Allied Health Assistant Career Pathway: Exercise Physiologist
by Simone Andrews, on 21/12/2020 9:00:00 AM
An accredited exercise physiologist (AEP) is an allied health professional who specialises in the benefit of exercise on the human body, both physically and mentally, with the goal of preventing and managing chronic diseases and injuries.
A common question we get asked at ERA is the difference between a physiotherapist and an exercise physiologist. While the areas of practice involved with the two roles will overlap, the most successful treatment options for a patient will see these two roles working together.
A notable difference is the ‘hands-on, hands-off’ approach to treatment methods. A physiotherapist will use techniques like massage to treat their patients, whereas an exercise physiologist would focus more on an active approach using exercise as their primary modality.
The main difference is the exercise physiologist’s emphasis on the functional capacities of their patients, helping to manage chronic disease over a longer period of time.
A typical day for an exercise physiologist.
At ERA, we are lucky enough to have several experienced AEP’s on staff, one of whom is Sarah Leeming. Sarah splits her time between working as an educator and clinic supervisor at ERA, and practicing as an AEP at a private practice here in Melbourne.
When we ask what a typical day looks like for an exercise physiologist, we first must consider the environment in which the AEP practices. While the general skills and tasks do not differ, in Sarah’s circumstance, a day at ERA’s on-site rehabilitation clinic will look very different to a day in private practice.
The role of an AEP varies depending on the environment in which one practices.
Let us first look at the day of an exercise physiologist in a private practice.
There is an element of freedom associated with working at a private practice that you may not find in a hospital or community setting. The AEP has complete control over their timetable, managing the day with a client focus.
The sessions will often be held one-on-one, and consist of consultations, health screenings and lots of education and exercise – depending on the patient’s needs.
In between clients, the AEP’s day will consist of administrative elements, such as scheduling and booking, marking up session notes and writing to GP’s and allied health professions who initially referred patients. Primarily, a lot of planning and session preparation goes into the AEP’s day, as they meet with clients and work to solve their needs.
The day looks a little different at ERA’s student learning clinic.
The sessions are run in groups with half a dozen patients at any one time. At ERA the sessions are worked into 6-week programs, so there is consistency in students’ method of practice. While the sessions are run by students, there will be a supervising exercise physiologist on site to ensure correct practices are being maintained.
Group sessions are also common in hospital and community environments, where the patient’s may be grouped by chronic condition or disease. This type of group therapy can be very beneficial for a patient, with an element of social interaction which can play an important part in the effectiveness of the AEP’s treatment.
Challenges and highlights within the role of an exercise physiologist.
So far, we have spoken about the role of an AEP from an analytic point of view. But to understand what it really means to be an exercise physiologist; we need to dive deeper into what it feels like to be in the role. To do this, we will hear the highlights first-hand from our AEP, Sarah, and explore some of the challenges associated with the day-to-day.
When we asked our resident AEP, Sarah Leeming, what she loved most about her career, the first thing she said was ‘the stories’.
There is no doubt that communication is a huge part of any role. Whether it is working on reception at a GP clinic or assisting an allied health professional in a hospital, communication is key to achieving success with patients.
But we are not just talking about listening and diagnosing. What makes being an exercise physiologists’ role so rewarding is the people you get to work with. The stories you hear and can be a part of.
When asked what she loves most about her job, Sarah replied, ‘the stories - working with people to achieve their goals. The work you do quite literally changes lives. It truly is rewarding.’
While the success stories are worth talking about, it is important to remember the journeys along the way. Like with any job, there will be challenges.
Throughout their career, an AEP will have clients with varying needs, multiple conditions and a fair portion will struggle with their ability to communicate effectively.
Sarah notes, ‘a considerable factor is the patient’s belief and expectation that exercise therapy will help them. You have people come in with high expectations, and a large part of the initial consultation is communicating with the patient and working through their goals at a realistic level.’
The pathway from allied health assistant to exercise physiologist.
Qualifying as an allied health assistant (AHA) opens up a range of pathways and future opportunities in the allied health space. A career as an exercise physiologist requires an undergraduate degree followed by a Master’s degree, so it is not going to be a straightforward path. However, an AHA is already well on their way to developing the required set of skills needed to perform the duties of an exercise physiologist effectively.
A basic understanding of processes and systems will build into the skills needed for scheduling, planning and general administrative tasks in the AEP day-to-day.
Exercise delivery is essential to achieving success in a patient’s treatment and recovery, while communication is the keystone to ensuring your patient is prepared and motivated to work towards their goals.
Finally, the knowledge gained from working in a clinical environment will provide the AHA with a head start when it comes to undertaking those key qualifications.