Demand for Occupational Therapists at all-time high, as graduate launches new service in Coffs Harbour

Published 23 February 2023
Southern Cross Uni Occupational Therapy graduate Sophie Cameron

Southern Cross University graduate Sophie Cameron is spearheading a new Occupational Therapy service in Coffs Harbour, a region desperate for Occupational Therapists.

Sophie and her classmates were the first to graduate from the Bachelor of Occupational Therapy in Coffs Harbour in 2022 with the cohort achieving 100 per cent employment.

Associate Professor Jacqui Yoxall, Chair of Allied Health at Southern Cross, said demand for allied health professionals such as Occupational Therapists and Speech Pathologists is at an all-time high, with some consumers waiting for more than a year for an appointment.

ABS Census Data released in late 2022 showed Occupational Therapy is one of the fastest growing professions, having experienced strong growth of 57% between 2016 and 2021 (approx. 7% per annum), with demand for occupational therapists continuing to outstrip supply.

On job website Seek, there are currently more than 7000 ads across Australia for Occupational Therapists.

“Southern Cross University has long been an advocate for increased Allied Health services in the Coffs Coast region, and we are producing high-quality graduates who have immersive real-world experience ready for the workforce,” Associate Professor Yoxall said.

“Sophie’s is an exemplary story showing the kinds of opportunities available to our graduates.

“The NDIS has dramatically increased demand for Occupational Therapists across Australia. Southern Cross University can attest to that with 100 per cent of our recent Occupational Therapy graduates receiving employment since graduation, with a large proportion employed in the disability sector.”

Following her final year placement at Health Works NSW, a regional allied health provider based at Orange in the NSW Central West, Sophie was offered her the unique opportunity of leading the start-up of a new Coffs-based operation.

“At first I couldn’t believe I’d be able to keep working for such a reputable company and receiving guidance and mentorship while launching an office here in Coffs,” Sophie said.

“I’m just starting out and learning about what I can offer to meet people’s needs here in Coffs – mainly with NDIS clients, from kids through to the elderly – with things like equipment prescriptions, functional capacity assessment, housing recommendations, workplace assessment and skill development.

“The biggest thing I’ve noticed is how excited people are to finally be seeing an occupational therapist, because there is such a long wait time with huge demand all over Australia.”

Sophie says being part Southern Cross University’s inaugural Occupational Therapy cohort in Coffs Harbour enabled her to pursue her dream career, while continuing to live with family and near the ocean. She began studying her first biology subject through Southern Cross while in Year 12, through what is now known as the UniStart program, which secured her place in the Bachelor of Occupational Therapy.

“Rather than it being about me helping people, I like to see people help themselves, so listening and observing and being able to give strategies and equipment for them to start living life independently. The most rewarding thing for me is when clients start to achieve their goals,” she said.

“Southern Cross Uni’s Health Sciences Building in Coffs Harbour is a game-changer for the region and made a massive difference to our learning with state-of-the-art equipment which gave us confidence in our skills while out on placement.”

Sophie’s new role with Health Works NSW will be based on campus alongside Southern Cross University at the Innovation Hub at the Coffs Harbour Education Campus.

Other health courses offered at Southern Cross University Coffs Harbour include Speech Pathology, Nursing, Psychological Science, Clinical Exercise Physiology, and Sport and Exercise Science, with additional postgraduate courses available online.

Media contact: Jessica Nelson