Paula Dimarco – MSc Advanced Professional Practice in Neurological Rehabilitation graduate

"Studying at Plymouth enhanced my knowledge and understanding of complex neuroanatomy and physiology and how this relates to human movement. It improved my wider knowledge of neurological conditions and the impact they have on people's lives."

How has your degree helped/influenced your career path?

As a team leader, I felt that I needed this qualification to give me 'the edge' over more junior members of staff. Obviously, a degree in neurological rehabilitation, which is effectively what my job entails, was the perfect degree to compliment my job and I was able to pass on my new knowledge to the rest of my team: so we all benefitted from my hard work!

Has your career path changed since graduation?

No. However, when I finished my postgraduate degree I did feel like I needed a new challenge, so I joined the UK International Emergency Trauma Register (UKIETR), which means that I am part of the UK Medical Team that responds to international disasters in low and middle income countries. It is through the UKIETR that I have been lucky enough to visit Gaza and teach local therapy staff how to treat people who have sustained head and spinal injuries. I was also part of the UK response to the Nepal earthquake, where I assisted local staff in managing patients who had sustained spinal cord injuries. I am really lucky that the Trust I work for allows me to participate in these exciting opportunities.

What is the most difficult thing which you have faced in your career?

Interviewing two staff members for one job and having to tell one of them that they didn't get it was pretty tough. The one who didn't get it was very upset as they thought they had let me down. The one who did get it was crying because she was sure the other candidate would get the job and they couldn't believe I was offering it to them. It was emotional in the extreme and you don't get training for that sort of thing.

What is the best, most exciting or fun thing that you have done in your career?

I think the most exciting thing I've ever done is to take ventilator dependent patients from the critical care unit into the hydrotherapy pool. We moved from an old hospital building to a new one in 2010. The new one had a hydrotherapy pool, which we quickly started using with our neurologically impaired patients. This got me thinking that the patients who would benefit the most were those who were over the acute phase of their illness but still needed a ventilator to help with their breathing, so I spoke to the anaesthetists who helped me to risk assess the situation. In 2011 we took our first ventilated patient into hydrotherapy. Needless to say, the physical and psychological benefits were great and the patients love it.

What, if anything, would you do differently if you could?

We had a service restructure in 2014. At the time, I agreed to the changes as I thought it would be a poor reflection on me if I said the demands were too great and we needed more staff to achieve what was being asked of us. Now, I realise that it wasn't personal and that I should have stuck to my guns and demanded extra staff or a change in the proposed restructure, as it is getting more and more difficult to provide the service that we are expected to offer due to increasing patient numbers.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get in to the same line of work?

Even if you are sure that neurophysiotherapy is where you want your career to end, take the opportunity to experience as many junior rotations as possible because the skills you will gain will all be applicable. It's very different now, but when I qualified I could have been a band six within eighteen months and a band seven within three to four years. However, I stayed as a band five for three years and a band six for another three years and I feel that I am a better physio for it, as I have a basic knowledge of all areas of physiotherapy which is necessary in order to provide an holistic approach to managing your patients.

How did studying at Plymouth help you?

Studying at Plymouth enhanced my knowledge and understanding of complex neuroanatomy and physiology and how this relates to human movement. It improved my wider knowledge of neurological conditions and the impact they have on people's lives. Finally, it improved my research knowledge and skills.

As my course was predominantly distance learning, the course also taught me self-discipline. There were many times when I wanted to head out to the beach but forced myself to stay in to complete an assignment. In addition to this, completing my MSc has given me an interest in carrying out further research and I have since had an article published in a physiotherapy journal and displayed a poster at the ACPIN conference.

What is your favourite memory of studying at Plymouth?

My course was distance learning, with a few short blocks of teaching during which time I stayed in a bed and breakfast with one of my course mates. The owners of the Gallery Guest House were like family and always made us feel very welcome.

Would you recommend undertaking a course with Plymouth University, and why?

I would recommend taking the Advanced Professional Practice in Neurological Rehabilitation as the lecturers on that course are all experts in their field, so the standard of teaching is very high.

Is there anything else which you would like to share with our current students?

Don't be in a rush to climb the career ladder as there are plenty of opportunities to enhance your skills along the way. And remember, physiotherapy isn't just about the NHS and private practice: working in the third sector can be a very rewarding experience.

Inspired by this story?

For more information about studying Advanced Professional Practice in Neurological Rehabilitation, please visit our MSc Advanced Professional Practice in Neurological Rehabilitation course page. For more information about our range of courses within the School of Health Professions, please visit the school page.

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