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Osteopathy's aim is to positively affect the body's nervous, circulatory and lymphatic systems. Rather than focus purely on the site of the discomfort, osteopaths look at the entire body to identify where the pain originated. General treatment of soft tissue involves a range of hands-on techniques: stretching, gentle pressure, massage and resistance, and mobilisation of specific joints and soft tissues. Benefits from osteopathic treatment include improvement in body mobility and structural stability, and enabling the circulatory, nervous and lymphatic systems to function better. In 2016, research conducted by the American Osteopathic Association showed osteopathic manipulative treatment reduced pain and improved function in patients suffering from chronic, non-specific low-back pain. Patients who reported the worst pain and higher degrees of disability received the most benefit.

Statutory registration through AHPRA is mandatory for osteopaths in Australia. “Osteopaths in Australia complete four to five years of university training, consisting of a double Bachelor or a dual Bachelor and Masters qualification at an accredited university,” says Antony Nicholas, CEO, Osteopathy Australia (http://www.osteopathy.org.au). “Prospective students need to consider whether you genuinely enjoy working closely with people,” says the Academic Team at Victoria University. “Osteopathy involves a relationship between you and the patient as you work together to achieve their goals for functional improvement and quality of life.” Sandra Grace, Associate Professor at Southern Cross University adds, “Consider whether you’ll enjoy working as a clinician in primary care. Increasingly osteopaths work in multidisciplinary health teams and take on responsibility for ensuring their patients receive the most appropriate care, including referral to another health professional.”

“In general students may have issues with time management and maintaining a work-life balance,” says the VU team. “We encourage new students to attend our free study-skills and time-management workshops, and get involved in professional workshops and seminars run by the Student Osteopathic Medicine Association.” Grace adds, “The basic sciences taught during the undergraduate years can be challenging for some students because they can seem disconnected from clinical practice. To overcome this, many subjects are now taught by clinicians, who provide examples from practice to illustrate the importance of a sound knowledge of basic sciences. Practice life requires many skills beyond the technical and practical skills associated with osteopathy. Our curriculum designers incorporate opportunities to develop such skills as practice management, competent use of digital health technologies, and cultivating a caring, person-centred disposition.

“Qualities that make a good osteopath include outstanding interpersonal, communication and critical-thinking skills, adaptability and a willingness to learn and grow,” say the VU team. “Of course, not every person is born with these traits and we provide significant, scaffolded support to enable students to develop them.” Grace adds, “Good osteopaths are patient-centred practitioners who have technical expertise, research literacy, and good practice-management and communication skills. Knowing your strengths, and knowing those of osteopathy, makes a practitioner truly able to provide patient-centred care. Inherent requirements include the capacity for manual dexterity, consistent and sustained physical and mental performance, and behavioural stability to function and adapt effectively and sensitively to a demanding role.” Nicholas adds, “We find many people pursue the profession because they’ve had a positive first-hand experience with osteopathy. Most osteopaths are passionate about fitness, sports, wellbeing, the human body, and love working with people, so the patient-centred approach and holistic nature of osteopathy is the perfect profession.”