Griffith University
Inspiring the next generation of postgraduate clinical physiologists through teaching that enriches and builds resilience and empathetic, servant leadership

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SUMMARY

Since 2012, I have been a lecturer at Griffith University.  Coming from a health professional background prior to working at university, I noticed a distinct gap in the teaching of patient care skills, compassionate communication and reflective practice to postgraduate clinical science students.  In 2014, I implemented a framework of teaching that aims to support students in these forgotten skill areas.  I am passionate about making a difference in the lives of women emerging into the clinical science field and have acted as a role-model, showing that through empathetic leadership, changes can be made that improves the quality of patient care and improves the culture of the clinical workplace through supportive collaboration. Through these teaching activities, I have also supported the mental well-being of women clinical scientists, teaching skills in reflective practice and self-care that aims at increasing the resilience of women in the clinical workplace.

BENEFIT – A description of the benefit of your work to Queensland (max 500 words)

Through my role as a Program Director of postgraduate students, I recognised the lack of support that the university sector was providing for these students, particularly female students who have competing commitments to balance; looking after family, looking after themselves, studying full-time and working part-time.  I felt a responsibility to give back, to provide solutions to the challenges that females face as postgraduate students. This has become my passion, the centre of my research and teaching and motivated me to develop and implement an innovative teaching and learning framework that supports postgraduate clinical science students to develop their communication skills, reflective practice skills, and problem-solving skills with the aim of improving their success in their studies and their success in transitioning into the workforce.
This framework has had a direct impact on the community of Queensland, as over the last 5 years, graduates from the Graduate Diploma of Clinical Physiology program have become the most sought after for employment by Queensland Health.  The Graduate Diploma program now produces the highest number of graduate entry-level employees for Queensland Health in the profession of clinical measurement science compared to any other higher education institution. These graduates have gone on to support the Queensland Health workforce, becoming graduate employees in the professions of cardiac science, respiratory science, sleep science, clinical neuroscience and vascular sonography.  Even though this profession is small in number in comparison to other allied health professions in Queensland Health, these employees provide a crucial service for patients and physicians, conducting diagnostic testing on patients that assists in the diagnosis and management of acute, chronic and terminal diseases.  
This profession requires highly specialised clinical knowledge, a high level of technical skills, and most importantly, the ability to support patient care during the performance and interpretation of clinical diagnostic testing.  It is a demanding course, both physically and mentally, as students learn at both university and directly in Queensland public hospitals in a clinical placement setting.  By instructing and guiding students in reflective practice and self-care, both the Clinical Supervisors in Queensland Health and myself have witnessed a direct benefit to the health and well-being of the students, particularly the female students, who report a greater ability to meet the challenges of a clinical workplace because of the training that they have received through my teaching methods.  Most importantly, members of the Queensland community who require the services of clinical physiologists have directly benefited, as Clinical Supervisors have also reported a direct increase in the quality of students produced from the program following on from the introduction of the communication and reflective practice framework.

ROLE MODEL – Why do you think you are a good role model for women and girls aspiring to work in STEM? (max 500 words)

I come from a middle-income family, was born and raised in Ipswich (Queensland), attended a single-sex female high school and was the first in my family to attend university and complete a degree.  Coming from this background, science was not a traditional pathway for girls at school and I had never met a woman who had graduated from clinical science.  However, I developed a passion for science and with the support of my parents, pursued my goal of studying science at university.  During my time at university, studying both undergraduate and postgraduate clinical science, I had the benefit of being mentored by some amazing female scientists, who inspired me, challenged me, supported me and helped me to discover my love of teaching science.
In 2019, I was selected by Griffith University to participate in their ‘Women in Leadership’ program.  Participating in this program was a seminal moment for me, as I was presented with the opportunity to develop my leadership skills and encouraged to lead in the way that I wanted to lead, with active listening, with mutual understanding and with empathy.  This is now the style of communication and leadership that I have integrated into my teaching, and one which I emphasise the importance of to all students that I teach; that patient communication should not be paternalistic or ageist, but patient communication should be patient-centric, inclusive and supportive of autonomy.  I strongly believe that teaching these skills to both males and females in a gender-neutral manner benefits both males and females.
Through my teaching, I strive to emulate the female scientists that have inspired me along my professional journey, by modelling my values of hard-work, commitment, my passion for clinical science, kindness and caring for others.  I believe that to be a good role model for women and girls, a person needs to inspire women to be ambitious, to aim high, to challenge themselves, to value their own achievements and to expand their opportunities through demonstrating a positive mindset and positive behaviours of how to advance in a way that supports those around you, and does not denigrate or trivialise the achievements of others.  
The impact of my belief on what makes a good role model for women in science, can be summarised by the following excerpt from a students’ feedback: “This program provided me with theory, but it did something better than that too. It provided me with a toolkit that equipped me with the skills to step into the clinical measurement workforce with confidence. I had continual support from Alison and never felt like I was unable to cope with the workload given to us. This course was organised in a way that set me up for success and for that I am so thankful.”

ENGAGEMENT – Describe any STEM promotion or engagement activities that you have undertaken, including both scientific and non-scientific audiences, particularly with women and girls (maximum 500 words)

My endeavours to inspire and encourage girls and young women to enter the field of clinical science spans over 20 years.  After finishing my undergraduate science degree and commencing my Masters in Clinical Science, I was invited back to my high school, to present to a group of grade 11 and 12 female students about careers in science.  As a young woman in her early 20’s, I was so excited to return to my high school, to be able to share my story and my experiences with a new generation of women.  It was an exhaustive and exhilarating experience in which I fielded some tough questions, but I came away from this experience, elevated, and even more motivated to encourage women to pursue science as a career because I could see the benefit for young women that a positive female role-model can bring.

Upon becoming an accredited medical sonographer (cardiac), I would regularly present at local scientific meetings, providing a female role-model at the front of the room, instead of the traditional male speaker.  I would always make a point of staying after my presentations to network with women, so as to hear their stories, share my journey, and answer their questions about becoming a cardiac sonographer.  I would often act as a mentor, helping the women that I networked with to find new opportunities within my contact network.

My own professional development led to national recognition of my clinical science skills in 2012 when I was awarded the Australasian Sonographer of the Year.  Following on from this award, I presented regularly at national scientific conferences and educational meetings. I would make a particular effort to engage with young women, to challenge them to aim higher and to encourage them to pursue their path of professional development. 

Upon entering the realm of academia, I felt it particularly important to connect with undergraduate science students, to make them aware of the opportunities that could open up to them with postgraduate study in clinical science, and to again, provide a positive female role-model.  I am able to act on my beliefs through organised information sessions, providing structured information to young women across south-east Queensland who are seeking a career in clinical science.  Seeing a successful female scientist is one of the best motivators to young women contemplating further study in science, and I am grateful every day, for the opportunities that I have to inspire new generations of females entering the profession.  

My expertise and contributions to student learning has received both institutional and national recognition, through the inaugural Griffith Award for Excellence in Teaching (Employability in the Curriculum) 2016, a National Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning (2017) and a Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA) (2018).  Through empathetic leadership, modelling self-care, self-belief and self-confidence, I believe that I can build the confidence and resilience of the next generation of female clinical scientists.

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