Helena Johnson

After 20 years as a clinician in the NHS (14 years specialising in paediatrics) and 16 years in higher education, Dr Helena Johnson is now an independent advisor and accreditor.

I joined CSP when I qualified in 1973. I was proud to be able to call myself a Chartered Physiotherapist. At that time you had to be a Member of the CSP (MCSP), and be State Registered (SRP) in order to work in the NHS. I always felt very honoured to be part of the physiotherapy profession, and still am.

What career aspirations did you have for when you left school? Did you know what you wanted to do?

I knew I wanted to get a job where I was working with people. I didn’t really know what physiotherapists did as I had never seen a physiotherapist working! I only knew what my careers officer had told me. However I was interviewed and gained a place at the School of Physiotherapy, Withington Hospital. I then contacted my local hospital physiotherapy department to ask if I could observe physiotherapist at work. 

I went as arranged for one day observation as soon as I had sat my A levels in May 1970 I was invited to stay for the rest of the week. I offered to help voluntarily until I started my physiotherapy training in October that year and was delighted when they offered be a short term contract as a physio assistant. I learnt so much from the one assistant there, from Jim the superintendent and a full-time remedial gymnast. I think there were 2 other part-time physios, but really very few staff for a general hospital. I also never forgot where my career ‘started’ and when I qualified I went back to that same hospital for my first physio post.

Has your career path been different to the way you expected it to go? What made it different?

I was never an ambitious or competitive physio, but I did always want to be good at my job and give the best care I could. I can genuinely say I was happy doing physiotherapy in every job I had. I enjoyed my basic grade rotations, then moving to a Senior I post in Orthopaedics (yes I missed out the Senior II grade – another story perhaps!)

I then did lots of sideways moves in senior posts in a range of specialities before settling into paediatrics for 14 years. I enjoyed that role so much and I worked with some great teachers, teaching assistants, school nurses and OTs, only getting support from a physio assistant in the latter years as new moving and handling regulations came in and at last someone listened when I said getting some of my teenager patients from the floor to the plinth was getting a bit difficult.

What have been your biggest surprises in your career so far?

Becoming a Senior I after only 3 years - and becoming a senior lecturer - you could not have met a quieter and shyer physiotherapist than me at 21. Even speaking up in a staff meeting, or delivering a CPD session brought me out in a nervous rash! Becoming Chair of Council, and even becoming an Educator Rep on Council was unexpected.

How has the CSP helped you in your career?

I primarily saw the CSP as my professional body and attended local branch meetings for my CPD in the early post qualifying years. Then I joined a CSP special interest group, APCP, and later ACPIN, as I specialised in paediatrics. I probably attended more APCP conferences than Physiotherapy UK conferences until I sat on CSP Council.

I became part of a number of networks particularly when I started working in higher education that brought me to meetings at the CSP and helped me realise the great work CSP do for members. As vice chair then chair of Council, and therefore ex-officio at all committees and sub-committees, I gained new and extensive skills that have helped me to widen my links with ERWCPT (through the Education Matters Working Group) and WCPT.

I always tell physio students and new graduates that in physiotherapy the world is just waiting for you!

What does the 21st anniversary of CSP associate membership mean to you?

This is such a fantastic opportunity to celebrate all the hard work and commitment shown by our support workers in physiotherapy. It also gives the CSP the opportunity to show their appreciation of a vital part of the physiotherapy profession.

If you could give one message to your peers from what you have learnt in your career, what would it be?

Always place your patient at the heart of everything you do and you will do your best for your profession. Always be on the lookout for new opportunities, and grab those opportunities.  You never know what is waiting for you around the next corner.