Physiotherapy NZ Conference 2022: My Curious Reflections

As the fragrant aroma clears and before the memories fade, I thought I would share my thoughts and reflections on my inaugural physiotherapy NZ conference.

Rotorua was the venue for the 2022 Physiotherapy conference, and in a true fashion, I hadn’t intended on going.  In the 10 years, I have resided in New Zealand, I’ve never really been inspired to attend. I respectfully appreciate that comment comes across as a very myopic position. Yet, I was surprised by the number of conversations I had with other physiotherapists who also admitted it was their first time.

My relationship with (musculoskeletal) physiotherapy, and I say this without equivocation, has been bittersweet. So, when I lost the coin toss to not represent the company I work for at the conference, rather than begrudgingly attending, I sat back and reflected on the potential opportunities that could be cultivated from being presented at such an event. I have to say that the conference certainly did not disappoint! 

Before I back myself further into a corner, I wish to express that I thoroughly enjoyed the four days. The presentations, the people, the organization, the camaraderie, and the conversations propagated sparks of curiosity that danced in the air, like a butterfly flitting from flower to flower, pollinating ideas where ever it landed.

The highlights

Since graduating from physiotherapy school, my area of clinical interest has been pain and pain management. Prior to being a physiotherapist, I was a sports coach/exercise physiologist/sports therapist, and have maintained my interest and reading in those areas as they have been fundamental as a foundation for integrating exercise into my pain work and my current role as a clinical lead, mentor and supervisor. So, it was great to see the usual suspects from the pain world delivering their presentations on the most up-to-date research in the field. And yet, I do not regard this as innovative or even bleeding edge physiotherapy. This is furthering a particular field in the physiotherapy profession, and as the evidence continues to expand in this area, we can see the overlap of those sub-categories (pain, exercise, manual therapy, tendinopathy, OA etc) within musculoskeletal physiotherapy.

In a world before, but perpetuated by the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a seismic shift in the trust that patients have in their healthcare professionals. That by virtue, healthcare professionals believe that qualifications are sufficient to earn trust in their patients. This is an incorrect assumption by healthcare professionals as evident in the multitude of qualitative research that demonstrates the importance and impact of developing therapeutic relationships and maintaining engagement. What I like to refer to simply as “being human” with someone.

Closer to home are the health inequities and inequalities for Maori and Pasifika that have endured since the colonization of Aotearoa, New Zealand.

The marquee speaker Jennifer Ward-Lealand delivered an energetic and engaging talk about her dedication to learning and promoting the importance of Te Reo Maori in New Zealand. I managed to have a moment with Jennifer to share my reflections on her talk and how I interpreted what felt inherent in her journey translates into an inherence in physiotherapy. Humility and curiosity drove Jennifer toward cultivating what felt inherent in her. Like the Titi (muttonbird), Jennifer remained focused and committed to returning to her youth, re-igniting the embers of her Te Reo Maori education. Her mention of nature and connection with the land and people got me thinking about the word physiotherapy.

If you were to explore the etymology of the word physiotherapy, you would see that it is divided into “physio-“ and “therapy.” Therapy is the term for “medical treatment of disease.” More interestingly is the word physio or physios as used in ancient Greece. Physio- is a word-forming element meaning “nature, natural, physical.” Isn’t it interesting that modern-day physiotherapy up until recently, only ever embraced the physical meaning of the word physios. Surely then can physiotherapy be embracing not just the physical body, but the social body, the cultural body, the natural body?

I was inspired by Ricky Bells’ talk – his brave and emotional presentation on ‘The Intersection of racism and equity in Aotearoa New Zealand.’ A topic that could be deemed taboo, yet Ricky (and I admire, respect, and support his position) believes that our profession is mature enough to have these conversations. And it can start with a simple act of asking how to pronounce someone’s name. This simple gesture can have a profound impact on the relationship physiotherapists develop with Maori and Pasifika populations.

Talks from Oka Sanerivi and Ulima Tofi, sharing their research into the impact colonization has had upon the silenced voices of indigenous cultures and how that impact has flowed through into healthcare for generations of Maori and Pasifika populations. These were truly inspiring, and what can be regarded as the bleeding edge of physiotherapy. Our profession has been built upon a solid foundation of western hegemonic medicine, adopting western analytic philosophy as its foundation for the scientific method and evidence-based medicine. This is not an attempt to chastise or discredit this method of investigation or inquiry, yet at the time of colonization European settlers believed that western medicine, imposed upon indigenous cultures, was bringing the gift of new ways of life, with a hegemonic decree of superior treatment. This message also brought oppression and racism, and other forms of marginalization. The philosophy of logical positivism, which can be associated with philosophers such as David Hume and Bertrand Russell has cemented the foundation for modern-day evidence-based physiotherapy. Yet, how can there be clear-cut logic in evidence-based physiotherapy about Maori and Pasifika when there is a lack of economic support, access to healthcare, and understanding of their healthcare needs. I praise the increasing economic support for healthcare for Maori and Pasifika.

Like all conferences, you can’t beat a good shoulder rub with colleagues – clinicians, academics, peers, business, regulatory, and government officials. The conversations were certainly in full flow. There was a real sense in the air that people were craving a korero away from the laptop, tablet, or mobile phone.

I want to thank physiotherapy New Zealand for a better-than-expected conference. The diverse, engaging, and inspiring presentations were a real highlight. I suspect I will descend upon the next Physiotherapy NZ conference in two years’ time.

Thanks for having a read

TNP.

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