Q&A: Exercising the right to a healthier future

This week we chat to Melissa McConaghy. One of only seven specialist neurological physiotherapists in Australia, Melissa is the founder of neurological rehab centre Advance Rehab Centre and of PD Warrior, a program that leverages the benefits of exercise for those suffering with Parkinson’s Disease. The current Australian Physiotherapist of the Year, Melissa is also the creator of INSIGHT into PD, the largest online global conference for Parkinson’s.

ISB: What was the motivation behind you setting up Advance Rehab Centre and PD Warrior?

MM: I wanted to go into private practice for many reasons – autonomy, flexibility and because I believed I could provide a better service. I knew very little about business at the time but the overheads and risks were low starting as a mobile service. The team grew quickly and before too long we needed a central location to meet, other than the proverbial converted garage. That is when the outpatient rehab facility in St Leonards was established.

We created many neuro programs at Advance Rehab Centre and PD Warrior was one of them. After establishing the first iteration of the program in 2012, it continued to evolve into one of the most rewarding programs I’ve ever delivered. There were many health professionals who also were interested in undergoing training in the program so PD Warrior became its own entity in 2015.

ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting these enterprises off the ground?

MM: Working in the private sector as a health professional, there have been two consistent challenges. One has been having to learn how to reconcile the two hats of health professional and business owner that contradict each other regularly.

The second has been needing to learn how to market our services every time we pioneered a new program or service. Being in private practice we have been nimble and driven to innovate but often without the necessary tools to know how to offer our programs to the market successfully.

ISB: Please tell us briefly about the ethos behind your INSIGHT into PD events?

MM: INSIGHT was an expansion of the online events we had already been offering. As a team we were keen to provide more accessible and high-quality education and global networking platform for people who might otherwise not get exposure to a traditional conference. As well as making ourselves known to the top researchers and academics who presented at the conference, we were also interested in leveraging the conference success to be able to get a seat at the table of many stakeholder meetings.

ISB: And how did you go about successfully staging INSIGHT 2020 in light of the COVID-19 restrictions?

MM: Given that INSIGHT is delivered entirely online, the conference was extremely well placed during the COVID-19 lockdown when many were at home looking for activities and events they could attend from the convenience of their living room. I believe this had a material impact on numbers by about 20 per cent. Some of the speakers were under enormous pressure during the conference so we required some last minute substitution of speakers for those who bowed out.

ISB: What is your vision for widening the message about the role exercise plays as medicine in the next couple of years?

MM: It has been interesting to see the sentiment around exercise change over the past five to 10 years. It has moved from being an adjunct to medical management to a front-line treatment for neurological, orthopaedic, metabolic and cardiovascular conditions. I see this continuing to improve so that people are routinely referred to exercise professionals – physios, exercise physiologists and personal trainers.

ISB: Finally, what is the number one lesson you’ve learnt on your entrepreneurial journey you’d share with others looking to start their own business?

MM: Get a mentor and surround yourself with innovative, dynamic people who inspire you and get behind you to help coach you realise your dream.