Allied Health Podcast Series 2 Episode 1

Interview with Alison McIlveen, General Manager at Ability Action Australia

Episode 1 is brought to you by Ability Action Australia. Danielle and Clare are joined by Alison McIlveen, General Manager of Ability Action Australia.

Speaker You’re listening to Allied Health Podcast, talking all things Allied Health with your hosts, Danielle Weedon, physiotherapist and Clare Jones, occupational therapist.

Danielle Weedon This episode of Allied Health Podcast is brought to you by Ability Action Australia, a leading and approved provider of NDIS allied health therapeutic positive behaviour and employment supports across Australia.

Clare Jones Today we’re joined by Alison McIlveen, General Manager of Ability Action Australia, to talk about what a career as an occupational therapist looks like in an NDIS based community role. Alison is a qualified occupational therapist and leads Ability Action Australia or Triple A, as we commonly call it, which is one of Australia’s largest providers of allied health services to the disability sector. Ali, welcome. It’s great to have you join us today on Allied Health podcast.

Alison McIlveen Oh, it’s great to be here. Thank you for having me along.

Danielle Weedon Now, Ali, we’ve all known each other for many years now, and we’d love to run through five or six questions with you so that you can of your health care background and what it’s like working with triple A and the life of an out in the NDIS sector. So first question, can you provide us with an overview of your background and why you moved into the NDIS as well as what you enjoy about it?

Alison McIlveen Absolutely. So, I trained as an occupational therapist. I graduated in 2005 from the University of Sydney and some of my most enjoyable and cherished roles as a clinical OT were working in the community with individuals with a disability both here in Australia and of metro and regional locations, as well as community based roles over in the UK. And I absolutely love working in this space. There is scope to actually influence, and influence and impact and change lives positively and for the clinicians themselves to forge really meaningful relationships and partnerships with the participants that they work with so that they can create more fulfilling, enjoyable, rewarding lives that are aligned to what they want to achieve, where they want to go, what their lives will look like with the support and partnership of allied health clinicians. I love many aspects of the role as the General Manager of Ability Action Australia. One of the things that I love most is working with the people at Ability Action. We’ve had the good fortune of being able to attract a number of talented managers and clinicians right around the country. We’re now operating in all states and territories outside of the Northern Territory in the ACT, and these individuals are passionate, hardworking, and really driven and resolute around wanting to support individuals with a disability.

Clare Jones So Ali, what can an OT expect as part of their role within the community NDIS sector?

Alison McIlveen They can expect an opportunity to work with individuals across the lifespan, with people with various capabilities and challenges. They can expect to work closely with these individuals on their goals and their ambitions and aspirations. And often, not always, but often over an extended period of time, they can contribute under a social model of health care, where the participants that they’re working alongside are empowered and encouraged to direct what they want to achieve and how they can ultimately get more out of life today. At triple A specifically, OTs can access learning and development opportunities in a number of clinical specialisations and work to develop and consolidate their knowledge and skills and expertise across a myriad of specialisations in a flexible and supportive environment.

Danielle Weedon And what does a day in the life of an OT look like in an NDIS based community role? And what are some of the impacts an OT can make working with participants living with a disability?

Alison McIlveen There is a real mix of face to face contact and intervention with participants in their home environment or at a school or in another sort of community based location, they can expect to engage with multiple stakeholders that are involved in the care and the wellbeing of the participants, and that can be via face to face teleconference and video conferences in meetings. There is some report writing requirements for OTs under the NDIS and they can also expect to participate in regular professional development opportunities. We also encourage our staff to connect and meet regularly face to face. This is important for a number of reasons, including an opportunity for them to collaborate with their peers to share experiences, to catch up socially for a cup of coffee. And this is really important for clinicians, just given the work that they do and often that work being outside one of our dedicated sites and locations and with a participant in the community or in the home environment as I mentioned before. So the impacts are significant and include increasing independence across activities of daily living. Like, for example, individuals being able to prepare meals in the home, to supporting the needs of their children, accessing the community more independently, securing and obtaining and achieving their employment goals, increasing in the number and the type of social and recreational activities that they engage in on a regular basis, and also helping children integrate into mainstream schooling, helping them achieve their key developmental milestones. We work with a diverse cohort of individuals and as I mentioned before, with unique and individualised challenges, and the impact that OTs and more broadly allied health clinicians can make is significant. And I think that’s one of the reasons why, you know, our clinicians really enjoy the work and find it rewarding is the impact you can make and the partnerships you can create with individuals that we work alongside.

Clare Jones There’s real value, Ali, isn’t there, in working in the participants’ own environment as opposed to a clinical setting, especially when it comes to across the board with all therapy, but especially when it comes to OT, when you’re looking at those functional skills in someone’s home environment or community environment, schools is there’s so much value in being out there working with participants in their environment, isn’t there?

Alison McIlveen Yeah, absolutely. And there’s evidence to support that. The ability and the opportunity to observe individuals in their own home environment and understand the challenges they may be facing in that environment. That helps the OT garner the necessary insights around what supports can be put in place or what intervention would be appropriate to enable them to achieve their goals. So absolutely, examining the home environment provides the context to be able to address the needs of the individuals and understand what they are and, and what supports will make sense that are appropriate and will facilitate improved and enhanced function.

Clare Jones Yeah. And what’s really important to them.

Alison McIlveen Absolutely. That’s part of the process is exploring initially what they want to achieve and what their goals are and then us working with them in an individualized way to set a plan and an approach that targets their goals and what they want to achieve and how we can all go about that.

Clare Jones And what sort of feedback do you get from your staff around what therapists and clinicians enjoy as part of their role with Ability Action?

Alison McIlveen I get regular feedback about the culture at Ability Action. I think the management team do a fantastic job at creating a workplace where people want to come and work and feel valued and there is fostering of opportunities to develop and grow in the areas that they want to explore and aspire towards. So I think culture is something that I get feedback regularly around. I think a focus on learning and development and opportunities facilitated both internally and externally, where people can refine and extend their own skill sets in their own knowledge and areas of practice. I think that our people, generally speaking, enjoy that component of working with Ability Action and I regularly get feedback around how much they enjoy the partnerships with participants because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s about. It’s around working with the participants and that experience for them and what that means for them to be able to partner and support an individual to achieve some really great and fantastic things for their lives. And I know that inspires a lot of clinicians and I know that’s one of the reasons why they choose to work under the NDIS or in the disability sector. And I think also at Ability Action it is the career opportunities. So we have had multiple individuals that have been with us that have occupied more than one role. So they’ve joined as a team leader and on the back of the growth that we’ve experienced and the changes that have occurred across our organisation as we have grown, that means more opportunity with new roles and new specializations where people can explore and move into. And I think the sort of breadth and scope of career opportunities across Ability Action is and is another reason why people enjoy working for the organisation.

Clare Jones We see more and more commonly now that therapists, first and foremost, are looking for really great support and professional development, a really good company culture and career progression. And that’s not always been something that’s readily been available in roles within occupational therapy. Haven’t been able to see that career progression, but now with the NDIS, there’s great scope to really move into a number of various roles at you know, clinical and management levels, which is really exciting.

Alison McIlveen There absolutely is. And I agree with you from graduate, right up to the senior clinicians, to those in management roles where the scope of services that are delivered by occupational therapists and therefore the specialisations in different clinical areas and the streams that are in place across organisations mean that career opportunities and advancement, and also clinicians choosing and electing and which area they want to specialise in. If they want to actually have a specialisation or if they choose or have a preference to work across multiple clinical specialisations, then that opportunity is afforded to OTs now as well. So the career opportunities, I think also the elevation of status of what occupational therapists do and the choice that’s afforded to OTs now on the back of the scheme and the changes that have occurred with the NDIS is super exciting for occupational therapies and for the profession more broadly.

Clare Jones Absolutely, Ali. I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s a really without sounding corny, it’s a very exciting time to be an occupational therapist.

Alison McIlveen It is. I recall in my early days of being in OT having to regularly explain what an occupational therapist does. And I know in your roles you could relate to that. And there’s a greater awareness and understanding of what occupational therapists do, the impact that they can have, new areas of practice, whether it be in occupational rehabilitation across disability, working in an acute hospital. And I think you can see the increased understanding or enhanced understanding in the community of what OTs and the importance of their work, which is really nice and something that’s evolved over the course of the last few years. And again, I think largely due to changes that have occurred with the NDIS.

Clare Jones Yeah, the value of occupational therapy is truly being seen now, isn’t it?

Alison McIlveen Absolutely.

Danielle Weedon I think you’ve both touched on it as well, but the feedback we see externally as well with Ability Action Australia are that you support, especially your early career therapists, you train and support really well as well, which in roles in the community that are really autonomous even though you do have your regular catch ups, I think that’s imperative in this sector.

Alison McIlveen Yes, it is. And so the feedback we’ve had from current staff members or even prospective staff members that we have that we’ve spoken to, the number one thing that they mention is around what support will be provided and what does that support look like and what does that support mean for them on a day to day and week by week as they start their career as an OT or in their early days in the disability sector. And I think it’s really important that organisations focus on what that support looks like. I think if we can if we can get that piece feeling right and if we can get the orientation and the induction to be a positive and meaningful and great learning opportunity, then we’ll be able to retain the talent within the disability sector and give those individuals the confidence to forge meaningful careers, which on the back of that means we get long standing partnerships with participants, with nice continuity for them who are working with their OTs on a persistent basis around what they want to achieve from one year to the next. So I think focusing on learning and development is strongly linked and correlated with the quality of the outcomes that we can all achieve working with participants on the scheme. And I think that’s really important interrelationship to acknowledge.

Danielle Weedon Agree. And so what are some of the learning and career experiences an OT can expect working at triple A?

Alison McIlveen So the occupational therapists can expect support across a number of areas, including pediatrics, housing and accommodation, so undertaking assessments, making sound recommendations and what that means and under the scheme, learning opportunities in assistive technology and equipment description as well as home modifications and then also opportunities to increase their awareness, understanding and expertise in how you support individuals with a psychosocial diagnosis. There’s also an opportunity at Ability Action to get exposure to other areas of the organisation, whether that be quality assurance and the functions and responsibilities of that quality assurance team, in addition to the functions and responsibilities of our clinical governance and clinical excellence, as well as our team who are responsible for engaging with stakeholders externally. So sort of in addition to developing their clinical expertise, I think getting exposure and understanding more broadly what other supports are provided across the business and the relationship that those supports have with operations is something that individuals can expect. In addition to that, we try and blend internal and external professional development opportunities and we often get feedback that that is the preference, that there is a combination or hybrid of both internal PD opportunities that occur regularly, as well as having some external facilitators in areas of their specialization come and support and augment and enhance the learning or the learning experiences that are undertaken internally. I think also access to peer support programs and mentoring. So mentoring is really important and whether that is mentoring as you’re moving into a clinical or a leadership role or that you’re progressing or transferring from one clinical area of practice to another, I think the opportunity to access mentors, work closely with mentors, define what your professional goals are, and have the opportunity to explore and put activity into action that allows you to achieve your goals is really important. And so that mentoring piece I think is pivotal and key.

Clare Jones I agree. And what are some of the things to consider if you’re thinking of a career with Ability Action?

Alison McIlveen If you enjoy flexibility and working for an organisation that is purpose driven and that’s really important, we’re a purpose driven organisation and an organisation that’s invested in your own development, your professional development of what you want to achieve. I think Ability Action Australia would be a good place for you to work. What people are looking for in an employer does vary and it also varies across someone’s career journey from what they might be looking at in the early stages of their career to what they’re wanting later on. And I think it’s really important that organisations are flexible and that their value proposition resonates for a graduate, and then also resonates for someone that has 20 years’ experience, that’s been a clinician for that length of time and is looking for an organisation to support their needs and their aspirations on the back of them having a lot of knowledge and expertise from previous roles and throughout their professional experience. So yeah, I think the challenge for organisations that are working in the allied health sector now is to continually look at that value proposition for allied health clinicians and refine that value proposition and ensure that it’s targeted and that it speaks to the individuals that you try to attract and try to retain, just given the importance of that in terms of participants having access to the services they need to achieve what they want to achieve. And again, as I mentioned before, that interconnectedness between attracting and supporting and retaining allied health clinicians and what that means for the disability community is really important. And I think if you can again focus on that experience for the people, then that sets everyone up for hopefully success as we work closely to help people achieve their goals.

Danielle Weedon Well thank you again for providing such a detailed overview of triple A and giving us more insight into what it’s like to work in the NDIS sector for OTs. I’m sure our OT networks are going to love to listen to this, so thanks again, Ali and Ability Action Australia.

Alison McIlveen Thank you very much for having me.

Clare Jones Thanks, Ali. It was great.

Speaker We hope you enjoyed listening to the Allied Health Podcast. In the show notes, you’ll find links to our free recruitment resources, job opportunities, and healthcare marketplace insights. To listen to new episodes, please subscribe via Apple, Google or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. And if you’ve enjoyed the show, please give it a five star rating and review. And be sure to tell your therapy colleagues and friends to tune in.