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Physiotherapist Cobie Starcevich is on a mission to improve equity – between the genders and also between city and country.

With both parents hailing from the Wheatbelt region, Cobie spent her childhood visiting family on the farm and connecting with the land, nurturing her strong appreciation for the country way of life.

It’s this strong connection that is driving her to reduce the tyranny of distance for her rural colleagues in accessing high quality professional development.

“I’ve been quite vocal the past few years about making upskilling more accessible for rural physiotherapists by improving online courses and training,” Cobie said.

“This year I got some traction when I collaborated with Sports Medicine Australia on a half day professional development event. The course was held in
person in Perth, however Rural Health West provided support so that we could also offer the training online.”

“It was very successful and we were able to demonstrate that a hybrid event is not only feasible but equitable. With the technology that we now have, there is no excuse for
not making a personal development event available online for our rural colleagues.”

Titled Gender Bias in Pain, Rehabilitation and Performance, the training looked at the gaps in research that inform clinical practice for pain neuroscience, sports injury
rehabilitation and performance.

“We want to call attention to how gender biases within sampling in research and implicit biases within healthcare professionals can shape patient experiences in pain management, sports medicine and academia.

“I presented on sex and gender bias within pain neuroscience. In a nutshell, 70 per cent of people who experience chronic pain conditions are female, yet 80 per cent of pain research is performed exclusively on males.

“Clinically, this means that the symptomology and pathophysiology of different pain conditions, illness and disease is not well understood for women.

“This results in longer time to diagnosis, and twice the incidence of adverse effects from medications for women. That’s simply not an equitable or good outcome for women.

“Research tells us that healthcare professionals treat men and women differently based on non-medical factors – aka bias.

“We all have implicit bias and there’s a lot that we as healthcare professionals can do in this space. Being more aware of how our implicit biases are shaped is important,
and reflecting on your interactions with patients and people in general is crucial for uncovering them.”

Having worn many hats throughout her career, including working as an Advanced Scope Physiotherapist for Cirque Du Soleil, Cobie intends to continue her focus on
improving equality and social justice.

“I want to do more research in the female athlete space and close research gaps that exist in that area.

“I also want to improve opportunities for girls and women in sport, as well as reduce the barriers of distance for my rural colleagues.

“I don’t like to pigeonhole myself too much by having a very specific idea of the future, because I like to remain open to opportunities that present themselves.”

Acknowledgement of Country