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First cohort graduates from Ara’s unique osteopathy programme

The first cohort of students in New Zealand’s only postgraduate osteopathy programme have graduated from Ara Institute of Canterbury today.

“We’re the pioneers,” graduate Kris Esguerra says with pride.

Six students have completed Ara’s postgraduate study in osteopathy following their three-year Bachelor of Musculoskeletal Health degree – a significant milestone amidst the challenges of operating a clinic during the Covid-19 pandemic. Four are graduating in person today.

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Kris Esguerra pictured with fellow Post Graduate Diploma in Osteopathy graduates Nicole Agent, Donna Cornelius, and Keren Wright

“It’s been a team effort by Ara and the whole osteopathy community in Canterbury to form this course and to guide us and mentor us,” Esguerra says. “I’m very fortunate and thankful.”

The Bachelor of Musculoskeletal Health and Postgraduate Diploma in Osteopathy is now the only pathway in the country for students to gain the necessary skills and knowledge required to apply for registration to practice with the Osteopathic Council of New Zealand.

Programme Co-leader Emma Fairs says the course has gone from strength to strength since the first students commenced their study.

“The programmes have been enlarged to meet the demand, but we still have twice the applicants for the spaces available in our clinical setting. There's strong demand for qualified osteopaths in New Zealand, Australia and further afield,” she says.

“Last year all our students had jobs lined up by the time their course work was completed.”

Seeing the first graduates cross the stage is tremendously satisfying for Ara’s Allied Health team.

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Manager James Jowsey says these graduating students represent 10 years of dedicated work developing and expanding the programme with the additional challenges of Covid-19 in recent times.

“In the five years since the first graduates began their studies, staff levels have doubled, two clinic spaces have grown to nine, and more than 50 third- and fourth-year students are actively working in the clinic.”

Jowsey says a debt of gratitude is owed to their graduating peers and the department staff.

“These students have been integral to the continual development of the programme over their years of study.  Their feedback and hard work have moulded and shaped the programme to what it is today,” he says.

“We have a fantastic team of incredibly passionate and dedicated staff working in the programme who are teaching and supporting the students to be the best practitioners they can be.”

Fairs is also quick to acknowledge the role of external clinical supervisors who broaden the learning for students.

“We couldn’t run this programme without the support the clinic supervisors bring to this academic setting,” she says. “With their vast range of skills in specialist areas from osteopathy in pregnancy to sports injury and paediatric care. Among them they have decades of clinical experience.”

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Graduate Esguerra, who switched to the career path after a seeking help for a debilitating injury in a dairy farm accident, is already giving back to the course by tutoring in a manual therapy class every week.

“My injury inspired me to change careers and treat people in a therapy very much unknown in my native Philippines,” he says.

“If you’d told me five years ago I’d be working in a clinic and teaching at Ara I wouldn’t have believed it.”

Jowsey says the future is bright for the programme. “We have a great reputation of producing a quality programme and thus quality graduates.”

Fairs agrees, noting that osteopathy is recognised as an integral part of New Zealand’s primary healthcare practice.

“The busyness of private clinics talks to the demand for osteopaths,” Fairs says.

Applications to enrol in the Bachelor of Musculoskeletal Health programme, the prerequisite for Ara Te Pūkenga’s Postgraduate Diploma in Osteopathy for 2023 close on 1 October 2022.