Grew up on a family farm near Sea Lake, in the Mallee, and now calls Swan Hill home.
Put simply, Rebecca Clohesy is kicking goals at life.
Smashing it. Fist pumps. She’s doin’ alright.
With a dream to forge a career “back home in the Mallee”, Rebecca (better known as Bec) has become a fine example of what can be achieved with a belly full of ambition, fortitude and enthusiasm.
In 2019, at the ripe old age of 30, Bec is the owner and director of an occupational therapy clinic specialising in the needs of children.
Based in Swan Hill, in North West Victoria, the venture is aptly named Swan Hill Kids Therapy (SKT) and it’s going gangbusters.
Such has been its success, Bec has had to relocate the business to a new, larger residence in recent months to keep up with demand.
As the SKT client base has increased, so too has Bec’s workload but she’s hardly complaining – the triumph of her business is “a dream come true”.
It's sweet reward for working hard.
But within that sweet reward there has been a tinge of disappointing irony, and it’s something all too familiar within the wider health sector of Swan Hill and surrounds.
Despite attractive pay-packets and other incentives, there is an incessant struggle to attract skilled workers to the rural reaches of the Mallee.
In Bec’s case, she’s spent thousands of dollars advertising for a graduate occupational therapist and she’s yet to receive a single application …
Which is where we pick up our chat with occupational therapist Bec Clohesy — our latest Rural Inspire Mentor for 2019.
So, how’s it going Bec? Have you had any interest in the position?
“I’d have to say it has been trying. I have spoken to graduates and they say they don't want to return to the country yet or they want to gain experience within the public sector, particularly in a larger city, before they’ll even consider coming back here. And if they’re actually from the city, forget it, they won’t even consider a place like this.”
How long has this been going on?
“Gosh, I started advertising the position last year. Funnily enough, or frustratingly enough, I have a pretty strong following of graduates on social media and they always comment on different posts that I put up. You know, stuff like ‘I love your work’ or ‘I love your ideas’, but they all want city jobs. I can’t coerce them to join me – I’ve tried!
Your frustration is pretty evident. Do you think the position you’ve advertised is being overlooked, purely because it's in a country community?
Definitely. I mean, I do understand their position because I’ve been in their shoes, I’ve moved away and ‘experienced life elsewhere’. But what I don’t think they realise is that the professional opportunities in the country can be quite endless.
For example, I have been made to invest in professional development because, being here in Swan Hill, I have been exposed to so many different presentations of children with so many varied concerns. Whereas, I know if I was working in the city I’d be put in a position to specialise within a particular area, such as cerebral palsy or autism spectrum disorder, because they have so many more resources and people to do the work. To me, in that scenario, I would be limiting myself because I wouldn't have to take on as many challenges as I do here, and I consider that to be professionally restrictive.
Tough question but what do you think could be done to help address this issue?
I think we have reasonable government assistance for our rural students to attend university but I think it’s the support after university that is critically lacking. How can the government help our rural graduates return to the country? What are they actually doing to encourage this? I think there needs to be greater incentives because the way it is now it's not working. I received a grant from SARRAH to return to the country but, unfortunately, this funding has ceased.
So, would it be safe to say you love where you live? Is Swan Hill your home town?
Yes, I love where I live but it’s not quite my hometown. I am proudly a born and bred local of Sea Lake, which is about 50 minutes from Swan Hill.
Okay then, tell us about Sea Lake. What was life like growing up in your town?
Well, we lived in town until my grandparents retired, at which point my parents moved out onto the farm, 20km east of Sea Lake. I have fond memories of me and my sisters calling-up our friends on the home phone to organise a ‘meeting spot’, from which we would then ride our bikes or rollerblade all around town. Summers were spent at the local pool when I wasn’t driving the chaser-bin for Dad; Winters were all about travelling around the countryside to play netball.
Do you think growing up in a rural area was an advantage or disadvantage?
For me it is was definitely an advantage. My parents and my friends’ parents used to car-pool us to sporting events, which created great opportunities for friendships to develop. I have always felt a real sense of belonging in my town.
However, I am very aware that there are many kids living in rural communities who find it to be a disadvantage because they don’t necessarily ‘fit in’ with the norms of ‘being from the country’, and that’s something I’ll keep in mind when having children of my own.
So, you’re proud of your country upbringing?
Definitely. I wouldn’t have it any other way and I look forward to bringing up my own children in this beautiful community. I feel very blessed for the life I have had and the life I continue to enjoy.
What about school, where did you attend, and did you enjoy it?
I attended St Mary’s Primary School in Sea Lake and MacKillop College in Swan Hill. I enjoyed my primary school and the early years of secondary school. But, as the demands increased in Year 9, 10 and beyond, Mum and Dad certainly saw me taking a few ‘sickies’ because I hadn’t done my homework over the weekend, like I was supposed to, and then anxiety would creep up on me by Monday morning. Studying was hard for me; I was always more of a ‘hands-on’ or ‘outdoors’ kind of girl.
Perhaps we’ve already gained an insight but what kind of student were you?
I think I’d describe myself as ‘cheeky’ during those years I’ve just mentioned; I guess that was my coping mechanism. But once I matured a bit, transitioning into VCE, I made up my mind that I wanted to be an occupational therapist and then I knew I had to knuckle down with my studies.
I remember writing ‘to do lists’ all over the joint, as a way to maintain focus. I would study for a certain amount of time and then I’d allow myself to take a break, go outside and stretch my legs, before returning to the books. If I didn’t break it down like that I became overwhelmed.
Did any of your teachers inspire you?
Yes, one teacher at MacKillop College, Chris Joyce, was someone who really helped me get through my VCE studies. He was supportive but also honest, which is what I needed. I was honoured to be the Solomon house captain, which was under his guidance, and I received the Caltex All Rounder Award at the end of Year 12, and I think he certainly helped me achieve that.
What about university? Where did you study?
I studied at La Trobe University in Bendigo. I did a Bachelor of Health Sciences and Master of Occupational Therapist Practice. It was a lot of work!
No doubt. And that brings us back to what you’re doing now. You’re an OT and you have your own business but what did it take to get there? What has your journey been?
Yes, so, I am a practicing Paediatric Occupational Therapist. My practice is called Swan Hill Kids Therapy and I work with kids and teens aged 0-18. I travel all over the Mallee and into southern New South Wales providing services. This is a completely different field from where I started my career.
Initially, after graduating, I worked for a local Occupational Therapist, Jo O’Bree, providing services to TAC, DVA and WorkCover. From there I relocated to Kalgoorlie in rural Western Australia for a 12-month stint and during that period I worked for a mining company, specialising in injury management and return-to-work for an underground team.
I then moved back to Swan Hill and commenced business operating under Swan Hill Occupational Therapy, two days per week, and I also worked under Bendigo Health with their Adult Acute Crisis Mental Health Team, three days a week.
It was during this period that I noticed an influx of paediatric referrals. I then decided to upskill myself in the paediatric area of occupational therapy, which included a number of courses in Melbourne, as well as online courses and paid mentoring.
I then decided to take the plunge into running my practice full-time, changing the name to Swan Hill Kids Therapy – and since then I have not looked back. I have a team of four, who I am so grateful to have, and although it’s a lot of work I am really starting to see things coming together.
Bec, keep up the great work, and thanks for your time.