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June / Pipiri 2020

Message from the Dean

physio_thumbnail. Leigh Hale  2017We welcome you to this June 2020 edition of our Alumni newsletter.

What an extraordinary and challenging first half of 2020 it has been.

The School of Physiotherapy has, so far, successfully navigated the unprecedented times presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

What an extraordinary and challenging first half of 2020 it has been ...

Message from the Dean of the School of Physiotherapy for June 2020

The School of Physiotherapy has, so far, successfully navigated the unprecedented times presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The University of Otago’s approach to the situation has been guided by the principles of supporting students and preserving jobs. A week after the country went into Level 4 lockdown, all our staff had transitioned to working at home and academic staff were teaching online or providing Telehealth to our patients.

Under Levels 4 down to 2, we accomplished: Teaching all our Semester 1 undergraduate and postgraduate papers online. We did reorganize our undergraduate curriculum by moving our theoretical teaching to Semester 1 (we will teach our practical skills in Semester 2). Anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and pathology were also all taught online. There are no practical assessments at the end of Semester 1. Students will do online theoretical assessments or have had to submit written assignments. All clinical placements were of course suspended. Our second-year students will likely continue to do online clinical learning activities in Semester 2. We hope to have our third years doing more, albeit, limited clinical interactions as appropriate placements become available for them. Our 4th years had completed rotation one (of five) when we went into lockdown. The majority of students then undertook their group research projects during the lockdown period. Those who had completed their research in their first rotation paired with our clinical staff to do supervised Telehealth appointments. We resume our 4th-year clinical placements on June 8, with some modifications to our normal processes. We are hopeful that all 4th-year students will have the opportunity to reach clinical competency by the end of the year in time for the December graduation.

Our Clinics in Dunedin and Christchurch provided a Telehealth service during the lockdown. Fortunately, we had been developing our Telehealth service since 2018, and had already started offering it at the end of 2019. With Level 2 we are slowly opening up our clinics to more face-to-face appointments, whilst maintaining our Telehealth Programme.

Research in the School has continued with appropriate activities such as literature reviews, grant applications, and writing for publication. Our Graduate research students have also been able to progress their research. Twice weekly informal Zoom sessions have created a community of practice that has been supportive and informative for our graduate research students. We even had doctoral student, Carrie Falling successfully defend her Ph.D. in an oral examination while under lockdown. Well done Carrie!

Amongst all this activity, all the usual, and not so usual, administrative background tasks continued, including the preparation of our self-review document for the University’s eight-year review of our School which will take place in July. While our nation’s team of 5 million battled the invasion of COVID-19, our School team of 60 maintained our teaching, clinical, and research programme. We all pulled together and supported each other. It has been stressful and hard work but we have also had some laughs and got to know our local neighbourhoods and each other‘s homes and children and pets (via Zoom) better.

Of special note, one of our School’s Senior Lecturers, Dr. Meredith Perry, was seconded as part of a University of Otago Health Division team to work in the Ministry of Health on the COVID-19 response for the disability sector. Director-General of Health Dr. Ashley Bloomfield wrote to the University acknowledging the valuable work of this team during the pandemic, saying that their contribution had been nothing short of outstanding and had included: providing clinical advice on a range of disability-related issues; representing the Ministry on the All of Government vulnerable populations welfare work-stream; providing advice to support tāngata whaikaha (Māori disabled); setting up a sector insights, content development and accessible formats team for communications with the disabled; and developing clinical guidelines for responding to patients with an intellectual disability. I am sure you will all join me in thanking our fantastic staff at the School of Physiotherapy.

As the Dean, I am very proud of all our staff – from our research, client services, financial, and health and safety professional teams to our academics. We have got through Semester 1 and are now planning for Semester 2. May Level 1 come soon!

I would also like to acknowledge Associate Professor Hilda Mulligan who retired in April of this year after 25 years. Thank you, Hilda, for your significant contribution to the School and all the very best in your retirement.

Leigh Hale, Dean, School of Physiotherapy

News from the School

The moment young Hilda Mulligan stepped down from the Capetown train in February 1971 she grasped the meaning of the term 'in the deep end'.

Fast forward 30 years, and physiotherapist and educator Dr. Hilda Mulligan reflects on her rewarding career in physiotherapy.

Read our detailed brief interview with Hilda

News from the Clinics

Public welcomed back to face-to-face physiotherapy clinics

New Zealand's move to COVID-19 Alert Level 2 means many University of Otago health clinics are now re-opening to the public.

Our physiotherapy clinics have begun opening their doors to varying degrees for public face-to-face appointments as the move to Level 1 appears likely.

Telehealth extends reach of physiotherapy clinics

School of Physiotherapy Clinics are fortunate to have already made considerable progress with online delivery of clinical advice well in advance of the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020.

Telehealth involves the use of information and communication technologies to deliver healthcare when patients and care providers are not in the same physical location.

Access to physiotherapy and clinical advice will, in future, be usefully supplemented by commonly available digital technologies and our acting director of clinics Matt Dick outlines progress in this university Bulletin article ...

Meet the staff

New Zealand has an aging population.

Can physiotherapy maintain its well earned reputation when faced with growing numbers of older patients and limited resources?

There are compelling questions for the School of Physiotherapy's 'new' lecturer Ally Calder.

Introducing Ally Calder

Physiotherapist and clinical educator

In line with most Western nations, New Zealand has an aging population.

While many of us are enjoying longer active lives and lifestyles, health statistics reveal challenges in store for physiotherapists and other health professionals.

Can the profession of physiotherapy sustain and grow its well-earned reputation for effective personalised 'hands-on' clinical work when faced with growing demand, limited resources, and an increase in complex co-morbidities?

These are compelling questions for health sector researchers at the University of Otago such as the School of Physiotherapy's Ally Calder.

Ally, who grew up in Napier in the Hawkes Bay enjoyed the sciences and, encouraged by both parents completed first-year papers at Massey in cell biology, plant biology, maths, chemistry, and physics.

The experience of a family member with Parkinson's prompted Ally to develop an interest in human health and physiology. Her strong dislike of blood and needles meant that nursing and medicine were out of bounds.

Embodied approaches

The structured, methodical “body as a machine” approach of New Zealand physiotherapy education in the 1990s suited Ally's way of thinking.

After registration, she headed for Masterton in the Wairarapa to join a small team of physiotherapists, and was at once challenged to think 'on her feet', particularly when treating patients injured in the physical work of farming and forestry.

Physiotherapy today has moved away from the “body as machine” model and takes a more holistic approach.

Ally credits one experience for her own move from a prescriptive therapist-patient viewpoint to one which acknowledges the myriad societal, cultural and environmental factors which shape each individual.

She recalls a stroke patient sustained throughout rehabilitation by his love of windsurfing. Each day Ally would find him practicing familiar moves such as stepping on and off the board and hoisting the sail. It seemed that windsurfing held more appeal for the patient than gym work and after some reflection, Ally began a measured shift in her practice to one in which therapist, patient, whanau and support people collaborate to set relevant and meaningful goals for the patient.

Practical answers

Life expectancy has advanced faster than health expectancy in New Zealand, which means that those aging experience more of their lives with health concerns. Ally's research identifies and investigates key factors associated with these realities and seeks practical solutions.

Ally Calder graduation pic with HM and GSLonger-term health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and associated neurological issues increase the rate of falls, some of which result in head injuries. Neurological disorders (which include dementia) are one of the main causes of morbidity and health loss in people aged 40 and over.

In particular, stroke is currently the leading cause of permanent disability in New Zealand, and while medical technology may help subdue the worst effects of stroke, Ally's investigations indicate that a strong cultural change is also necessary within the physiotherapy profession. Research-led thinking about goal setting in rehabilitation suggests that a more participatory approach in which therapists work alongside patients in ways that reflect the individual's specific interests may improve clinical outcomes.

For example, a keen golfer who has experienced a stroke might, with the help of a well-prepared therapist, adapt their favourite sport to better rehabilitate body and mind.

Ally (pictured centre) knows that while collaborative goal setting is effective it is not always easy in practice so the therapist must place the patient at the heart of all treatment regimes, and also take into account both the family’s expectations and constraints inherent in our current health system.

Issues of equity

Ally's recent research also relates to the well-being of the aging and disabled in our communities. She studies current social and physical barriers to participation in exercise and physical activity and has found that while access to fitness centres is a priority concern for many, the issue has to date received scant attention from owners and operators.

Data from the US has helped Ally set benchmarks for the accessibility of fitness centres and a series of revised standards - if implemented - will result in more inclusive communities for active and engaged citizens with different abilities. To be effective, these new standards need to be based on principles of universal design and must be 'hard-wired' into our building codes at the concept stage.

While dedicated physiotherapists face daily clinical challenges, the growing acceptance of more holistic approaches to rehabilitation and neurorehabilitation brings new opportunities.

If physiotherapy is to continue to offer personalised 'hands-on' treatments in the face of growing complexity, high quality information must be gathered and acted upon. Informed research by Ally Calder and her contemporaries at Otago will help the profession face such challenges and build strong foundations, to advance high quality clinical practice in our communities.

Student stories

Our annual School of Physiotherapy badge ceremony involves a degree of gravitas.

The event helps deepen our Year 2 students' understandings of the professional aspects of physiotherapy.

Read about this years' badge ceremony

Research highlights

Research and knowledge transfer are key to activities at the School of Physiotherapy.

The busy first months of 2020 were followed by the onset of Covid-19 which has meant a number of unexpected challenges for our research teams.

Associate Professor Gisela Sole organised the  'Shoulder360: Navigating between clinical practice and research' symposium in January. Around 80 took part in Dunedin and online, and we were delighted to welcome international research visitors Associate Professor Craig Wassinger from East Tennessee State University in the US and Jean-Sebastien Roy from Laval University in Canada to the School.

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Shoulder360 attendees Associate Professor Craig Wassinger, Hamish Osborne, Associate Professor Jean-Sébastien Roy, Associate Professor Gisela Sole, Angela Cadogan and Margie Olds

Find out more about CHARR research advances in early 2020

Alumni stories

Forestry in New Zealand can be a tough business which registers many injuries and some fatalities each year.

Otago educated physiotherapist Mark Shirley is an intern director at City Forests and his professional input may help improve the health and safety of workers.

Read about Mark's pathways to innovative practice in detail

History notes

physio_christine arthur class of 57 in parkThe Otago physiotherapy Class of 1957 holds the 'gilded' trophy for staging the most reunions since graduation.

They got together again for a lively time in Wellington in February 2020 and Kris Arthur (pictured) again proudly modeled her original physio blazer.

And, after a decade of dedicated work in New Zealand and elsewhere the Class of 2009 agreed to gather in 2020 at the legendary Captain Cook in Dunedin.

They share their stories with us


It is with sadness that we recall the passing of Jocelyn (Jo) Scrymgeour née Wright who graduated from the New Zealand School of Physiotherapy in 1958.

Our brief tribute to Jo is on our alumni tributes page

Keep in touch

As University of Otago and School of Physiotherapy alumni – you are part of a rich and diverse world wide community.

Stay connected to continue a rewarding relationship with your University, your fellow Otago alumni and the School.

Planning an event or organising a class reunion? We can offer help, and encouragement with logistics and planning.

If you would like to receive regular news from Otago alumni, ensure your contact details are up to date by contacting the alumni office:


You can follow the School of Physiotherapy on Twitter here: @physiOtago

Follow research activity at the School on Twitter here: @OtagoCHARR

Please do keep in touch.


Lawrence, R. (2005). Branding terroir in the ′New World′: Modes of representation in the wine industry. In P. Sorrell, C. Ozcan, E. Kocabiyik & Z. T. Ultav (Eds.), Proceedings of the IST Product and Service Design Symposium and Exhibition on Agricultural Industries. Izmir, Turkey: Izmir University of Economics. [Full Paper]

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