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ned Jelbart

Leadership and CPD with Allied Health Educator Ned Jelbart

Allied health professional educator Ned Jelbart is a leader in the field of allied health professional development and continuous learning, and believes that high quality patient care is founded by nurturing and building on the core skills that allied health professional groups have in common are what matter when it comes to ensuing high quality patient care.

Drawn from 20 years’ experience working across the health and education fields, Ned’s key areas of expertise are education and leadership skills, applying these in allied health settings to achieve real, tangible on-the-ground improvements. He has previously won the Canberra Institute of Technology Board Award for a project he led to develop and deliver a simulated learning environment designed to build work readiness of allied health students. He has also won the ACT Health Allied Health Education Excellence Award for his role in building collaboration between medical, nursing and allied health professionals.

In 2020, Ned founded Applied 8 Education and Professional Development, pivoting from professional practice to entrepreneurship, bringing together his interest and experience in the fields of education, leadership and allied health.

We were able to meet with Ned recently to discuss, among other things, his journey from practitioner to allied health professional educator.

We discuss the increasing the pressures on the Australian health system and how to solve them, his experiences of pivoting from clinical practice to the professional development space, the relationship between his work and evolving professional scopes of practice, and why continuing professional development is just so crucial for allied health practitioners.

Tell us a bit about your allied health background

I’m an allied health professional and educator. I’ve been working in allied health for over 20 years, and I’ve been lucky enough to work in some really interesting roles in my career. I love what I do, but it’s not where I thought I’d be. As a kid growing up in regional NSW I loved sport—playing sport, watching sport, anything to do with sport—and at the first opportunity I moved to Charles Sturt University in Bathurst to study exercise physiology. My goal was to work with elite athletes.

But as I learned more about exercise physiology and allied health, I also learned more about myself, my drivers and what I found rewarding. I completed a placement with an AFL team in Melbourne, followed by a placement at a health service in my hometown.

Working in elite sport, the focus was on helping athletes already near the top of their physical conditioning to make 1% improvements. At the health service, I worked with clients with various medical conditions and needs. I saw allied health professionals work together to help clients go from limited function to being able to regain their independence and achieve goals that changed their entire lives for the better. It’s hard to even put a percentage value on that!

The juxta-positioning of these placements changed the trajectory of my career. When I finished uni I got a job working as an exercise physiologist with clients with medical conditions to help improve their health and wellbeing. To this day I love the reward that comes with working with people, whether that’s students or clients, and seeing them build skills and capabilities that make big, positive differences to their lives, and the lives of the people around them.

Tell us about the process of pivoting from exercise physiology to education and professional development

Apart from my background in exercise physiology, I’ve also completed different postgraduate qualifications in education. In my working life, I’ve always drawn strongly on my allied health professional qualification and training to inform my practice. I also find that I draw just as closely on my education background.

So much of what we do as health professionals relates to behaviour change. Knowledge is power, and education is a key component of helping people learn new skills and improve their health.

When it comes to working with colleagues and in healthcare systems, I believe the same is true. Earlier in my career I worked as the interprofessional learning co-ordinator at Canberra Health Services. In this position I got to combine my background in health and education. I was responsible for working across medical, nursing and allied health to support professionals to work collaboratively to provide high quality, joined-up care.

As part of this role, I worked with students and new graduates, right through to leaders in the organisation. Regardless of level, some key themes shone through: if you can build skills in areas like education and leadership, whether they’re practiced in on-the-ground ways by junior staff, or big picture ways by senior staff, you can have a positive influence on culture.

I feel that building education and leadership skills is highly valuable professional development for allied health professionals at any stage of their career. Skills like this can be crucial for successfully navigating the schemes, structures and teams that make up our interconnected and evolving healthcare system. Additionally, it’s skills like these, that have relevance across allied health, which can help open up career pathways and progressions where this is a goal.

What’s the most satisfying aspect of your current career pathway?

For me this is a really important question, because personally—and I think for a lot of people working in health—job satisfaction is a big reason why we do what we do.

Working in education is similar to working in health. You get to work with clients, and if you get things right, they walk out of the room (so to speak) better off than when they walked in. In direct healthcare this might mean the patient got the medication, exercise or equipment that’s right for them. In education it means the person learned new skills to improve their practice or open up new career pathways.

When you ask someone, no matter what stage of life they’re at, to tell you the teacher(s) that had the biggest impact on their lives, they can always remember that teacher’s name and what they learned from them. That’s the impact a good educator can have.

In what I do at Applied 8 Education and Professional Development, I love getting feedback from participants who say they’ve learned new skills they can use in practice, and hearing about the positive difference it has made to them. I also love getting constrictive feedback about ways to further improve our education. It’s through this direct feedback that we continually improve our offerings to make them more student-centred, just like we’d do in the clinic to make healthcare more patient-centred, and I get lots of job satisfaction from this process. I’m also really looking forward to seeing how my collaboration with The Allied Health Academy (through which I am starting to offer Leadership Foundations and Education Foundations in the next couple of months) evolves – the opportunity to expand my reach to support learners from all over the world is very exciting.

Tell us about your current professional title. What does an allied health education specialist do?

I see my role as having two main components. The first component relates to identifying topic areas that have interprofessional relevance, and then delivering related education and professional development that’s tailored to the allied health audience. In my role at Applied 8 Education and Professional Development, to date this has focused on programs that help allied health professionals build leadership capabilities, educator capabilities, and skills for supervising successful student placements.

The second, and equally important component of my role, is about helping to bridge the knowledge-practice gap. In other words, making the education we deliver more applied!

Too often, professional development doesn’t get implemented where it matters: in practice. If you’ve ever been to a conference or PD session, it’s likely you’ll head back to work full of motivation and new ideas, but six months later you’ve implemented only a fraction of what you learned.

If I put my exercise physiologist (EP) hat on, it’s like working with a client and telling them they need to exercise more. It’s good information, but that doesn’t mean they’ll actually do it. As an EP, I’d have a much greater chance of success if I used behaviour change methodology to help more effectively deliver my message. The same is true in education.

One of my favourite behaviour change models is the COM-B approach. COM-B stands for Capability, Opportunity, Motivation and Behaviour. The premise of the model is that people will be more likely to try and sustain new behaviours if learning new information is coupled with breaking down barriers that help them to actually make the change.

The fact is that most health professionals are busy… really busy! Just delivering theoretical information, no matter how good it is, might feel really interesting in the moment, but it can struggle with the ‘has it been applied in practice 6-months down the track’ test. A key part of my role as an allied health education specialist is critically appraising not just what we deliver, but how we deliver it, to ensure the learning is both relevant and readily applicable for busy allied health professionals.

Allied health is a very diverse range of professions. Does your scope as an allied health education specialist apply to all professions? And if so, how?

The answer here is definitely a yes—my role spans across all allied health professions. In allied health our professional groups have natural differences. The skill sets of scientific, therapeutic and psycho-social professions are all specific, and often highly specialised. However, I feel that as allied health professional groups we have just as much (if not more) in common, than we do apart. There are core skills that we all have that are central to both high quality patient care and to our strength as a workforce.

For example, skills in providing patient-centred care, communication and working in teams—just to name three—are things we all do, and that can have a big impact on how we feel about going to work each day. As an allied health educator my focus is on skills such as these, that can support allied health professionals both in their own professions, as well as with working happily and successfully across healthcare settings more generally.

How important is continuing professional development (CPD) for allied health professionals, and why?

CPD is vital for allied health professionals. For starters, it’s how we keep current with developments in our fields. There is not one allied health profession out there where best practice now is the same as it was 20 years ago. Without CPD we would be left behind as individuals and as professions.

Just as importantly, I feel CPD is key to keeping the spark alive that shows through in our work. I know allied health professionals who’ve burned out, or who’ve got frustrated by hitting the ‘allied health professional bottleneck’, where they feel like they’re stuck and can’t progress onto the next job or opportunity. Completing regular CPD is a great way to keep adding to your skills and capabilities, and also for opening up more options for moves upwards or sideways when the right time comes.

What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced since working in the education and professional development space?

It would have to be making professional development something that’s applied in practice and minimising the knowledge-practice gap. This is a big challenge across healthcare, as in many industries, and education and professional development are no different. We live in a world where information has never been more abundant or accessible, and yet this is no guarantee that this will translate to where it matters most: practice. For example, there are evidence-based, agreed clinical guidelines available for care, for many conditions and clinical scenarios, but this doesn’t mean these are followed—applied—in practice.

The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is bringing this challenge into even sharper focus. AI is showing itself to be valuable in quickly and effectively (in many cases) synthesising information and knowledge. However, where more nuance and personalisation is needed, such as breaking down barriers to help apply knowledge in practice, I feel there is still (and will be for quite some time to come) a strong need for a more human touch.

On a practical level, in our work at Applied 8 we enjoy tackling this challenge from a variety of angles. For example, instead of just presenting information on how to orientate a student to placement, our materials include a checklist/template that a health professional supervisor could pick up and use straight away. Along similar lines, we use a story telling approach through many of our resources to provide relatable examples that participants can use to anchor their learning to real world scenarios and bridge the gap to practice.

Making professional development for allied health professionals as applied as possible is a big challenge, but an equally big opportunity. Continuing to improve on how we do this is a big motivator for me.

How would you clarify the difference between upskilling, CPD, and postgraduate education as they relate to allied health?

I think upskilling, CPD and postgrad education are all important options for allied health professionals. On their own they all help keep us current. Combined, they can provide both depth and breadth.

A feature of postgraduate education, particularly at higher levels like Masters and PhD study, is that it can provide great depth of knowledge in a particular area. Upskilling can be similar. If an allied health professional works in a particular service, like an acute hospital for example, and upskills on the job in that area, that too can provide great depth and specific capabilities in that context.

A strength of CPD is how it can build breadth of capabilities for allied health professionals. For example, if an allied health professional is looking to build their leadership capabilities, workforce planning skills, or even increase their competence for sitting on a board, these skills can be built through CPD. Through increasing breadth of experience and capabilities like these, allied health professionals can open up new career pathways and lay a strong platform they can build on with further CPD or other types of professional development as they progress.

Do you see any relationship between the work that you do, and evolving professional scopes of practice?

I think the work I do, as an allied health educator, and the broader moves to evolve professional scopes of practice, go hand in hand.

As scope of practice for allied health evolves and increases (as I hope it does), there will be an even greater need for allied health professionals to be equipped with skills in areas like leadership and education, both of which are big focuses of my work.

Leadership skills will be vital in navigating the conversations and (sometimes) potential pushback, that may occur as scopes evolve. Change can bring with it uncertainty, and even patch-protecting. If allied health professionals across the board, both on the ground and in high-level positions, have good leadership skills, this will help us represent ourselves well as a collective workforce, and walk-the-talk and show that we are more than capable of working to high levels of our scope.

Similarly, education skills will help us represent ourselves well as a workforce. Growing awareness of what we do, and the skills and capabilities that we have, will help build added trust amongst our health professional peers and the public alike. Education skills will support us to articulate this clearly and help our message cut through.

What does leadership in allied health mean to you?

To me, leadership in allied health means big ‘L’ leadership and little ‘l’ leadership both working in tandem.

Some of you may have heard this analogy before, but if not, a brief outline is:

  • Big ‘L’ leadership relates to formal leadership by people in senior positions, completing tasks like setting visions and strategies and making big decisions. When thinking leadership, this is often what first comes to mind.
  • Little ‘l’ leadership on the other hand is about leadership on the ground. It can be practiced by people of all levels. It includes contributing to continuing improvements, using initiative constrictively and generally leading by example. You could say it’s the embodiment of an organisation’s vision or mission.

In other words, leadership can be displayed by allied health professionals at any level. When I think leadership in allied health, for me it encompasses everything from getting a seat at the table and having an influence in high level decision-making, right through to the junior health professional on the ground who calls out a behaviour or practice that could be improved.

As an educator, I strongly believe that, like so many things, leadership skills can be learned. The upshot of this is that there is a great opportunity to build these important skills in our allied health workforce. This will benefit not only the individuals who develop these capabilities, but also our allied health workforce as a whole.

Do you have any views on the Commonwealth Scope of Practice Review?

I think it’s great that the Commonwealth is conducting a Scope of Practice Review. In my view, enabling allied health professionals to work to their full, or even extended scope, is an investment in the sustainability of our health system.

Workforce shortages across the health sector are a well-known, long-standing issue, as are increasing pressures from an ageing population and increasing rates of chronic disease. If I look into the future, I can’t see how we can afford not to, to use the words of the review, “unleash the potential of our health workforce”. So if we’re going to need to pull this lever in the future, why not pull it now before the pressures already impacting the system increase further?

While in conversations about scope of practice there can be a tendency to focus on the upper end of scope, which is no doubt important, there is another component in this conversation that I feel is just as important. That is, the role of the assistant workforce.

In Australia we have a growing workforce of allied health assistants (AHAs). As of 2023, AHAs have a professional association – the Allied Health Assistants’ National Association (AHANA). With this will come further professionalisation of this already skilled and highly valuable workforce.

From my perspective, I hope the role of AHAs is included in discussions about the scope of practice review, as well as in how it’s implemented (when that time comes). If and when opportunities increase for allied health professionals to work to expanded scope, it would be great if this provides complementary opportunities for AHAs to continue consolidating and evolving their scope as well.

Follow Ned Jelbart on LinkedIn Learn more about Applied8 | Launching in June and July, respectively, Ned will be offering two of his flagship courses, ‘Leadership Foundations’ and ‘Educator Foundations’, self-paced and online through The Allied Health Academy. You can also register for Ned’s upcoming webinar ‘Difficult Conversations: Techniques for tackling tricky discussions at work and in the clinic – CPD Webinar for Allied Health Assistants’ by joining the AHA CPD Learning Community. At $99 p.a. (plus GST for Australian residents), the AHA CPD Learning Community offers monthly webinars with high quality speakers, like Ned, weekly case studies and much more, all within an online community designed to provide foundational knowledge across a broad range of topics and create invaluable connection between AHAs and other community members.