3 minutes with ... Charmaine Riley-Nelson

Charmaine Riley-Nelson says more can be done to encourage people with black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds to become physios.


Tell us about your role in the NHS?

I’m a team leader managing and supervising occupational therapists and physios in a joint working initiative on a busy trauma unit in Birmingham. I have worked as a physio for 11 years in the same trust. There have been many changes to my role in the last few years, but I have managed to maintain a hands-on element to my job as well as an administrative one.

Have you always wanted to work in the rehabilitation field?

I have a real passion for rehabilitation post- injury and trauma seems to fit the bill. Trauma is often paired with elective orthopaedics, but my unit is purely trauma.  Therefore, I get to treat people with varying degrees of injury, ages, conditions and co-morbidities. Obviously, many patients will come from the elderly fragility fracture category and they present a rehab challenge, but we also see a lot of young patients who can have really complex injuries.

You told the CSP Annual Representative Conference in March that you have promoted physio as a career to others with BME backgrounds. Tell us more.

I’ve always noticed an element of surprise when I tell people that I’m a physiotherapist and this surprise seems much stronger in the black community. I even get congratulated by other black healthcare workers and students for getting to the position that I have as it’s so rare. This creates two roles. The first is that I have become a role model to newly-qualified healthcare professionals, a kind of mentor.  They ask for advice and for help to develop their careers. The second is to promote physiotherapy and I’m always being asked about what I do, what the job entails and how do you get into the profession. Since starting my journey as a physio, I have advised quite a few BME friends on how to get into physiotherapy. I know of at least two who qualified and are working as physiotherapists!

I would like to make this more formal and visit schools in inner city Birmingham to promote our profession as the awareness of physiotherapy is so poor.  I believe there are so few BME physiotherapists because the profession has not engaged with the community.

Recent reports show that people with BME backgrounds often  fail to reach the top posts in the NHS. Why is this?

I really do believe, as the MacPherson report said, that institutional racism exists. Many black people feel that they have to prove themselves before they are considered for a more senior role.  They either have to get extra qualifications or go ‘above and beyond’ to make the grade. Even I had to ‘act up’ first in my current role to see if I was suitable for the job.  

There is a real issue about lack of representation at the top; if there is no BME representation on the interview panel the BME interviewee may be more likely to be overlooked.  Also, it’s hard to aspire to be something if you’re the first one to try and there are no peers to look up to and gain inspiration and insight from.   I know personally that it’s also hard to voice your concerns when you feel that you may have been discriminated against. You may be accused of playing the ‘race card’ or having an ‘attitude problem’. Therefore, some may not complain through fear of being labelled and isolated in future.

How can CSP members help to turn this around?

I urge all BME members to join the CSP BME network, where they could form connections with other BME members and gain support and encouragement.   The CSP could possibly train their stewards and reps in issues that affect BME staff.   All CSP members should ensure they receive and fully understand their equality and diversity training and ask if their managers are implementing the equality charter in their workplace.   The CSP could offer information and training on applications and help with interviews for senior roles.

How do you relax away from work?

I wouldn’t really call it relaxing, as I train up to six days a week so that I can compete in the sprint events at my local athletics club.   I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, but never tire of pushing myself and competing. My other love, maybe my first love, is Manchester United.

To find out more about the CSP BME network click here
Charmaine Riley-Nelson is a trauma therapy team leader in Birmingham

Frontline Staff

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