A switch to academia has paid off for a young physiotherapist, writes Josh Jennings.
Milena Simic says she never really paused to contemplate whether embarking on a full-time academic career at age 26 was a significant achievement. But her friends told her it was, she adds.
"I keep aiming higher but I don't think I realise what I achieve very well unless somebody points it out," she says.
Simic says her father, also an academic, piqued her interest in academia. While she jokes it's out of character for her to listen to him, she's now a lecturer in physiotherapy in the faculty of health sciences at Sydney University. She divides her time between teaching and supervising students and researching. The focus of her research centres on identifying non-surgical and non-pharmacological strategies to treat people with knee osteoarthritis.
"We want to try to reduce pain and improve patients' ability to walk around and do their daily tasks. Because we don't have a cure for osteoarthritis, it would be great if we could find ways to slow down the progression of the disease, so people don't have to have joint-replacement surgery and things like that," she says.
Simic, 27, completed a bachelor of physiotherapy (honours) at La Trobe University in 2006. In 2012, she completed her PhD at Melbourne University, researching treatment strategies for patients with medial knee osteoarthritis. Simic was also employed as a tutor at Melbourne University and a physiotherapist at Healthscope's hospitals and at an Ivanhoe sports medicine clinic.
She says she enjoyed working as a physiotherapist but was motivated to switch to a full-time academic role by the prospect of having a bigger impact on people's lives.
"Although working as a physiotherapist was very satisfying - particularly as my main drive was to help people achieve optimal recovery following their injury - I felt that I was only making a very small contribution by dealing with individual patients," Simic says.
"Research was a way to make a greater impact on people with knee osteoarthritis, rather than dealing with every individual on their own."
Simic began her current role in 2012. She says her most satisfying achievements to date include publishing research in peer-review journals and finishing her PhD.
She described the process of completing her PhD as "painful", "rewarding" and "stimulating".
"Some people say, 'I would never do it (a PhD) again.' But I would ... It's a great process to go through. But I didn't really understand how much self-motivation would be part of it," she says.
"You're working on one very tiny part of the whole literature on knee osteoarthritis ... so you have to really make sure you love the area and you're passionate."
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