Current employer: University of Plymouth; Cornwall Partnership Foundation NHS Trust
Current job title: Clinical Doctoral Research Fellow
Current location: Truro
“After graduating from the BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy course I maintained contact with the University of Plymouth lecturers and this facilitated my involvement with a research project. I was in the final year of my MSc when I attended a five day Residential Research Retreat…which sparked my interest in clinical research. This then led to the opportunity to apply for the Clinical Academic Training Programme Internship.”
Tell us about your career path since graduation.
In 2007 I started work as a junior physiotherapist, rotating through core areas such as respiratory, neurology, community, orthopaedics, musculoskeletal outpatients. Then, in 2009, I became a Band 6 specialist physiotherapist in stroke rehabilitation, based in an inpatient Stroke Rehabilitation Unit in Cornwall. I did this job for seven years. Before I managed to secure £10,000 worth of funding which enabled me to take one day a week out of clinical practice to develop a proposal to apply for the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship. I submitted my application in May 2015, was shortlisted for an interview in November 2015, and notified in January 2016 of my successful application. In April 2016, I commenced a new role as an NIHR Clinical Doctoral Research Fellow. I’m four months in, so it’s all very new but it’s absolutely brilliant!
I have received a huge amount of support and guidance from the academics in the Faculty of Health and Human Sciences and Research Design Service South West, in both my Clinical Academic Training Programme and the NIHR Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship. The input from Jenny Freeman, Jon Marsden, Bridie Kent, Jill Pooler, and Andy Barton has been integral to my success and I would not be where I am today without them.
How has your degree helped/influenced your career path?
My undergraduate degree, BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy, was pivotal in completely changing my career path. Prior to this I was working in an administration job and volunteering with a local sports club on Saturdays. I met a physiotherapist there and after one conversation with him about what a physiotherapist’s role entailed, it prompted me to look further into it and a few months later I found myself pursuing this career path.
Completing the degree has led me to a job as a junior physiotherapist and I haven’t looked back since. Every opportunity to learn and develop myself and others has been utilised. I want to be the best physiotherapist that I can be so that I can work with patients, delivering high quality, evidenced-based care to facilitate the best outcome for them.
What is the most difficult thing which you have faced in your career?
Time… there’s not enough! In clinical practice there are continuous pressures and demands, both locally and nationally which impact on your time. The primary focus is working with patients, optimising their functional independence and facilitating the best outcome for them. This means that developing yourself takes a commitment of time outside of work, and often at your own financial expense too.
Healthcare is 24 hours, seven days per week, so working weekends and unsociable hours is fundamental as a physiotherapist. Additionally, working full-time and studying for an MSc part time is a massive undertaking. I had amazing support from my family, colleagues, and employers which helped me to succeed. Having just embarked on my PhD, I am finding that there is even more to do and even less time!
What is the best, most exciting or fun thing that you have done in your career?
My current role as a Clinical Doctoral Research Fellow. I left school with very uninspiring GCSE grades and never imagined I would ever go to university. However, at the age of 29, I went to college to study Access to Science, applied to the University of Plymouth to study the BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy, and here I am today: a specialist physiotherapist in stroke rehabilitation studying for a PhD!
Imagine you were about to start university again - with the benefit of hindsight - what would you now tell yourself to have done differently?
Nothing. I believe in the importance of clinical mileage in terms of experience with patients, as well as working with the inter-disciplinary team to embed and develop knowledge and skills learned at university. The MSc then enabled me to focus in a specialist area. The benefit of working full-time and studying part-time is the ability to draw on clinical practice as well as being able to translate new theory into my clinical practice efficiently and effectively.
If you were just about to graduate again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. At the time of graduating from BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy I had secured a junior physiotherapy job in Portsmouth. I think it would have been beneficial to have had the opportunity to speak with people who were at different stages in their career, and also people working in different specialisms and settings. As an NIHR Clinical Doctoral Fellowship trainee, I have access to a mentorship programme. I think something similar for physiotherapists would enable them to see the broad range of possibilities and opportunities open to them: formal and informal educational opportunities, research specialisms for people at all time points in their career – newly qualified, new Band 6s. It is a way of sharing experiences but also opening up possibilities for others.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the same line of work?
Passion, determination, and commitment are key! These values will not only see you through the challenging times but they will facilitate countless opportunities to develop and challenge yourself personally and professionally. I am hugely passionate about being a physiotherapist and would support and encourage anyone who wants to pursue a career in physiotherapy.
How did studying at Plymouth help you?
It was a perfect location for me geographically, especially for the postgraduate study as I was settled in Cornwall. Furthermore, the content of the MSc Neurological Rehabilitation was the best out of all the universities that I viewed. This programme is now MSc Advanced Professional Practice and clinicians also have the option of the Masters in Clinical Research, so the available programmes of study are going from strength to strength in order to facilitate highly skilled graduates who can become leaders in clinical research.
What lessons/skills did you gain from your course?
Given the amount of studying I’ve done here at Plymouth, there are too many to mention! However, aside from the clinical knowledge and skills which are fundamental to being a physiotherapist, the biggest lesson I have gained is that formal studying is hard, it takes time, effort, and commitment. The hard work and sleepless nights are absolutely worth it!
Did you undertake a placement during your degree and if so, how did this benefit you?
In the BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy course there were six placements spread over three years; this gives a fantastic opportunity to consolidate knowledge and skills learned at University, and also provides continuous opportunities to learn new skills such as communication, assessment, and treatments. With each placement, you gain more confidence, more skills, and the clinical educators help with your development and progress you even further.
Do you stay in touch with other University of Plymouth alumni or lecturers?
After graduating from the BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy course I maintained contact with lecturers from the University of Plymouth and this facilitated my involvement with a research project. I was in the final year of my MSc when I attended a five-day Residential Research Retreat with two other University of Plymouth academics, where I spent time learning about different research methods and designs which sparked my interest in clinical research. This then led to the opportunity to apply for the Clinical Academic Training Programme Internship.
Would you recommend undertaking a course with the University of Plymouth, and why?
Absolutely! The University of Plymouth has been pivotal in my career and personal development. Students have such extensive choices for both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees: they even offer Master Classes in the School of Health Professions – these, along with standalone modules as part of the MSc Advanced Professional Practice programme, enable clinicians to develop themselves clinically without having to commit to a formal qualification.
Is there anything else which you would like to share with our current students?
Take every opportunity to network: during clinical placements, after graduation, and during postgraduate studies. There are so many amazing people out there in both clinical and academic settings that are keen to support, guide, and develop your career.
Inspired by this story?
For more information about studying physiotherapy, please visit our BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy course page. For more information about our range of courses within the School of Health Professions, please visit the school page.
Want to find similar alumni?
If you would like to find out what other alumni from the Faculty of Health and Human Sciences are currently doing, please visit the health and social work interest area.