30 September 2020

Tristan Chai - Physio

Tristan Chai

Head Physiotherapist at Adelaide 36ers
Owner at Good Physio
Bachelor of Physiotherapy

Failed sporting ambitions inspired Tristan Chai's career as a physiotherapist.

"It was the next best thing," he laughs. "I was passionate about sport but also very studious at school and quite good at science and health, so my career is the perfect combination of those two things."

Tristan is the head physiotherapist of Australian professional men's basketball team, the Adelaide 36ers. His role is a mix of treating and helping injured athletes with their rehabilitation and developing training programs to ensure players perform at their peak.

"It satisfies my 'elite itch' because I can push guys further and ask a bit more of them. You know that they're going to do what you ask them to do; their career depends on it.

They usually put a lot of pressure on you to get them back sooner onto the court," he says. "A sports club is a great place to sharpen your skills as a physiotherapist."

But it's the other side of his work as the owner of Good Physio, that Tristan finds most rewarding.

"I get so much out of helping someone like a young mum who has done her back and can't lift her baby anymore. When you're solving that kind of real-life problem, it's so much more satisfying or gratifying," he says.

Tristan Chai Good Physio

Working as a physiotherapist enables you to solve a “real-life problem.”

The antithesis of the sterile consultation rooms that pervade Australia's medical industry, Good Physio is more akin to a day spa. To create the space, Tristan teamed up with a patient of his, an architect, and even took a trip to Japan to get inspiration from their hospital spaces.

"I wanted to make the physio experience a little bit more about wellbeing," he says. "If my staff and I enjoy coming to work every day, then our patients will enjoy it, too – even if they don't enjoy the reason why they're there."

Tristan graduated with a Bachelor of Physiotherapy from the University of South Australia back in 2006. He says the university opened doors into the elite sports therapy industry, by looping him in with the Adelaide Crows while he was still a student.

"If you have a special interest in something, the uni isn't a barrier," he says. "It's a facilitator."

Currently, the university offers degrees in physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech pathology, podiatry, exercise and sport science, human movement, clinical exercise physiology, medical radiation sciences, health science, public health and medical sonography.

It's the only university in South Australia to offer fully accredited undergraduate degrees in physiotherapy, occupational therapy, clinical exercise physiology, exercise and sport science, medical radiation sciences and podiatry, exemplifying the practical and industry-ready approach of UniSA’s ethos.

Tristan enjoyed the hands-on experience working with real patients in the university's community clinics as well as the more academic side of the course, diving into research around the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of health issues.


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"It was a really good mix," he says. "Especially when you're age twenty-one, it's sometimes hard to meet strangers and make chit-chat with people from all different walks of life.

“To be a good physio, you really have to be a 'people person' and listen to someone's story. So, having that real-life experience built into the course was fantastic because when you graduate, you're ready.”

He says a career in healthcare is one of constant development – "I'm forever on a learning curve" – but he graduated from UniSA feeling competent enough to work under mentors.

Like most industries, physiotherapy is in flux due to the coronavirus.

"The industry has changed a lot, but it has been really easy to move with the changes as a clinic owner," Tristan says.

He says a silver lining of the pandemic is the expansion and acceptance of telehealth, meaning consultations over the internet can result in faster diagnoses and treatments, increase the efficiency of care and reduce patient stress. During the lockdown, Good Physio consulted people living in regional parts of South Australia.

"I even had an ultra-distance runner from Austria call for a consult. The great thing is now you don't have to take your pick from your town, you can take your pick from the whole world," he says.

"Given all that has happened over the past couple of months, it has really reaffirmed the stability of this industry."

Tristan Chai Good Physio

He says health has long been viewed as a 'future-proofed' career, but it's particularly pertinent in 2020.

"When people prioritise their life, it all comes back to health. You've always got a job because people are willing to spend money on their health." He pauses. "Or rather, it's health, toilet paper and hairdressing."

With good health a key priority for most Australians, Tristan says the clinic's message is the same it has always been: to move more to be well.

To help people move more, the clinic hosts a run club designed for people who've never thought of themselves as the 'running type'.

"We eliminate their fear and at the end of the program, they complete a 12-kilometre race. They do all the hard work, and they're guided through the process," he says.

"It's really rewarding to remove those barriers. Whether it's an elite athlete or someone who has strained themselves gardening, it's rewarding to see patients reach their goals."

An unstoppable career in health begins at UniSA. Discover 20+ health qualifications including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech pathology, podiatry, clinical exercise physiology, pharmacy, medical radiation sciences and more, and graduate career ready with UniSA.

A version of this article has been published on news.com.au as Meet the good physio: Careers advice from a physiotherapist previously.

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