Matthew Hoffman – Journey into Physiotherapy

Matthew Hoffman is a proud Aboriginal man of the Woolwonga peoples of the Pine Creek and Burrundie region, and the Larrakia peoples of the Darwin area. He spent much of his early life in Palmerston, NT, moving across to the Sunshine Coast at the age of 13 where he finished off his schooling years. Matt then moved to Brisbane to complete his Bachelor of Physiotherapy at the University of Queensland (UQ).

With a particular interest in mathematics, physics, and chemistry; Matt originally wanted to become an engineer. This led him to participating in the Indigenous Engineering Summer Camp in Sydney and perusing various other opportunities he was presented with during his senior years in high school.

Although, after reflecting on these experiences he realised he was not passionate about engineering and decided to choose another path. Taking into consideration his personal interests, and after yarning with his friends and family, Matt decided he would like to do something health and fitness related and started looking into Physiotherapy.

Matt says he chose to apply for UQ as it was the closest University to where he was living that offered a degree in Physiotherapy. He spent the first three years of his university experience staying on campus at the St Leo’s College.

He says his journey into allied health, might not be as difficult as what others have experienced. He is grateful to of had a strong network of friends and family supporting him along the way and he was also able to seek out every opportunity that was made available to him.

While Matt had a strong personal network, he described the supports offered to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students within his school as being limited, and he remembers the percentage of Indigenous students within his peer group being quite small. He explains, this can make it hard for Indigenous students, particularly in the senior years where students are expected to start thinking about the next stage of their lives.

Matt said he was grateful to of been at school at the same time as his sister to watch how she handled her senior years of school. He took notice of everything she did leading up to the end of high school and the beginning of her university journey and said to him self I want to do the same. Matt’s sister was a massive help, showing him the scholarships that she applied for, and proofreading his applications. Matt’s older sister let him know how university works and this helped make his transition from high school to Uni a whole lot easier.

Matt said his first contact at the university was the Goori Berrimpa student collective for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at UQ. They were very welcoming and offered him guidance, tutoring and a variety of other supports which helped make his transition into university life smooth. He also explains that he had access to supports provided by the college he was staying in, as well as being surrounded by a whole bunch of students that were in the same boat as himself, fresh on campus.

Matt received a few scholarships throughout his studies, including one from IAHA, which helped take away the financial stress of studying full time. In addition to IAHA, he was also involved in organisations and events like the Indigenous Uni Games and the Australian Physiotherapy Association, where I attended conferences and was able to network/connect with other Indigenous allied health students.

Matt states, there are always challenges with going to university, such as being away from family and friends, the increased difficulty of study and having to be more independent with studies.

“My friends and family have always been very supportive, growing up, going to university was the only option, that’s what my sister did and I wanted to follow those footsteps. I really enjoy learning and figuring out who I was, Year 12 just wasn’t the end of the road for me, I couldn’t really help who I wanted to help at that point.”

During his journey into allied health, Matt has gained a deeper understanding of how important it is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander physiotherapists to be out there working with our people. Matt explains, that throughout his time of placement, and through his new post-grad positions, he’s noticed a distinct lack of understanding or cultural safety in his profession. He says, “we know how we work and we know our values and beliefs, which a lot of non-indigenous physiotherapists out there don’t understand or haven’t been taught, but if you grow up with it and it’s in your blood it just comes naturally.”

Matt believes Increasing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander physiotherapists out there will improve advocacy, improve care and hopefully overall health outcomes, especially in rural and remote communities. He explains, “I love the ability to build relationships with all my clients, build trust and from those foundations work on improving them. I hear a lot of stories, get to know a lot of people, and they really appreciate the help and knowledge I provide.

Working with 90% Indigenous clients, being able to take my time with getting to know them before starting any treatment, learning who they are and them getting to know me makes all the difference. Being able to deliver services where they are comfortable, whether that’s around family, up the beach on their country. Some of my favourite experiences in life so far have been at work, which is great to say. Nothing worse than being in a clinic all day every day, trying to treat someone in 30 minutes and not really getting to know them.”

When asked how Matt was introduced to IAHA he explained;

“IAHA has played a role in my journey from the start of university. I was first introduced to the organisation from other students of Goorie Burrimpa at UQ and I wasn’t really involved with IAHA until my third year of study. I had been told about their conferences and team challenges by other students, which I was interested in. I attended the 2018 conference with Roianne West who I was doing an internship with at the time with her First Peoples Health Unit at Griffith on the Gold Coast.

I found being surrounded by other Indigenous Allied Health students amazing and I ran into a few other Indigenous physiotherapists from another conference I went to a few months prior (so many opportunities to link with likeminded students through university). I wish I had done the Team challenge that year as it was the first international conference, and it was really interesting to hear from first nations people of NZ, Hawaii and Canada.

The second conference I went to in 2019, Darwin, I took part in the Team challenge, and it was one of the most amazing experiences. At the time it opened my eyes to some of the difficulties and complexities of trying to treat our people in community or in hard to access areas. All the different professions that need to be openly communicating with each other and strategies to deal with difficult situations in a culturally responsive way.“

Matt’s advice to anyone thinking of beginning a journey into physiotherapy is that just like any degree, the hardest part is starting. There is always help available, you just need to know where to ask, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. He says there will be a lot of difficulties and a lot of fun times, but the journey is awesome, and the outcome is amazing.

“Once you start you won’t look back”.