This article was first published in Sports Health magazine and republished with permission.
Tell me a little about your sports medicine background.
I’m a physiotherapist involved in sport and exercise at all levels - including high performance, recreational and foundational skills. For many years my “clinic” has been pitch-side, poolside, courtside or beachside - in jobs with professional and travelling athletes in sports including netball, basketball, tennis, beach volleyball and swimming. I’ve also worked at various world championships and major games. This means my “office” is as portable as my kit bag, and in various places around the world I have studied, developed and taught online postgraduate education alongside my practice. I am very lucky to have realised my “dream job(s)”, which have also come with great responsibility to provide best-practice healthcare in challenging and unique scenarios.
My Doctorate involved projects evaluating water immersion athlete recovery, wavelet analysis of EMG (which differentiates high and low frequency motor unit recruitment), critical review of the International Federation of Sports Physical Therapy Competencies and Standards, and application of evidence to clinical practice and education.
I currently work in clinical private practice at Alphington Sports Medicine Clinic and postgraduate sports medicine education at the University of Melbourne. I’m looking forward to being the Team Physiotherapist for Guyana at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
What does a typical day for you consist of?
This really depends on which day of the week we’re talking about! The “professional me” is committed to sports medicine education and the clients and athletes I support. I also have four young children and a wonderful husband – so my day begins and ends with them. Somewhere I squeeze in some exercise – this could be a cycle commute, jog with a pram or tuning out in our small home gym. This is my down time, thinking time and fun time. I like being organised (maybe even over-organised), but my favourite days are those when my best laid plans are foiled by some exciting turn of events – no two days are ever the same.
What is your favourite aspect of your job?
The juggle and variety in my day that comes from working with different people and athletes. I love talking to people – hearing their stories and supporting their continued story. It is wonderful to see all athletes, but particularly young athletes, succeed in achieving their goals. Having supported their journey - to watch them win that race, get that PB, get back on the track – those are my favourite moments.
What has been the highlight of your career?
There are a few - working at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games, Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games and soon to be Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. Having the opportunity to lead the development of two new programs in sports medicine and physiotherapy – Masters in Sports Physiotherapy at the University of Bath and the Sports Medicine program at the University of Melbourne. It has been a privilege to be part of two program teams seeking to extend education and practice for the benefit of us as professionals, and athletes as users of our service. Successfully defending my Doctorate thesis via video conference from Australia to the UK – given the time difference, I became Dr Sonya at about 10pm local time after putting my children to bed, and realised I still had bare feet (below my carefully selected outfit).
How did you become involved with SMA?I have been an SMA member since I was a Physiotherapy student, when I sought every opportunity to build a career in sports medicine. This began with completing the SMA Provide First Aid and SMA Sports Trainer Courses, so I could work on fields of play and with local sporting organisations to support my studies. After graduating I taught these same courses in schools and on weekends. I have never looked back – I have been an SMA member ever since.
What do you think the benefit of being a SMA member provides especially within your field?
My SMA membership has sat alongside and supported all my career stages – from student, to early career, established career and educator. There is something for everyone. Whatever your profession or level of involvement in sport science and medicine, the SMA online resources and position statements are at your fingertips, as well as member-direct updates and discounts on conferences, education and certificate qualifications. It is a multi-professional organisation, which fits my practice environment and facilitates opportunity to ‘tap’ into other specialised areas; or tune right in to the education and networking opportunities to extend your field within your scope of practice.
Describe your role as Sports Medicine program co-ordinator at the University of Melbourne.
Over the last several years I have had a leading role in designing a brand new online postgraduate Sports Medicine program, which has now launched in 2018. As part of a team, it’s my role to design and map the curriculum to the competencies of various professional associations in sports medicine, so that it supports established and developing career pathways and meets graduates’ professional needs. Then, align this with best practice in online education, to enable students to learn effectively, efficiently and alongside their practice and other life commitments. It’s also my role to co-ordinate a team of tutors so that students are learning from multi-disciplinary experts across the different specialised areas. I also currently tutor on the first subject Modern Athlete and support the students in their study experience.
Find out more about the Melbourne University Sports Medicine program
How did you come to be in this role?
Throughout my career I have worked in private practice and with high performance athletes across many different sports, which has led me to value the importance of the interdisciplinary team in athlete management, including placing the athlete at the centre of management plans - using your skills to meet their needs, and supporting them in meeting their own needs.
As a netballer and physiotherapist at the University of Bath within the progressive, dynamic Sports Training Village, I joined a multi-disciplinary team of sport science & medicine professionals and educators who had a vision to develop postgraduate education in line with the needs of busy and practicing clinicians; and to facilitate the development of the particular skillset and attributes to support high performance athletes. This is how I came to be involved in university curriculum design and education, which was over 10 years ago now!
My experience (and relocation back to my home town) led me to the University of Melbourne, where there was opportunity to develop a new program in sports medicine. Again, I am privileged to be part of a dynamic program team with a vision for evidence-informed best practice in sports medicine, and to shape an education program for professionals to achieve this – all flexibly and online, so learning transfers straight into current practice and fits around other exciting practice and life opportunities. These things are so important to well-rounded professionals and a healthy work-life-career balance.
Besides sports medicine, what are you passionate about?
Participation in sport and exercise for healthy living and enjoyment. I am very passionate about children and adults having healthy ‘playtime’ – that is, unstructured time to enjoy each other’s company, use imaginations, and be active throughout life.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given to you?Students often ask my advice on juggling life commitments, work and study, and we often discuss time management opportunities alongside a true desire to achieve your goals through prioritising different activities at different times. But the best piece of advice someone gave me was: “You are replaceable to everyone except your family.”
Name four people, living or not, you would invite for a dinner party and why?
It has to be my four children – Leo, Stan, Arlo and Amelie. We have a dinner party every night! There is never a lull in conversation, entertainment, sharing experiences and new ideas - many of which would change the world!
Travel destination: Bath, UK. I lived here for 6 years, my first two children were born here, and it is home to some of my favourite people in the world.
Sport to play/watch: Netball. I played netball for Victoria and internationally for many years, and still enjoy a game. As netball grows in participation, recognition and professionalism, I am an avid supporter of the athletes, their athleticism, dedication and advocacy for the sport.
Cuisine: Coffee and fine chocolate.
Movie: I don’t really watch movies – that would mean sitting still for a while.
TV program: Sherlock. And any/all sport, which doesn’t count as ‘screen time’ in our house.
Song: Everything is awesome!
Book: I love a good read. Everything from autobiographies to modern literature. Plus, I have read children’s books every day for nearly 10 years… and counting….
Gadget: Wizz stick. Any meal can become a nutritious smoothie!
Find out more about the Melbourne University Sports Medicine program