Dr Christian Barton is a La Trobe postdoctoral researcher and physiotherapist, with a particular passion for turning research breakthroughs into accessible resources for clinicians.
We spoke with Dr Barton about his clinical and academic career in sports medicine, and his role at La Trobe’s world-class Sports Medicine and Research Centre.
Why did you decide to study postgrad and go into Sports Medicine academia?
After finishing my undergrad, I worked as a physio for around 18 months. At the same time, I was interested in doing some research assistant work. I spoke with a few people at La Trobe and they encouraged me to do my PhD. They said: You don’t have a family yet, so you’re not that busy. You have the time now to dedicate to research.
In my opinion, if you work for four or five years before doing your PhD, you might ask better questions in your research and therefore get more out of your PhD. By doing your PhD early, however, you’re setting yourself up early with a good academic career.
Is it unusual to be both a clinician and a researcher?
It is unusual, the environment is not set up all that well to do it. When I finished my PhD in 2010, I moved to London and almost by chance I found a position where I could work half-time clinically, and also teach and research the other half-time. When I came back to Australia, I tried to find the same mix.
As part of La Trobe’s new Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine, I was able to come back to La Trobe part-time to do postdoctoral research as well as work in my clinic.
What are the benefits of balancing both? How does an academic career and hands-on clinical work give you an advantage?
Whether you’re a physio or a podiatrist, whatever kind of health profession you do, if you’re working clinically and seeing patients you’ll do better research because you have a good understanding about what is important to patients and how research can integrate with their beliefs and values. You also see the real world impact injuries have on people and I think this allows you to ask better questions.
Doing further research makes you a better clinician because it ensures you stay up-to-date with new innovations and the latest research evidence, which can be used to help improve patient care. They complement each other. I’m really passionate about getting more clinicians involved in research.
Because I’ve continued to work while I researched, I have more than ten years’ experience as a physio and have quite a good research footing. I now supervise a number of Masters and PhD students and because of my practical and research experience I can really help guide them.
Can you tell us about your work at the Sports and Exercise Medicine Research Centre?
One of the roles – and this is a big passion of mine – is around research translation. How do we get research out into the world? Often the information you learn as a researcher just doesn’t get used in the real world. Physios don’t read papers largely due to limited time and access. I’m trying to improve that.
At the Centre, we’ve set up a blog where our staff and PhD students regularly post brief summaries about their research and highlight what clinicians can take from it. We also run practical workshops and seminars, which are open to researchers and clinicians.
I’ve also co-founded TREK with Danish researcher Michael Rathleff, which stands for Translating Researching Evidence and Knowledge. It’s a support network for people who want to do translation research, and is for physios and other health professionals across institutions as well as social media experts, journalists, and people from computer science. We’re bringing people from all these different disciplines together to do some really cool things with research translation.
Lastly, what can you tell us about the newly launched Sports and Exercise Medicine Research Centre?
I really think La Trobe is developing one of the best sports medicine research centres in the world because they’re putting in the time, energy and funding. It’s really exciting to be a part of.
The centre is a really fun place to work with professors including Peter Brukner, Kay Crossley, Jill Cook, Hylton Menz and Meg Morris. We also have a group of great postdoctoral researchers with varying skills, and most importantly really enthusiastic and motivated PhD students. Watch this space.
Interested in a career in sport and exercise medicine research? Find out more about our facilities and world-class research.