Professor Caroline Finch has dedicated her life’s work to community sports injury prevention.
Now almost three decades into her career and leading the Australian Centre for Research into Injury in Sport and its Prevention in Ballarat, she has been awarded one of Australia’s greatest honours.
Professor Finch was appointed to the Order of Australia for her service to sports medicine in the area of injury prevention, and the promotion of improved health in community athletes and those who exercise.
She said the recognition of her work was a great honour, but was completely unexpected and a shocking surprise.
“There are people who believe I have made a contribution and that is just so affirming for one's life work - to know that people recognise it is very humbling,” Professor Finch said.
Professor Finch first started working in the sports injury prevention field in the early 1990s, at a time when most research was focussed on elite and professional athletes. Through dedication to her work, she has since seen advancements in sports injury prevention for the everyday athlete and people who exercise in the community.
“That’s how I got into the field, because firstly I could see a gap that there wasn’t much knowledge, but I also had a history myself of being injured when I had played sport,” Professor Finch said.
“When I found out what was known for olympians I realised we actually didn’t know much (for community members), so I really wanted to look after the people like me and my family and really make sure we were safe in sport as well.”
Professor Finch moved to Ballarat in 2006 to work as a research professor and leader with Federation University.
Her research was recognised by the International Olympic Committee which supported the establishment of the Australian Centre for Research into Injury in Sport and its Prevention in 2013.
Professor Finch, in her role as the centre’s director, has since lead research into sports injury prevention with a community focus at the world-class centre based in Ballarat.
“Having the research centre based in Ballarat - you hear in research spheres and more the high level traditional universities that the best researchers and the highest quality work is in the big cities - well this proves that the highest quality research in sports injury prevention is being done in a regional area, and we’re informing the world, not just Australia,” Professor Finch said.
“One of the big changes that I think has happened in Australia and has been influenced by my work and that of others, is that we now have government departments of health and peak sport bodies recognising that they have a duty of care to everyone, not just the elite athletes and that sports safety is there business as well.”
Professor Finch and her research team have worked with government and peak sporting bodies such as Cricket Australia and Netball Victoria to improve community safety in sport.
From her first research project focussed on protective eyewear for squash players, Professor Finch has helped drive significant change, including the establishment of the Victorian government Sports Injury Prevention Taskforce, and changing attitudes to treat children’s sport distinctively different from elite sport.
Professor Finch has also helped drive safety change in individual sports, through research on focus areas like helmets in cricket and training exercises in football and netball.
The research team in Ballarat are currently investigating the impact of heat on injury risk, providing defibrillators to community sporting groups, and creating a data base for injuries in sport.
Moving forward, Professor Finch said there was plenty of work left to do in the field.
“Working with a lot off the sports bodies, one of the frontiers still left to go is a fear of talking about injury,” she said.
“There is this idea that if you talk about injury in sport it will put people off. My end goal would be that any policy that has anything to do with promoting exercise or fitness or health in any context has a component that this will follow the principles of sports safety.”
Professor Finch said she would also like to see more work done on injury prevention in women’s sport and in the school system and also an investigation of why hospitalisation rates for sports injuries are higher in rural areas.
Professor Finch will begin a new role with Edith Cowan University in Western Australia as Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) in March.
Director, Australia Centre for Research into Injury in Sport and its Prevention, since 2013
Executive Dean, Graduate Studies since 2016
Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research and Innovation 2015-2016
Robert HT Smith Professor and Personal Chair, since 2013
Research Professor and Leader, 2006- 2010
Director, Australian Centre for Research into Injury in Sport and its Prevention, 2010-2012
Honorary Professor, Monash Injury Research Institute, 2013-2016
Researcher, Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, 2001-2003
Researcher, Monash University Accident Research Centre, 1992-1997
Director, Injury Risk Management Research Centre, University of New South Wales 2003-2006
Principal Research Fellow, National Health and Medical Research Council 2004-2016
Board Member, Sports Medicine Australia, since 2015
Member Concussion Advisory Group, World Rugby, since 2014
Member, Victorian Government Sports Injury Prevention Taskforce, 2011-2013
Member, National Sports Safety Framework Committee, 2003 and 1996-1997
Has produced over 700 publications including over 340 peer reviewed papers.
Ranked in the top ten most highly published injury researchers of all time by the journal of Injury Prevention
Awards and recognitions:
Recipient, International Distinguished Career Award, Injury Control and Emergency Health Services Awards, American Public Health Association, 2015