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Catherine Rolls

Reaping the rewards of volunteering


Almost every Saturday morning, you can find Catherine Rolls walking the wards of St Andrew’s Memorial Hospital with a trolley offering patients a friendly smile, magazine or tempting treats.

For the last four years throughout her physiotherapy degree at ACU in Brisbane, Catherine has given her time. 

“I have always thought I have wanted to work in a hospital even prior to commencing physio when I was considering all my career options,” she said. “I initially applied to volunteer straight after leaving school as I thought it would give me some experience and help keep me busy. I have enjoyed the last few years at St. Andrew's and found it a rewarding experience.

“My most memorable moments are with the older patients who don’t get many, or even any, visitors and just want someone to talk to. 

“Sometimes I end up with a patient for over an hour as they recount their entire life story, show me pictures of their grandchildren and offer me life advice. They always ask about my studies and then tell me about their good experiences with physios. 

“It is so interesting to hear these unique stories about growing up in different decades and the many careers people have had. People are always very grateful for my visit and make me feel that giving even a small amount of time can make a positive difference in someone’s day.”

Gaining experience

Recently Catherine got the opportunity to swap her volunteer vest for a uniform when she joined St Andrew’s for practical placement.

“I absolutely loved my cardiorespiratory placement at St Andrews. It was good to have my first placement in a hospital I was quite familiar with,” she said.

“Being a Saturday volunteer, I didn’t really know any of the staff but knowing my way around the hospital was an advantage. It was quite different to being a volunteer, in that if patients didn’t want to see me as a volunteer I kept going, but as a physio student I had to try my best to do some exercises or education with them. 

Catherine Rolls

Catherine on prac.

“Most patients were really lovely to me and extremely understanding that I was still learning. I had a wonderful clinical educator who had 40 years’ experience. They were very supportive and taught me so much. I saw quite a variety of patients from pre- and post-surgical to medical and geriatrics. It was a wonderful placement and really made me excited about becoming a physio.”

Family business

It was almost inevitable that Catherine would find a career in healthcare with a dietitian and doctor for parents. 

“They are both in the health field, my father is a doctor, and my mother is a dietitian,” Catherine said. “I recall many dinner table conversations being about patients or incidents that had occurred at work that day. They both have enjoyed their career, found it challenging and rewarding. Things I hope to experience. 

“I have always wanted to be in a profession that would make a difference in a person’s life and I think physios can do that. Their focus is to make a patient’s life better and achieve their goals. It is a nice experience to work closely with a patient. As a career in general I think it has a good work-life balance and has so many different speciality areas you can follow.” 

Lend a hand

Catherine’s advice for anyone thinking about a career in health is to investigate volunteering opportunities.

“I think volunteering in a hospital is great experience for anyone studying a health degree,” she said.

“Volunteering has definitely been very beneficial to me. First, it gave me experience and insight into the hospital environment and really confirmed for me that a hospital is a place where I would enjoy working. It also gave me practice communicating and building relationships with patients which has been a good foundation for this year.”

As the end of her undergraduate degree approaches Catherine is now ready to look ahead.

“In five years, I hope I am working in a hospital – maybe even in the ICU. At the moment, I think my dream job would be in an ICU. I hope I love my job and feel I am making a positive difference in my patients’ lives. 

“I also hope after working in Australia for a couple of years I have experienced working overseas in a hospital in the UK or Canada. I would also like to, at some point, combine my love of snow skiing with physiotherapy by working on a ski field for a season.”

Find out more about where a physiotherapy degree at ACU can take you.

Impact brings you compelling stories, inspiring research, and big ideas from ACU. It's about the impact we’re having on our communities, and our Mission in action. It’s a practical resource for career, life and study.

At ACU it’s education, but not as you know it. We stand up for people in need, and causes that matter.

If you have a story idea or just want to say hello, do contact us.

Copyright@ Australian Catholic University 1998-2022 | ABN 15 050 192 660 CRICOS Reg: 00004G