Physio school celebrates 100 years

Last updated 11:53 21/03/2013
Otago School of Physiotherapy
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The way we were: Massage training at the University of Otago School of Physiotherapy.

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From All Blacks to Olympic athletes, from expectant mothers to alzheimers patients, University of Otago-trained physiotherapists have treated the great and the good for a century. MIKE HOULAHAN reports.

Just eight pupils were on the roster when School of Massage was set up at the University of Otago in 1913. Seven were women: the solitary male failed the course.

From those humble beginnings a world-regarded School of Physiotherapy has developed. In its centenary year, just over 300 students, and 60 post-grad students, are training at Otago.''It is certainly a much bigger place than it used to be,'' deputy dean Margot Skinner (pictured) said.

''Massage has a very old medical history, but I don't think many people would realise this school is as old as it is. The building on Hanover St that was used from the 1940s to the 1980s was a large, dominant building that people would have known, but they may not have put it in context as being one of the oldest schools of physiotherapy in the world.''

Like many medical fields, physiotherapy has changed dramatically in the past century. Whereas treatment was once a physio's main task, a modern practitioner will focus on prevention as much as cure.

''Many of the techniques have been around for a long time, but as things change they can be adapted for other uses.''

Occupational safety, with physios in the workplace rather than being visited in a clinic is an example, as is seeing physiotherapy on the sports field.

''It's very common now, but it never used to be.''

A three-day international conference and class reunions make up the centenary weekend programme. Several keynote speakers have come from overseas, and seminar papers such as ''Effect of multisensory stimulation on neuromotor development in preterm infants'', ''Self-management of fatigue for people with multiple sclerosis'' and ''Community ambulation after stroke'' demonstrate how wide a field physiotherapy is today.

''We have around 350 people registered as coming, so that will be a big cohort of physiotherapists in town,'' Skinner said.

''Some are just here for the celebrations, others are doing both that and the conference and have basically booked out the week for physiotherapy.''

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* School of Physiotherapy Centenary Celebrations and Conference, April 3 to 6.

- D Scene

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