Teamwork at the heart of
health care

Two Perspectives

ChangeMakers spoke to HealthFusion Team Challenge mentor and UQ lecturer Dr Emma Beckman and UQ social work graduate Kirsten Cusack about the necessity for teamwork in the allied health professions, and why UQ seems to be unstoppable after three consecutive HealthFusion Team Challenge national titles.

Emma's Perspective

The Australian HealthFusion Team Challenge is an interprofessional learning activity for health students, designed to educate tomorrow’s healthcare professionals in collaborative client care. It is an opportunity for students to work together in teams to solve a hypothetical case involving a client with complex needs.

The challenge was developed at UQ in 2007, originally called the HealthFusion Team Challenge, and was later relocated to Queensland University of Technology and rebranded as the Australian HealthFusion Team Challenge (Oz HFTC) in 2013.

My involvement in the Oz HFTC began in 2011 when I inherited an academic representative role. It was my first year as a lecturer in the field of Clinical Exercise Physiology, which at the time was still a fairly new profession in allied health, and I saw it as an amazing opportunity.

What I didn’t realise at the time was how integral it would become to the way I teach.

The skills and competencies that students gain during the challenge are invaluable and I don’t think they learn them anywhere else in their degree.

The case studies are incredible, real-life scenarios and based around a different theme each year.

The past few years have included a respiratory virus outbreak in a hospital, a community emergency with many people trapped in a showground, an individual with significant complications from diabetes, and most recently, a war veteran with complex medical and mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, that had to be collectively managed. Every year it becomes more confronting for the students, but is based around a really important issue that they are likely to face in their industry.

The 2016 UQ Australian HealthFusion Team Challenge team led by Dr Emma Beckman (back row, second from right) and featuring Kirsten Cusack (back row, far left). 

The 2016 UQ Australian HealthFusion Team Challenge team led by Dr Emma Beckman (back row, second from right) and featuring Kirsten Cusack (back row, far left). 

As allied health professionals, we’re very good at teaching our discipline-specific content, but there is so much non-academic learning about what it means to be a team and what you can gain from effective teamwork, which is so crucial to interprofessional workplaces, but isn’t covered in the classroom.

Opportunities like the Oz HFTC are so valuable to students wanting to get ahead in the industry, and the professional value of the challenge is evident to students, with application numbers increasing each year.

It is an extremely competitive process to be selected as a team member, and it is up to a team of academic representatives to assess the applications and select a team with the right balance of disciplines and knowledge. Successful students have usually either had previous experience in inter-professional learning or were able to articulate the importance of allied health professionals working together.

It’s universally acknowledged that teamwork is one of the more challenging parts of university assessment, and yet here we have 40 students not only volunteering, but competing for the opportunity to do additional teamwork – it’s unheard of.

UQ has won three consecutive national challenges, making Oz HFTC history, and that is in part because of the high-quality students involved in the challenge, and also the importance put on mentoring the students throughout the process.

The students are given the case a month prior to the event, and I spend that preparation time mentoring the students individually and as a group, teaching them about teamwork. But more than that, I teach them to be resilient, to be reflective, and that solving a complex case as a group of professionals is not just about what you can do, but how you can work together and how similarities don’t have to be a source of conflict.

Spending the time mentoring students on how to be a team, rather than just expecting they will figure it out, has been our winning secret and something that other universities don’t seem to do quite as well as us.

To learn more about the Australian HealthFusion Team Challenge, visit

About Emma

Following the completion of her bachelor’s degree in Human Movement Studies (Exercise Science), Dr Beckman worked as an accredited exercise physiologist, primarily with neuromusculoskeletal conditions. Dr Beckman completed an Erasmus Mundus master’s degree in Adapted Physical Activity in 2006 at the Katholieke Universiteit of Leuven, Belgium, and wrote her thesis on skilled performance in Ice Sledge Hockey. Continuing with her interest in disability sport, Dr Beckman returned to UQ to complete her PhD in classification in Paralympic athletics. She is an internationally accredited classifier in Paralympic athletics and volunteers in this capacity at a local, state, national and international level.

Kirsten’s perspective

I received an email inviting students to apply for the Australian HealthFusion Team Challenge (Oz HFTC) mid last year but, being in my final year of university and undertaking a placement in the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit at Princess Alexandra Hospital, I didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until I received a follow-up email from one of my lecturers strongly encouraging me to apply that I looked into it a bit further.

I went into the challenge not knowing what to expect, but I am so glad I received the extra push. It was an amazing experience I would have otherwise missed out on.

Throughout high school I struggled to answer the typical ‘what do you want to be’ question that seemed to continually pop up. I knew I wanted a career in which I was making a difference and supporting people, but I didn’t have a profession in mind. Then in Year 12, I had a pretty major operation – a spinal fusion.

I was lucky at the time to have plenty of family support, but it got me thinking that perhaps people are too focused on a medical diagnosis and not what happens to your life during and after being through an experience like that.

From my experience, I learnt that a person is more than their physical health, which led me down the path of social work.

Life can be scary, difficult and confusing and no one deserves to feel unsupported. After researching the role social workers play, I decided to apply to study a Bachelor of Social Work at UQ.

My social work specialty ended up being a great asset in our particular challenge.

The 2016 Oz HFTC incorporated a very large social work element in respect to a patient with post-traumatic stress disorder – everyone had an important role to play, but social work certainly influenced the outcome.

The 2016 UQ Australian HealthFusion Team Challenge team in action.

The 2016 UQ Australian HealthFusion Team Challenge team in action.

Given all members of our team had different specialties, we had specific responsibilities within the team. Yet we were open to anyone jumping in and giving some information or a different perspective, because ultimately this challenge is about teamwork.

The greatest takeaway from participating in the Oz HFTC was learning the importance of teamwork. The winner will ultimately be the team that can work well together under significant time pressure.

The challenge reinforces how vital multidisciplinary healthcare teams are, as the case study that we were given had so many different aspects to it, including social, emotional, physical and medical wellbeing.

Our mentor, Emma, had led two previous winning teams and instilled in us the necessary teamwork skills to develop a comprehensive care plan, and win the national championship.

I had not met any of the other members of my team before the challenge, despite all being similar ages, enrolled in complementary degrees and studying at the same campus.

That’s one of the fantastic unintentional benefits of the challenge: you have the opportunity to meet and network with a group of people you are likely to cross paths with later in your career.

The allied health industry is increasingly moving towards a focus on interprofessional workplace environments, and opportunities like the Oz HFTC give students a taste of cross-discipline collaboration.

I would absolutely recommend the Oz HFTC to allied health students. For me, it was an invaluable experience that equipped me with unique skills I may not have otherwise gained.

Read more about Kirsten's inspiring career journey.

About Kirsten

Kirsten Cusack moved from the Sunshine Coast hinterland to study at UQ in 2013, and graduated with a Bachelor of Social Work (Honours) in 2016. While studying at UQ, she received an Allied Health Undergraduate (Entry Level) Scholarship through the Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health. Ms Cusack has since relocated to Toowoomba and has secured a full-time job in the disability sector, working as a local area coordinator for the National Disability Insurance Scheme partner, Carers Queensland.

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