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Written By

Bianca de Loryn


College of Healthcare Sciences

Publish Date

14 June 2021

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Graduate placement in Gayndah, Queensland

In her seven years as a physiotherapist, Rachel Pennisi has seen the many sides of Queensland: she worked in a rural community like Gayndah, in an outer-regional town like Ingham and in the busy Townsville University Hospital. In this interview, Rachel explains to us why she loved working in all of these places.

After studying the Bachelor of Physiotherapy at JCU Townsville, you moved to Gayndah, a rural Queensland community about 2 hours West of Bundaberg for your graduate placement. What was it like to work there?

There were three physios in Gayndah when I first started, so we had different hospitals that we’d outreach to and then we’d rotate to the opposite ones. We were based in Gayndah and covered rural towns like Childers, Gin Gin, Biggenden, Monto, Eidsvold and Mundubbera.

One day a week, we’d all be based in Gayndah, the next day I would be somewhere else and so on. The furthest we travelled was Monto, which was about two hours one-way. A large part of your day is spent in the car. Bundaberg was our main referring tertiary hospital. I would go there once a month or once every two months for upskilling.

What was it like to live in a rural area like Gayndah?

Gayndah itself is a 'happening' little town. They’ve got a lot of tourists that come during picking seasons for picking oranges and mandarins. The town kind of comes alive between May and August. As a young person, it's a really fun place to live.

Picking oranges (left), enjoying life after work (right), Photographs: Shutterstock

Working hard in Townsville's busy Physio ward

After leaving Gayndah, you worked as a physio in the Townsville University Hospital. What was it like compared to a rural location like Gayndah?

That was quite an eye opener. I hadn't done any work in a tertiary hospital other than Bundaberg and Brisbane for a few days here and there, so it was a bit of a culture shock. For once, the number of physios, two, the specialty areas, and three, just the pace of the hospital. The first three months I was just running off sheer will and coffee.

It was a steep learning curve, coming from being very self-directed in Gayndah. In Gayndah, you had quite big downtimes in your day. You were either driving or being the passenger.

Did  you settle  in quickly in Townsville?

In Townsville, you had to go into crazy busy wards of all ages, doing on-call work, working in ICU (intensive care). So, the first three months was a bit of a blur. After that, I settled in.

I loved it in Townsville. I loved rehab and particularly the sub-acute unit. People are in sub-acute when they have been medically stable, and they just need to be in hospital purely from a rehab perspective, to get them back to their usual function.

What did you like most during the five years you were based at Townsville University Hospital?

In the Sub-acute Unit, there is a split between geriatrics and straight rehabs, with two separate medical teams. So, you get a nice mix with a strong allied health focus. I would often say, when I had students there or new grads in Townsville, “This is where allied health shines.” This is where we do great things for people. They come in, unable to walk, and they leave walking on their own, which is pretty awesome.

I loved working in rehab in Townsville, because the team was great, the facility was great. As a hospital, North Queensland should be really proud of it. It is a great hospital to work in.

Townsville University Hospital

Home at last: Working as a physio in Ingham, Queensland

In 2019, you moved to your hometown of Ingham, an outer-regional town about 2 hours north of Townsville, with a 28-bed hospital. Why did you make the move?

It was time to move, and my partner was here in Ingham. He and I are co-owners of Brick’s and Penny’s cafĂ© in Ingham. We’re open quite early because it's within the Ingham Health Hub complex, so there's a gym in there as well.  That’s the personal element to this.

How many physio patients do you generally have in Ingham?

Sometimes I can have a ward of 10 to 15 patients. Some are just in for acute reasons like a chest infection or a fall with no injury. Earlier this year, in March, I had six rehab patients at one time plus acute patients.

I do outpatients as well. For example, people who have had knee replacements, people who have fractures, people who need shoulder surgery. We are also preventing people from needing surgeries. We have GP referrals for acute things as well.

What makes Ingham special?

Of course, family.  My parents and my grandparents live here. I love having family close by, and a good friendship network.

The hospital itself is amazing. We've got a really amazing team here, and I think anyone looking from the outside in will agree that as a hospital unit, everyone works really well together. They are here for the community. They don't have just the work, that’s also a big draw card. Being a smaller hospital, you need to be a community.

The environment around Ingham is pretty awesome as well, like the islands and the beaches, minus crocodiles and the stingers! We've got beautiful hikes around here. There is always something to do on the weekends, other than when it's raining. Lovely cafes and places to eat, the lifestyle is really great as well.

Rachel Pennisi
Physio patient
Photograph: Rachel Pennisi at work in Ingham (left), Shutterstock (right)

Lessons learned: When it pays off to be social

As a physio, is there something that you wish you'd known earlier?

I wish I would have networked better at university. Communicating and networking with your colleagues or other physios when on placement is invaluable. When you're out in the field, sometimes it's really helpful knowing someone and being able to go, ‘hey can you help me’, particularly in a rural place.  When you have that connection, it makes your job much easier.

Do you have any tips for people who are thinking about studying a Bachelor of Physiotherapy?

Put yourself in the bed of the person that you're treating. As students, we get quite caught up in our own marks and our own learning that we forget that there's still a person attached to that service.

Don't sweat the small stuff. It's a very generalised thing, but when I look back, some of the things I thought were really big as a student really weren’t that big.

Talk with your lecturers, or educators, let them know if something's going on in your life. It's really hard to juggle study, work, and life. If you don't tell people and let people support you, it makes it even harder.

If you do fail something or don't get a great mark, it's okay, it's not the end of the world. Just learn from it for next time. I almost failed one of my practical assessments at uni and I thought the world was ending.

But I knuckled down in those two weeks and probably worked more in those two weeks than I did the whole semester. That experience made me appreciate, while not having to repeat a year, that if you work hard, you reap the rewards from it.

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