Following non-clinical career paths

Do you think you need to see patients to be a physio? Anna C Lowe suggests you don’t

by Anna Lowe

Career paths are a funny thing. Mine to date has been non-traditional and largely non-clinical.

This blog post has been prompted by a recent Physiotalk tweetchat (published on or follow it on Twitter #physiotalk) on non-clinical careers. The pre-chat info posed the question: ‘Do physiotherapists feel of less value if they are not practising as a physiotherapist?’

Do I feel of less value? No, absolutely not. My non-clinical roles are challenging and satisfying and I feel confident that I contribute to important change.

Do I feel less valued? Well yes, sometimes. I realised that when asked if I still see patients my response is long, convoluted and rather apologetic. I reflected on why I feel the need to explain and justify my decisions.   

I realised that I often attribute my non-clinical path to the practicalities of being part-time and managing multiple roles. My various ‘hats’ included being a mother of two young (and boisterous) children, an educator, a researcher, someone engaged in a doctoral study and managing secondments. The reality is actually very different; it was a decisive move away from clinical career to pursue different options. What is interesting to me, on reflection, that I feel I need to apologise for this.

The non-clinical direction that I was pursuing was public health, an area that typically doesn’t include much patient contact. Instead, it prioritises work at scale which will improve the health of populations. Although face-to-face patient contact is unlikely, the ambition to improve people’s health remains central. It also allows me to focus on where the need might be greatest. Addressing health inequalities is a central theme in public health and focusing on the sectors of the population who may not thrive in the health system is something that it is hard to do in clinical practice.

The physiotherapy workforce cannot be a flat structure. It requires clinicians, researchers, leaders, managers, educators, auditors to work together to ensure that physiotherapy can meet the needs of the population. Of course, career paths are more flexible than they ever have been before and it is possible to combine all sorts of roles for example researcher/clinician or clinician/educator, manager/clinician … the list goes on. 

I was talking to a physiotherapist recently who he graduated 18 months ago. It was clear that he does not want a clinical career. Having sought advice from his peers he decided that he should gain a few more years of clinical practice before moving ahead with his non-clinical ambitions. My question to him was: ‘Why are you preparing yourself for a clinical career if you have no intention of following this path?’

I would argue that it is possible to stay connected to physiotherapy practice, to the issues that face physiotherapists and patients, without having a clinical caseload; you just have to want to do it. I would encourage people to think broadly about their career options. Physiotherapy does not necessarily mean a full caseload. Healthcare is changing and the physiotherapy profession needs advocates in all areas of health and social care.

I heard a great saying recently: ‘There is no such thing as a career path any more only crazy paving. And you have to lay that yourself.

I tried to find out who said it, but lots of people seem to claim it as their own. But I’d encourage people to think about non-clinical and non-traditional career paths, as a crazy-paving approach can lead to varied and exciting opportunities.

Improving health and patient care are still at the heart of many of these roles.

Anna Lowe is a senior lecturer in physiotherapy at Sheffield Hallam University. Follow her on Twitter @annalowephysio

Number of subscribers: 1

More posts by this author

Log in to comment and read comments that have been added