The Victorian Health Professionals Association (VHPA) is undergoing a minor name change. Over the next month we will be transitioning to become the Victorian Allied Health Professionals Association (VAHPA).
The change is designed to give us a stronger identity. Other than the insertion of the word ‘Allied’, there will be no change to our logo, colours or operations.
All good unions need a strong identity—internally and externally. On this count, HSU Victoria No. 3 Branch has long struggled. We have always been known as the ‘Health Professionals’ branch and have had a range of trading names that reflect this.
The ‘Health Professional’ designation stems from two key factors. The first is industrial correctness. The underpinning award of most relevance to the Number 3 branch, and the plethora of enterprise agreements that sit atop it, is the Health Professionals Award. Historically, too, we were within the jurisdiction of the Health Professional Services Conciliation and Arbitration Board. The other factor relates to the politics of amalgamation and the need to find a generic label that would satisfy all parties involved in a series of state-based union mergers during the 80s and 90s.
Very few people are aware that there exists a distinction between the proper noun ‘Health Professional’ and the generic term ‘health professional’, which applies to basically any healthcare worker.
Late last year we concluded our long-running community health campaign. As part of that campaign we issued numerous press releases. Each had a long and wordy explanation as to who we are: “community health professionals including physiotherapists, podiatrists, speech pathologists and others”. No wonder we struggled to get media coverage – we have no clear identity.
We spent some time looking at other professional groups in health. We looked to the doctors and recognised that the work an orthopaedic surgeon does is wildly different from the work that a general practitioner does. We looked to the nurses and saw that a nurse unit manager was engaged in work vastly different to that done by a scrub nurse. Yet in each case each group strongly self- identified as a doctor or as a nurse.
It was clear in our case, however, that each group identifies inwardly and discretely – for example, as medical imaging technologists, as physiotherapists, as research technologist, as social workers and as radiation therapists.
The branch committee of management spent considerable time discussing this vexing issue. How could we overcome this lack of identity? How could we forge a sense of unity among the diverse professional groups covered by the branch? Could we find a designation that would allow the media and the public to understand us, to see us as real and human?
One collective noun stood out—Allied Health Professional. The committee decided to embrace it.
Allied Health—It’s our designation
The Victorian Department of Health sees Allied Health Professionals as the essential third pillar, along side doctors and nurses, of the Victorian health workforce and have indicated a willingness to engage in promotions around that.
They further consider 26 professions to fall within the classification ‘Allied Health’. There is however no clear definition of the term. Academics use the word in distinct ways, accountants use the term to facilitate funding arrangements, universities and other training institutions likewise use it as they see fit. Part of the strength of the designation, therefore, is its malleability.
The professions that make up the department’s list are divided into two streams – the therapy stream and the science stream. We have broadened this concept to fully embrace our area of coverage:
- Allied Health Professionals—Therapeutic and Clinical Stream
- Allied Health Professionals—Radiation and Imaging Stream
- Allied Health Professionals—Social and Welfare Stream
- Allied Health Professionals—Technical Stream
- Allied Health Professionals—Dental Stream
We have seen from the paramedics ‘Code Red’ campaign that it is important to campaign smart. We can no longer rely on an old style ‘boots-and-all’ industrial campaign. We need to use our strengths and leverage existing weaknesses. The ambos won the battle for public opinion. They used their identity to bond together and to facilitate positive publicity. We must find this unity and we must do all we can to build our profile.
While others use the term allied health professional, we are the people doing the work; we are the physiotherapists, the health information managers, the medical imaging technologists and the social workers. We are the podiatrists, the orthoptists, the exercise physiologists, the biomedical techs and the occupational therapists. We are the speech pathologists, the music therapists, the nuclear medicine techs and the prosthetists. We do the work; we define the term and collectively wear it with pride.
We are the Victorian Allied Health Professionals Association!
As part of this change we will be moving our email addresses to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will also be updating our Facebook page, website and other associated social media.
We do not anticipate any major difficulties associated with this shift however please bear with us in the event that we lose track of an email or two over the next period.