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  • Writer's pictureSuzanne Douglas


Updated: Oct 27, 2021

Leia Barnes is an Advanced Vestibular Physiotherapist and APA Titled Neurological Physiotherapist from Gold Coast, Queensland. She has been working in the field of vestibular physiotherapy for 15 years and splits her professional time between Logan Hospital, Vestibular Courses, Vestibular Education Australia and Back in Balance Vestibular Physiotherapy.

At Logan Hospital she functions as an Advanced Vestibular Physiotherapist, running Primary Contact Vestibular Clinics and is the Clinical Team Leader to a team of passionate vestibular physiotherapists. In 2011 she established Back in Balance Vestibular Physiotherapy, a private vestibular clinic on the Gold Coast. Leia has a passion for teaching and has been invited to teach Australia-wide, delivering introductory, advanced and competency-based vestibular training with her teaching colleagues at Vestibular Courses and Vestibular Education Australia. She has spoken at multiple state and national conferences, and regularly teaches into university programs at Bond University and Australian Catholic University.

Who has been one of your greatest influencers or mentors? What do they do, how did they influence you and what lessons did you learn?

Natalie Rando-Orr is my greatest professional influence and mentor. Natalie currently holds the position of Assistant Professor of Physiotherapy (Neurology) at Bond University, but our story didn’t start there. Natalie and I first met in my new graduate year at Gold Coast Hospital. She had a passion for vestibular physiotherapy and a superhero-like ability to convert complex content into enjoyable, stimulating gems of knowledge. Over the last 15 years of mentoring, Natalie has encouraged me to pursue clinical excellence, investigate ‘the why’, invest in relationships and passionately explore all possibilities in vestibular and balance healthcare.

Describe one of your biggest obstacles in life and how you mastered it.

I am not alone in saying 2020 was a very challenging year where many aspirations were paused or extinguished entirely. At the closing of 2019, the Vestibular Service at Logan Hospital was running full steam ahead. We had just received a Queensland Technology Futures Fund grant valued at $256,000 to purchase Queensland’s first BPPV repositioning chair. We were all set to purchase the equipment, refurbish our dedicated space and had patients ready to go, when our country was halted by COVID-19 shutdowns and fears of healthcare overload. Our dream of a local service for complex BPPV management was in jeopardy, as was the way we ran our face-to-face vestibular outpatient service. When our services started to return to the ‘new normal’, we were then faced with the challenge of hunting for extra finances in a climate where money was scarce. Our Director of Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery is a firm believer in public vestibular services and with his help and the wider vestibular team, I was able to meet with many state-wide stakeholders and eventually gain extra funds to enable service roll-out. We now have approval to order, approval to start refurbishment and approval to recruit extra staff.

Your biggest epiphany? The moments of life-defining change that shaped them into the person they are today.

I still remember the day that my mentor, Natalie Rando-Orr, encouraged me with some very simple words. I was still in a junior role at work and had much to learn, however Natalie spoke to my future and said that with my passion and drive, I had the makings of a future leader in the field of vestibular physiotherapy. Although this life-defining moment is only one of many, I cannot help but reflect on the power of her words and belief that I can successfully pursue a career in vestibular physiotherapy. In recent years, I have had the privilege of being a team leader in two public hospitals. My goal is to return the life-defining moments my mentor gave me. I’m not sure I will have the same finesse, but I will continue to draw out the potential of others and hopefully inspire individuals to achieve more than what they first thought was possible.

What advice would you give a clinician who is new to vestibular work?

Find someone who is as passionate as you and learn from them. Learn not only how to treat patients with vestibular dysfunction but learn how to advocate for those who need your care. Read voraciously, enjoy courses and question ‘the why’. Take the time to build relationships with your key referrers and let the clinical results do the talking. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know; it’s powerful for patients and those learning from you to hear that. Above all-else, enjoy the daily intellectual challenge and reward that is vestibular rehabilitation.

Huge thanks to Leia Barnes for so generously sharing her experiences, knowledge, skills, and inspiration in all things vestibular!

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