Meet our Researchers - Finding the Answers that help ISCRR make a difference

Associate Professor Natasha Lannin is a neurological occupational therapist and rehabilitation researcher at La Trobe Clinical School, Alfred Centre. Natasha holds a clinical conjoint position at Alfred Health in the Occupational Therapy Department and is an honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Rehabilitation Studies Unit at The University of Sydney.  

Title: Associate Professor, Occupational Therapy
Department: Occupational Therapy
University: La Trobe Clinical School, Alfred Centre

Associate Professor Lannin is one of over 80 researchers who make up the ISCRR research network.
 
How long have you worked for La Trobe? I have been with La Trobe and Alfred Health since late 2011 when I moved from Sydney into this joint appointment. In my role I am lucky enough to work full-time in research; I feel very blessed to work for progressive organisations such as La Trobe and Alfred Health as funding full-time research-only positions in allied health remain rare.
 
Where were you based prior to starting at LaTrobe?I was previously at the Rehabilitation Studies Unit, a research institute of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Sydney in a similar, joint position. Unlike my previous role, in my current role I am able to identify myself as an occupational therapist. While my research focus hasn't altered - I remain very interested in rehabilitation medicine and obtaining the best possible outcomes for people after brain injury and stroke - by working in a role that is embedded in the hospital system, I am now able to translate my research findings across into occupational therapy practice almost seamlessly.

Although the move to La Trobe and Alfred Health has been very successful, I have also been lucky to retain an honorary appointment with the Rehabilitation Studies Unit, facilitating an ongoing collaboration.
 
How do you describe your research?The research I do is centred on guiding therapists to practice evidence-based neurological rehabilitation. At the heart of my work is the goal to increase the efficacy of what clinicians do every day with patients, a belief that every patient deserves to receive the most effective services and treatment; the right treatment at the right time. So, I describe my research as defining and testing what is best practice, by conducting systematic reviews and running clinical trials; as well as conducting mixed methods and epidemiological studies designed to provide greater understanding of the issues as well as the prevalence of the problems, their impact on being able to perform everyday activities and how to best support independence and quality of life after neurological damage.
 
What attracted you to this type of research?Occupational Therapy is a very functional, practical profession; like social workers, we are often among the first to hear about the implications of having a brain injury and what that will mean for the life that this person once led. I believe that this, coupled with my own frustration as a therapist of not having all the evidence "answers" at my fingertips, has led to my passion for conducting clinical trials. For me, my research is a natural evolution from real life clinical questions to research.

What do you like best about your role?Probably how inspiring it can be. During the design phase of a research program, you are full of hope that you might discover a piece of the puzzle that makes an impact on clinical practice. Well, that and the people - in rehabilitation research we meet people at a time in their lives when they are medically at their worst, but with such courage and strength.
 
First job?Weighing grain trucks on a weighbridge in WA.
 
Worst job?I have been lucky really, not ever having had a bad job per say. But the role I liked least in my last job was lecturing medical students on rehabilitation medicine. The students really weren't interested in rehabilitation, and teaching classes weekly about a topic I loved but they did not was extremely difficult. 

What research/projects are you currently working on and what does it involve?While I have a number of research projects currently underway, the HOME clinical trial which will determine the effectiveness of pre-discharge home visits by Occupational Therapists for older persons, is particularly important to me. It will be the largest clinical trial of its type, and is likely to provide first-ever evidence to guide daily practice. Perhaps the largest piece of work I am currently doing, however, is a program of research on the realities, cost and description of outcomes from ABI here in Victoria. This work is funded by TAC via ISCRR and has many collaborative partners who add great depth to these studies.

What was the most fulfilling piece of research you completed?I believe that all research is fulfilling however those studies which lead to change in clinical practice are perhaps more so. So, from that perspective, my program of studies investigating the efficacy of hand splinting for contracture management is perhaps the most widely cited work internationally. Here in Australia, this work led to a paradigm shift in occupational therapy, and appears in both National and International clinical practice guidelines.
 
How is your research benefitting WorkSafe and the TAC?The recent systematic review of models of acquired brain injury (ABI) rehabilitation we completed for TAC will also be used by A/Professor Peter Hunter (Director of Sub-acute and Medical Services for the Division of Rehabilitation) and his team at Caulfield Hospital to design the model of care for the new joint-funded ABI rehabilitation unit, due to open in 2014. Findings will also shape TAC funding decisions in the area more broadly.
 
What is your favourite thing to do on the weekend?Weekends are family time. I have a young family, and we are still at the fun age of building tinfoil rivers in the backyard, sewing mermaid costumes and going to soccer matches every Saturday.
 
What is the best piece of advice you've been given, and what advice would you give?Professor Robert Herbert told me after I had finished my own PhD to 'focus on one area, think carefully about the big issues in that area, and then keep coming back to these.' It has really helped me remember that good ideas translate to good research if they are grounded in real clinical issues, and that as a researcher, my track record will come from remaining focussed on the issues that I am most passionate about.

My advice to others is actually advice my mother used to tell her children: to work hard, try your best and be nice to others. I believe that many of the projects I have been invited to collaborate on have come about because of this advice.