Welcome to this conversation around Speech Pathologists journeys to Telehealth. My name is Kirstyn O’Rourke, I’m a Speech Pathologist and practitioner with Therapy Connect. Today we’re joined by Katie Buckley, Meg Tasker, and Sima Hall, who are all Speech Pathologists working for Therapy Connect. 

Thanks so much for joining us to have a bit of a chat about your journey to Telehealth and how that’s progressed. I’m really keen to talk to all of you first about why you moved over to Telehealth. I’ve been working at Therapy Connect now for nearly three years and for me it’s been a journey that started because I had young kids in school, had a private practice, and was trying to work out what I wanted to do with work all while working around family. For me working with Telehealth allowed that flexibility as I was carrying out my duties as a mum as well as work at the same time, working from home. Sima I think we’ve got kids of a similar age. Tell us a little bit about why you joined Therapy Connect and started on your Telehealth journey?

Hi, thanks Kirsten. Well two years ago I had returned to Australia. I’d been living and working in the Middle East with my family for 16 years which was a long time to be away and coming back and trying to settle my family. I was looking for flexibility in terms of working hours and I was very interested in the Telehealth opportunity though I hadn’t had a lot of experience with it. I knew that it was something I wanted to know more about. I came across Therapy Connect and it’s given me the opportunity to have that work flexibility and also enter into the sphere of working with clients who are supported by the NDIS. Looking at the NDIS from the outside as a practitioner re-entering the Australian workforce was very overwhelming. The paperwork side of things as a sole practitioner felt like a heavy load so I’ve been really very pleased with the setup of Therapy Connect. We have a great admin team who take care of that paperwork which is amazing and I feel very well supported so it gives me the opportunity to focus on what I love best and that’s working with clients.

Working with the clients, I think that’s a common theme. I know I was talking to another practitioner the other day who said that the commute and the travel time between clients meant she wasn’t able to see the number of clients that she wanted to see. Most of the time was spent driving around in the car traveling to clients in their home. Whereas, with Telehealth it allowed the opportunity to be in clients homes, not have to charge for that travel time and not have to take that time to travel between clients. Meg, you’ve been with Therapy Connect now for a few years working in Telehealth. What was the trigger point for you to start working in Telehealth?

Thank you. I started with the Therapy Connect Telehealth Team in 2019 and there were a few main key points that I was intrigued by joining the telehealth realm. I hadn’t had any experience with Telehealth before so that in and of itself being able to explore a new skill set was definitely a real positive. I was very much in a transitional stage at the time. I wasn’t sure geographically where I was going to be based. I’d just recently left Melbourne and a really busy clinic there and I was in Echuca having some family time but wasn’t sure if that’s where I was going to stay. I’ve subsequently now moved to Torquay by the ocean. That level of flexibility was a really big drawcard for me most definitely. Just being able to work and do what you love not necessarily knowing where you will be based in order to do that. Another big point for me was that one of my best friends had just completed a speech pathology placement with Sue and so I had very first-hand knowledge of the wonderful practice that I was joining because of Sue’s reputation as a phenomenal and a wonderful human. Telehealth has been really wonderful for me and especially in that time as I’ve had a little baby, so I could step away but then transition really easily back into that realm has been really wonderful. Another key element at Telehealth that the Therapy Connect team does so well is making you feel very connected. A big concern for me initially was moving around and being in quite remote places or just moving to new places where I hadn’t, you know, might not have had the time yet to establish relationships especially working relationships to have access to clinicians. So, I think Telehealth does that extremely well and especially Therapy Connect. With the regular contact that we have, whether it be professional development or regular team meetings, or the drop-in sessions that our head clinicians offer us so during the week you have that opportunity to drop-in to someone’s room and discuss maybe a challenging client or something really exciting that you just want to share. I think it’s been a surprise for me that telehealth has been able to offer just such a generosity of time of clinicians and the resources. I’ve never worked anywhere before where I’ve actually felt that I had the most access to individuals and then extraordinarily diverse clinical skill sets and also just the resources that are widely available and continuously being updated. It’s just really extra-ordinary.

That’s great Megan. I think that team connection and that feeling of being a part of the team even if you’re working elsewhere physically can mean you’re on your own in your own space but you’re still a part of that team. I guess that connection, and I agree wholeheartedly with you, in terms of the Therapy Connect Sue and Simone make the team the way it is and I think that connection with the team is important. Katie you’re one of our newest speechies here on the team and I think you had a connection with Therapy Connect as well. Tell us a bit about how that brought you to Therapy Connect, beginning your Telehealth journey.

Absolutely. One of my close friends was one of the original Speech Pathologist with Therapy Connect and for years she had spoken about how supportive the team were, and the brilliant nature of the interdisciplinary practice opportunities. All the things that Meg spoke about in terms of the regularity of catch-ups and access to resources, but also the nature of opportunities for autonomy and variety of caseload. And so these glowing recommendations that I had been hearing for years about Therapy Connect and then the opportunity came at the end of last year and the team was diversifying, and then I wanted to get back into clinical practice. So, I’m also an academic and completing my PhD and I was wanting to engage in clinical practice again and it was wonderful that Therapy Connect just aligned so brilliantly with me looking for an opportunity and there wasn’t another company that I wanted to work for.  It has exceeded my expectations to be honest, in terms of my experience with the team. The name lives up to what it is, it’s so connected and particularly as Meg was saying, in terms of access, team access, diversity of client access. And what we are able to do for our clients because of those other things that would otherwise take us away from our clients, aswell as the support, so it’s been wonderful.

I think that common theme of connection, and you’re right, the term Therapy Connect is a great term for the team that we have here at the moment but that common theme of connection and still feeling connected even though you might be working by yourself at home, is a really great theme I think for people who are embarking on this Telehealth journey. There might be the perception that it is a lonely journey to be on but I don’t think it is and I think that working in the Telehealth sphere in my experience, the journey has been one that is both metaphorical and physical. I’ve been able to travel and work at the same time. I’ve traveled around Australia in a caravan and worked. I think working in Telehealth allows you to take your work to where your heart and your family is as well. I think in terms of that journey Meg, your journey has been quite a big one with a few events last year. Meg, you touched on having a baby and that Telehealth has allowed you to return from that journey back to work. How has that been for you?

No, it’s been wonderful. It’s been very smooth as well. So, my little one is now 10 months old and I started back with Therapy Connect a few months ago. It’s really wonderful to be able to come back into the fold so beautifully. It’s really like a family and also to just have that balance. I feel so blessed that I can still have so much time with my little one but still be able to work in this realm that I’m so passionate about, I feel very fortunate. Like it’s something Telehealth allows as we’ve mentioned that flexibility. The balance is just so unique and being able to really clearly shape your life the way that everything suits your needs and your ever-evolving needs has been really unique and fantastic. And especially the fact that you are able to not only say what hours or days you know that are best for you to work but similarly like what caseload you’re after or if you want to specialize more in one area or if you’re just really loving the diversity of all areas. It’s extraordinary and I haven’t come across that apart from Telehealth because we have such a far-reaching team, hovering in many different areas and many different states and countries. It has added an element of excitement I think working in this realm.

And I love what you said about the fact that life does change. Family changes and life changes and that sort of thing. Sima, maybe you can comment a bit more on that, in terms of getting work to fit in with the way your life is evolving at the moment. You have children in primary school and things kind of chop and change continually. How has Telehealth helped you to balance that career and family life?

Well interestingly I started my telehealth journey as Covid lockdown broke here in Melbourne and trying to balance family and work, that was a new experience, but now my kids are back at school and my youngest just started Prep. So, I can do more hours and I still have that flexibility to have that balance. I can pick up my kids after school and I really have just found that by eliminating things like travel time and going to and from a clinic or an office or home visits or face to face. Wow, you can get a lot done. So, I actually can’t see myself going back to being a practitioner who does only face-to-face work. I think that Telehealth has got so much potential and as Meg and Katie have said also, feeling connected to a team when we’re spread across Australia is not what I expected at all but so amazing that I can enter one of our chats at any time of our working day and someone will come back to me with some kind of answer for a question or there is always a resource that’s recommended that I can explore. I’m never lost for ideas, I never feel alone and it’s just been the greatest experience to feel so connected even though I’m here in my home. 

And that’s a big part of the journey isn’t it? I think you touched on just the number of therapists all over Australia and I guess we’ve got this at Therapy Connect especially. It allows us to bring together therapists of a wide variety of experience. I think Katie you’re a prime example, in terms of you being able to combine your study which is very interesting with work and in the past maybe if you weren’t working in Telehealth you wouldn’t be able to. Tell us a bit more about how you’re combining study and work.

Absolutely. As a Speech Pathologist we’re interested in how people use communication to engage in their everyday lives. This has been wonderful because it’s allowed me to explore a way that we can actually use technology to support people participating in their lives, in their homes, and in more broadly and that passion of the NDIS around people having an ordinary life. We actually really live that at Therapy Connect. So, what this has done in the last five months is actually given me a way of thinking about these two areas as sometimes I really struggle to think about my academic career and speech pathology clinical practice might work together. But this has been a really nice re-engagement with that and it’s also really wonderful to see how I work as an academic, I can balance my studies as well as my academic work with my clinical practice really seamlessly and that’s really supported by the Therapy Connect team aswell. I can negotiate my thesis further down the track and we’re already looking at when I’m going on study leave. The nature of that is not necessarily possible in or necessarily supported in other big practices. It is a really novel nature of our practice and I’m now feeling pretty privileged to be a part of that in particular.

Katie you’ve got a pretty set of clear ideas of your journey going there, that you working with Therapy Connect for a little while and Telehealth has given you that flexibility and the ability to work and study at the same time almost from home and combine the two together quite seamlessly which a few of our other practitioners who are also doing this at the moment. So, that’s really positive. I guess just in a nutshell thinking a little bit about this, where to from here? I know I can see myself staying within the Telehealth sphere because it does allow me to achieve work-life balance as my main motivation as family comes first and working in Telehealth allows me to balance it all. I guess Sima can you see where to from here? Are you thinking with that ability, that caseload mix and that ability to refine where you want to work in? Is that a positive thing for you in terms of Telehealth and being able to reach clients pull clients in from all over the country?

Yes. Well because so many of our clients have diverse needs I always find I’m learning something new and because in the Telehealth sphere you have to be very resourceful and you’re drawing on your face to face therapy experience but doing it in a different way with technology and, how does that transition? And how do you keep a child engaged? I don’t want to limit myself by thinking that I’m only going to follow one area of interest because of the connection to our team and such diversity as we’ve discussed. Wow, I’m just so excited to learn more and be connected and I’m excited to see what’s next. Who will I work with? What will their needs be? What will I learn next? It’s very exciting.

Meg with little Elliott at home, where can you see yourself going in the future with Telehealth? Is that something that you think is going to support that family life for a little while?

Yes, I think so definitely for the years to come. I echo very much your point of views and your thoughts. I feel very fortunate with Elliott being little, being at home and having such special time with him. I really value that immensely above everything else. And being able to work with Therapy Connect in the Telehealth realm also similarly provides all of the values in my professional life that are essential for me. It’s like this beautiful balance between work-life being so in line with my values and then with my home life being able to have so much time with my gorgeous little man which is but my prime value. So, it’s just this really beautiful symbiotic relationship which I’m really fortunate to have now in between professional and home life which i’m really blessed to have, and look forward to continuing that in the future very much. 

I guess that balance between home life and study and being able to progress career and interests outside of speech pathology is great. I think telehealth is a really exciting space for us to be in at the moment. I’m really happy to be on the journey with Therapy Connect and with you guys and the rest of the team. I think Telehealth provides that ability to be flexible, rewarding, have that far-reaching caseload mix, bringing therapists in from all over Australia and feeling connected and part of a team.  I think this has been reflected in our discussion today. So, thanks very much for being a part of this discussion. Hopefully that will help people in their decision-making around whether Telehealth might be for them. We have got a large team and are very happy with working in the Telehealth sphere, and most importantly working for Therapy Connect. Thanks guys.