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Three of a kind

Three former CSP student reps tell Sally Priestley how their career paths stemmed from their involvement with the society

Leaving the safe environment of university life and stepping into the increasingly competitive physiotherapy jobs market may feel like a daunting prospect for graduates this summer, particularly with the current economic climate leaving resources and posts feeling thin on the ground.

But hundreds of recent physio graduates can testify to having successfully made this step, and many can say they have taken a giant leap from there – often with a little help from the CSP.

Helen Tyler was a CSP student rep during her three years at Northumbria University – and went on to be north east regional coordinator and vice chair of the student executive committee.

‘I just thought it would be a good thing to put my name forward for. But the more I went to meetings the more I realised there were loads of opportunities via the CSP to learn more about the physiotherapy profession, and I quickly learnt that the more you got involved the more you got out of it.’

Ms Tyler says the student rep development weekends stood out during her time as a rep, in terms of being made aware of the wider career situation and thinking about job options as soon as possible.

Her career path has been particularly interesting, especially as she wasn’t even aware of her current role when she first started junior rotations at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in 2010.

After just 18 months, a band 6 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) practitioner role, working for a community respiratory team and traditionally carried out by nursing staff, was opened up to physiotherapists.

The position had been advertised but not filled, and the two team managers successfully made the case that physios should be able to apply.

‘I had always wanted to specialise in respiratory,’ says Ms Tyler. ‘I didn’t fully know what this role would involve, but it sounded really interesting so I went for it and in the end myself and another physio filled the two vacant positions, proving we could provide all the skills and experience needed.’

It’s an innovative set-up, with the team of seven nurses and physios essentially providing hospital care at home, offering three key services: COPD exacerbation management; early supported discharge for COPD patients; and oxygen assessment and review.

‘It’s been a massive learning curve, and working in the community is so varied.’

Ms Tyler says key to her success so far has been making contacts and keeping an open mind about career options.

‘At university you make contacts. I would suggest students use these, and make sure they get in touch with them and go to them for advice; people will always be willing to help.

‘And keep an open mind, because I never thought I’d end up in this role like this, and not so soon into my career.’  

On a completely different career path, Louise Broom has managed to fuse her lifelong passion for horses and equestrian sport with her profession. She has carved out a niche private business, working with jockeys, stable staff, private clients and enthusiastic amateurs on physio, rehab and performance analysis.

Since qualifying in 2007, she has worked in the NHS, at the English Institute of Sport in Manchester, and now, alongside her own business, she also works part time for the Ministry of Defence, treating and rehabilitating soldiers.

During her student years at York St John University, Ms Broom was a student rep for her full three years. ‘I loved going to the student reps weekends and found them really inspiring. Being involved in the CSP definitely made me aware of how to make myself more employable throughout my student years and beyond – and made me aware of the more non-traditional routes into physio.’

After graduating in 2007 she got the first interview she went for, an NHS bank job , quickly followed by the temporary position at the English Institute of Sport, which came after she was asked to go to the Netherlands with the Great Britain GB Taekwondo team.

But she had always wanted to follow her dream of working in the world of equestrian sports. Ms Broom says: ‘I knew equestrian physio for the riders in particular was lagging behind other sports and I basically thought about how I could apply my physio brain to making a business out of it.’

It was a slow start, working out of a friend’s garage and dragging her kit around to clients at first. But once her business grew she set up her own clinic in 2009, and now offers a full facility in North Yorkshire complete with  gym and rehab equipment, a mechanical horse and two equicisers (rocking horses that riders use to increase fitness on) and video analysis equipment.

She says going it alone in business has been tough, but worthwhile. ‘It’s been a massive learning curve, but I love my job.

‘And the interest in what I offer has grown massively – especially after the London Olympics when our GB riders had the services of physios, sports scientists, health and nutrition specialists and so on. This  showed them how much this approach improves performance.

‘I would say to new graduates: if you have an idea and are passionate about something then go for it.’

A keen sportsman himself, Benn Digweed started out his career with a BSc Sports Science course at Liverpool John Moores University before moving into physiotherapy with a pre-registration MSc physiotherapy at Southampton, and has since merged the two fields of practice.

After graduating in January 2009, Mr Digweed completed junior rotations at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust while gaining sports physiotherapy experience with, among others, Chelsea FC academy, Portsmouth FC academy and Hampshire County Cricket Club.

‘During my two years at Southampton I was a CSP student rep and then south east regional rep on the student executive committee,’ says Mr Digweed. ‘I also became a CSP steward a year into my junior rotations, and having a really good understanding of how the society works, and what might be involved was definitely the reason I felt able to go for this.’

But when looking to move on from his NHS band 5 role, he started to look ‘outside the box’. ‘I had always really wanted to work in sports physio, and when to take the plunge was the big decision.

‘I’d already set up a part-time sports clinic at Southampton Solent University and this had been really successful. So I put a business case in to the university to create a full-time head of physiotherapy role here, and I managed to get the funding. I basically wrote the job description.’

He now runs Southampton Solent Physiotherapy as a full-time service available to the public, staff, students and High Performance Academy athletes at the university. The other side of the business is private one-to-one consultation, and this is what covers the costs.

Mr Digweed says: ‘The natural progression now would be on to elite sports but I’m really enjoying being based here in the university.’

And he credits his CSP involvement in helping him in his success. ‘I had a good knowledge of how businesses are set up and things like insurance issues, but I definitely take a lot of confidence from my time being involved with the CSP, it gave me skills on leadership and a much better understanding of healthcare system and the importance of patient care,’ he says.

‘And I really used the support of the CSP and its services when I set up my business so I would recommend going to them and using them to get help.

‘Recent graduates should be really proud of the chartered title they have earned and shouldn’t underestimate it.

They should look for pockets of funding in the areas they enjoy, think where there could be a physiotherapy service, and if they find a niche market, like I did, then go for it.’ fl

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