3 minutes with Jenny Alexanders and going for goals

Jenny Alexanders’ career path has taken her into practice, teaching and research, where she found that goal setting is an important motivational aid to recovery

Jenny Alexanders

Jenny Alexanders is a senior lecturer in physiotherapy at Teesside University, and began her career as a physio assistant at South Tyneside Hospital, South Shields, the coastal town where she was born. This year she completed a PhD on the subject of goal setting in anterior cruciate ligament rehabilitation. Martial arts enthusiast Jenny has two black belts – in tae kwon do and kickboxing. She lives in Bedale, north Yorkshire.

How did your career start?

My initial experience as a physiotherapy assistant in 1999 gave me great insight into the relationship between physiotherapy and the wider healthcare environment. I developed such an interest in how physiotherapists are able to empower and maximise a patient’s potential that I went on to study for the profession at York St John University.  I completed my BSc in 2004. 

You combined an MSc with full-time practice. Was that difficult?

From 2008 to 2012, I was a part-time student at the University of Bath. Initially, balancing work and study needed some adjustment and careful planning, not least because I had children under the age of two.

Also, the course involved a significant amount of distance learning and there was an expectation that students should work independently. I needed to create my own timetable. But I found that by combining work with study, I could bring issues or questions that came up in practice back to the university to explore and discuss.

Why did you move into teaching and academia?

Mentoring a large number of students in clinical practice and seeing them flourish gave me great fulfilment. So I started teaching at a further education college, delivering A-level programmes and access to nursing and health degree courses. I gained a teaching qualification at the University of Huddersfield. 

I moved into higher education in 2012. At the University of Hull, I taught anatomy, clinical skills and professional practice topics, including communication skills and documentation, across curriculums. 

At that point, after having worked in private hospitals for a number of years, I went back into the NHS as a part-time band 7 musculoskeletal physiotherapist. 

I felt it was important to keep abreast of contemporary physiotherapy practice so that I could transfer this into the learning environment. It’s also nice that students appreciate it when lecturers are clinically active and feel they are being realistically prepared for placements. 

What can the wider physiotherapy profession learn from your PhD research?

Although goal setting is a professional requirement from the CSP and the Health and Care Professions Council, it is little understood and utilised by physiotherapists. It’s a complex motivational tool, centred on a number of aspects of the patient’s behaviour, including personality, motivational status, mood, social context and their present health condition. 

My research into goal-setting practices in anterior cruciate ligament rehabilitation revealed that the training physiotherapists receive on goal setting is insufficient. 

A large proportion of patients who undergo anterior cruciate ligament surgery don’t return to their previous levels of sporting activity or function. 
I found that this is often linked to psychological issues, including fear of being injured again. 

So I have created a theoretical goal-setting model. The aim is to provide physiotherapists with a detailed process on how to use a patient-centred approach and make an effective action plan for goals. 

I hope my research encourages physiotherapists to increase their understanding of how therapeutic rapport between clinician and patient can affect the patient’s motivation to recover and manage their own health. 

What’s next for you?

I’m keen to raise the profile of psychology in our profession. I’d like to collaborate with other academics to explore ways to increase the amount of psychology taught on physio programmes. Also, I’d like to create a network of like-minded physios who believe psychology is an important aspect of our practice. Members who are interested, please email me: j.alexanders@tees.ac.uk 

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