World in the palm of her hands

19 July 2016

From the scope of her work, it’s evident Dr Allison Mandrusiak cares about people from all around the globe.

And if reaction to the physiotherapy lecturer’s recent success is anything to go by, it seems the feeling is mutual.

Dr Mandrusiak is one of those individuals everyone appears to wish well.

News of her Universitas 21 Teaching Excellence Award – one of only two bestowed world-wide in 2015 – was the most popular social media post by the Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences last year.

The story was read over 12,000 times on Facebook in the first 24 hours and commented upon and shared by people from far and wide, including Chile where the award was announced.

Unsurprisingly, Dr Mandrusiak has gained experience in a variety of nations outside Australia, impacting heavily on her appreciation of the bigger picture.

“Previously I’ve been involved with simulated learning in China, taught cardiorespiratory physiotherapists in Kuwait and fostered clinical placements in Vietnam,” she reveals.

“It really was the time I spent in Vietnam supervising students from a range of health professions that opened my eyes to the value of inter-professional and cross-cultural learning experiences.”

Allison’s Universitas 21 award will allow her to travel to the United Kingdom for the Health Sciences Group annual meeting in September of this year.

There she will present a workshop in collaboration with the other award recipient, Dr Hong Gao of China.

Recently Dr Mandrusiak has also been working with Professor Tracy Levett-Jones of Nursing & Midwifery at the University of Newcastle (Australia) to deliver virtual experiences of what it is like to be hospitalised in a foreign country.

“This simulated experience puts the student in the patient’s shoes,” Dr Mandrusiak explains.

“These types of immersive experiences help develop the appreciation of students for intercultural and international nuances.

“It stimulates empathy towards how a person from another culture may experience challenges in the Australian healthcare setting.

“I have already integrated these international perspectives into my physiotherapy curriculum, with plans in place to extend to other health professions.”

Indeed, cultural sensitivity is interwoven into the curricula which Allison teaches.

She trains actors to portray patients who speak with English as a second language, along with characters who have conflicting expectations of the role their healthcare workers should fulfil.

Not only are her methods educational from a cultural perspective, but also teach students much about values, assumptions and the importance of multiple forms of communication, preparing them for global healthcare contexts.

My time in Vietnam helped familiarise me with Asian culture and customs,” Allison says.

“I am now aware how to negotiate cultural barriers to benefit clients and their families.

“I was later invited to present a three-day workshop at Kunming Medical University in China, where my remit was to ‘teach the teacher’ about using simulation in clinical education.

“All of my resources needed to be culturally relevant and were translated into Chinese.

“I also filmed a full patient interaction with students and actors who spoke Mandarin.”

Dr Mandrusiak regularly hosts visiting academics to observe her practices, including Singapore’s Dr Clement Yan.

Her open approach to sharing information - along with her savvy style of simulating on a shoestring- continues to endear her to those from abroad and domestically.

Yet the industry leader is not only confined to small scale simulation ventures.

Dr Mandrusiak is the UQ representative for a $5.75 million nationwide project focused on simulation in physiotherapy education.

The project requires working with a consortium of 16 universities, led by Curtin University.

Moving forward, Dr Mandrusiak is overseeing the creation of a mock hospital ward onsite, which will be pivotal for interprofessional simulated learning at UQ.  

“Allison is quite clearly one of our most gifted teachers,” says Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences Associate Dean (Academic) Professor Sarah Roberts-Thomson.

“She is also one of the central figures in developing the new Faculty common course, a curriculum developed to enhance and interlink all of our students.

“As for her Universitas 21 Teaching Excellence Award…I have said before that it is something worth shouting from the rooftops.

“Not only is it fantastic news for Allison and UQ, but it’s a feather in the cap for Brisbane, Queensland and Australia.”

Universitas 21 is a global network of universities with a strong research focus and ambitions of improving life in the 21st Century.

There are collectively 25 universities in the network, encompassing 1.3 million students and over 220,000 staff.

UQ is one of three Australian members of Universitas 21, along with The University of Melbourne and The University of New South Wales.

Other network members include The University of Hong Kong, The University of Delhi, Ohio State University, The University of Edinburgh and The University of Amsterdam.

Words: Rob Burgin