continued to expand her social circle and brought her love for connecting with others into her work in physiotherapy.

Jeanette believes that physiotherapy is more than just the physical treatment of the body. She takes a holistic approach to her treatment, and building a rapport is an important aspect of her patient care.

“If a person comes into my practice, the first thing I want to be able to do with them is to have a conversation and build a rapport. A lot of the time, people think we need to get straight into what their physical problem is, but we don’t always connect on an emotional level, so I am very big for connecting with people.”

Throughout her studies at Curtin, Jeanette has been given many opportunities to work in remote communities throughout WA, which has broadened her understanding of the need for health professionals in regional and remote areas.

“In my third and fourth year, we got to participate in five-week blocks of placements, and I had to chance to work at Northam Hospital, which is an hour outside of Perth. That was probably the hardest placement because it covered every single area of physiotherapy. At one stage, we were driving from Northam to a small town over 100 kilometres away because there was no physio in that town.”

Since graduating, Jeanette has been working at Body Smart Health Solutions as a physiotherapist, where she continues to help people both physically and mentally. She shares with us some advice from her experiences in both studying and being in the workforce.

“Firstly, if you don’t make it into your preferred degree in university, don’t give up; you never know, you might fall in love with something else. If you aspire to study something different, go for it. We have so many years on this earth, and it doesn’t matter how old you are, do what you want to do.”

“Secondly, if you have a chance, go out into the regions, especially Indigenous communities. I have volunteered in some of the most remote areas of Western Australia, and I have never regretted it.”

Jeanette will be moving to Wongan Hills later this year. She will be starting a physio-led Pilates group aimed at the older generation to continue improving people’s physical and mental health.