The rewards of working in the charity sector

CSP member, Kathryn Elias, shares her passion for her role as a Macmillan team lead physiotherapist specialist 



I qualified as a chartered physiotherapist in 2004 and was introduced to the world of oncology in 2006 during my Band 6 rotations. What a scary moment that was! To be honest I don’t remember ever learning or being actively taught about oncology during my physiotherapy degree.

That scary moment turned into one of the best moments of my life and 10 years on I am thriving as a Macmillan team lead physiotherapy specialist, working within an acute oncology inpatient ward and an oncology outpatient rehabilitation scheme.

Applying for physiotherapy posts in the charity sector

In 2008, Macmillan supported and funded a specialist oncology therapy team in the South West Wales Cancer Centre in Singleton Hospital Swansea. I was the successful appointee for the physiotherapy post. Prior to this, I had never heard of charities funding posts within NHS health boards or trusts.

The majority of these posts are advertised on the normal NHS jobs websites. They ask for applicants to have some oncology experience but remember, physiotherapists treat people who have a diagnosis of cancer throughout all the core rotations and other specialities. Whatever your physiotherapy role, it is very possible you are treating someone who has a diagnosis of cancer whether you are aware of it or not.

Using all your core skills and developing new specialist skills

As an oncology physiotherapist I feel that I am both a specialist and “a jack of all trades”. You need to utilise all your core physiotherapy skills within the field. For example, you need your respiratory skills for lung and head or neck cancers, your neurological skills for brain and spinal cancers, your orthopaedic skills for bone and spinal cancers and your musculoskeletal skills any cancer patient who has undergone surgery or radiotherapy. My role has helped me to develop many specialist skills over time through both experience and CPD activities.

A normal working day can often involve mobilising patients with unstable spines due to their cancer, carrying out deep breathing exercise and relaxation techniques, completing stair assessments, running hydrotherapy sessions, carrying out acupuncture clinics, carrying out deep soft tissue mobilisation and making people sweat in our advanced circuits class.

Treating cancer patients should not be scary

People who have a diagnosis of cancer can often be a daunting thought for the newly-qualified physiotherapist, as it was for me when I first set foot on the oncology ward but you should treat them exactly as you would someone who hasn’t got cancer. Nowadays, I am making people with stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer do burpees, weighted squats and sprinting on the treadmill in our circuit’s class!

I am very passionate about my work and am continually striving to improve the services available for people affected by cancer. I hope I have inspired you to consider working for a charity.

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