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Finger on the pulse: University of Southern Queensland responding to growing healthcare needs

A woman standing with two men.
Associate Head of School (Allied Health) Associate Professor Stephen Bird with students Bonnie Whitney and Samson Juju.

Responding to current challenges and opportunities facing the health sector is a key component of the University of Southern Queensland’s strategy for building a better future for its communities. Launching its new allied health and wellbeing degrees – a rapidly growing part of Australia’s health workforce – is set to provide a vital shot in the arm to local regions.

Four new allied health and wellbeing degrees will be introduced in 2023, allowing students to pursue studies in occupational therapy, speech pathology, social work and strength and conditioning, while physiotherapy is among the new degrees that will be offered in 2024.

Each degree will include a regional and rural focus to create an expanded pipeline of skilled health professionals and greater access to care for patients in local communities.

“The addition of these new specialisations is exciting news for our students and communities,” Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic Affairs) Professor Glen Coleman said.

“We already have a broad range of allied health and wellbeing degrees that connect local students with study and training opportunities, making them job-ready to meet local workforce needs.

“Supporting and increasing the number of people in our health workforce is a high priority for us.

“By investing in more programs, we’re on our way to seeing hundreds of new health workers put their ambition into action.”

Allied health professionals, who represent almost a third of Australia’s healthcare workforce, apply specific clinical skills to diagnose, assess, treat, manage and prevent illness and injury in primary health care and other sectors like disability, aged care, education and social services.

In addition to learning from industry-connected lecturers actively contributing to their fields, University of Southern Queensland students gain real-world skills and interdisciplinary experience, preparing them for a collaborative, client-centred approach to health care.

Associate Head of School (Allied Health) Associate Professor Stephen Bird said the longstanding impact of COVID-19 combined with an ageing population meant allied health careers were more in demand than ever before.

“Heavy workloads caused partly by the COVID-19 pandemic and an increase in chronic diseases have pushed the healthcare system to the brink,” Associate Professor Bird said.

“Training skilled workers in a range of allied health occupations that can assist patients with chronic disease and complex health conditions can not only ease the strain on the system but ensure its long-term sustainability.”

Connecting education, research and innovation with regional Australia’s needs continue to be a focus for the University – and Professor Coleman said the new degrees would meet the booming demand for health professionals and help reduce the healthcare gap in rural and remote communities.

“There is a severe and longstanding shortage of health professionals in regional areas, which directly impacts the level of access people have to essential services and contributes to poorer health outcomes and life expectancy,” he said.

“Having forged strong community and industry partnerships and undertaking world-leading research in health, we’re perfectly placed to educate our passionate health professionals of tomorrow and bolster the healthcare workforce.”

More than 100 students are expected to enrol across the four new degrees in the first year, with as many as 1200 students studying in these fields by 2026.

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New degree information:

Occupational Therapy

  • Occupational therapists work with individual clients and families to enable them to do the daily activities or occupations that are important in their lives.
  • Occupational therapy is one of the fastest-growing registered health professions in Australia.

Speech Pathology

  • Speech pathologists study, diagnose and treat communication disorders, including difficulties with speaking, listening, understanding language, reading, writing, social skills, stuttering and using voice.
  • They also assess and treat individuals with swallowing disorders.

Social Work

  • Social workers focus on strengthening human relationships, promoting wellbeing, and validating the importance of human rights and social justice.
  • They draw upon critical inquiry, embrace and celebrate diversity and difference, social inclusion, democracy, and professional integrity.
  • They actively work with and alongside individuals, families, and communities, co-developing and advocating for systemic changes in search of a socially just society.

Strength and Conditioning

  • Strength and conditioning professionals work within high-performance settings such as sports schools, youth athlete development programs, academies and institutes of sport, law enforcement, military and rescue professions, and collegiate athletic departments, or work within community sport and recreation programs that specialise in strength and conditioning science and physical preparation optimisation.
  • They specialise in physical preparation or reconditioning programs for high-performing individuals to optimise movement potential through assessment, individualised programming, and readiness monitoring.
  • Along with providing evidence-based practice, strength and conditioning professionals provide education on recovery modalities and prevention strategies.