The world is a small place and I’m a global citizen ... and physiotherapist

Professor Ieuan Ellis has become something of a jet-setter in his latest job. But you don’t need to get on a plane to go global, he suggests

by ellis09



Ieuan Ellis (centre) with physio students at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre in Tanzania ©

In my twitter profile, I identify as a Global Citizen, a physiotherapist, a professor, a pro vice-chancellor and a former international marathon runner. Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s in a small town in mid-Wales, my international horizons were very limited with no concept of being ‘global’. The world seemed a very big place with vast distances separating me from other countries and continents.

My knowledge and awareness of international issues and of different cultures was confined to my school geography lessons, the BBC news, and occasional television documentaries. I vividly remember one of my school classmates with rather 'well-to-do’ parents travelling to Spain for a family holiday. Such ‘global jet setting’ was quite exceptional.

My most distant travel experience was a family holiday to visit grandparents in Cornwall. My technological connectivity to other countries consisted of late night listening to music on Radio Luxembourg with very poor quality reception. In 1978, I left home in mid-Wales and moved (all the way) to Cardiff to live and study to become a physiotherapist. Nothing in my three-year professional training made any reference to physiotherapy or to healthcare outside of a UK context. It all sounds so last century - as it was!

Becoming an international athlete

Athletics made a transformational impact on my global horizons. Becoming an international athlete provided me with opportunities to travel and compete across Europe, South East Asia and North America, providing insights into different cultures. As a physiotherapist, a profound life-changing globalisation experience was the opportunity to lead the physiotherapy strand of a healthcare capacity-development project between Northumbria NHS Trust and Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC) in Tanzania (see photo).

The personal and professional experience and impact of this international development project was powerful, emotional and transformational."

This project led to the establishment of the first BSc degree course in physiotherapy in sub-Saharan Africa. The personal and professional experience and impact of this international development project was powerful, emotional and transformational.

Over the past 15 years of my academic career I have been privileged to be involved in establishing and developing educational partnerships with overseas universities and colleges in multiple countries across the globe. Since taking up my role as pro vice-chancellor at Staffordshire University in January this year, I have been in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Oman, most trips involving no more than four days working away from my desk in Stoke-on-Trent. It means 14 hour flights and flipping back and forth between time-zones has now become ‘normal’.

Digital connectivity

My international outlook and global horizons have been most significantly transformed by digital connectivity. I communicate almost daily with overseas university partners and with family and friends across the globe using face-to-face Skype and via e mail, WhatsApp, Twitter and LinkedIn. My mobile phone enables 24/7 contact and provides live-feeds on breaking global news.

Being globally connected does not equate to being a global citizen, but it significantly enhances my international awareness, cultural understanding and empathy on global issues. So wherever you live, and whatever your role, why not ask yourself:

  • are you globally connected?
  • are you a global citizen?
  • are you a global physiotherapist? #GlobalPT @WCPT1951

(Blog Written at 39,000 feet travelling to Kuala Lumpur)

Professor Ieuan Ellis is pro vice-chancellor (partnerships and region) at Staffordshire University.

Follow Ieuan on Twitter

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