For support workers who want to qualify as physios, the journey can be tough. Kate Cave, who’s done it, says it’s everything she’d hoped for – and more
Kate Cave has worked continuously for the University Hospitals Bristol NHS Trust for six years, including through the full-time BSc that took her from support worker to physiotherapist. She grew up in Wigan and played for Manchester United Girls Team, where she had her first experience of physiotherapy. She lives in Bristol.
You were already a graduate – why study for a BSc in physiotherapy?
I graduated from the University of Birmingham in 2012 with a BSc in sport and exercise science. Returning to study for a second BSc at the University of the West of England in Bristol was a big decision for me – financially and personally.
I loved being a therapy technician at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Trust, but I always wanted to learn more and challenge myself in new ways. I believed that to advance my career and take on new responsibilities, I needed appropriate training and qualifications. Ultimately, I decided on physiotherapy because of my passion for rehabilitation and a desire to develop my interest in respiratory care, which was outside my competencies as a technician.
How did the experience as a technician affect your studies?
Being familiar with working within the NHS, I felt better prepared for placements and I had an understanding of the current healthcare climate.
Also, my studies enabled me to acknowledge the value of being a technician and the unique role support workers play in enhancing patient care in the NHS.
Was it hard to go back to full-time study?
Definitely. It was a complete lifestyle change. I went from a permanent full-time job to being a full-time student with a mortgage to pay. So there were financial challenges. I had to make compromises, but I was extremely lucky that when I started my degree, tuition fees were still being funded through NHS bursaries.
Switching back into academic mode – writing essays and studying for exams – was also challenging. I hadn’t really considered how surprisingly tiring it would be to study all day.
As well as studying, you worked at the trust. How easy was that?
I worked on bank contracts at the trust, which was extremely supportive during my studies. This gave me the opportunity to work flexibly alongside my degree on weekends and in university holidays to support myself financially.
Tell us about the prizes you won as a physiotherapy student?
When I graduated, I was awarded the CSP South West Network prize for outstanding clinical performance and the university’s physiotherapy faculty prize for high academic achievement. I owe a lot to the lecturing team at the university.
Graduating as a physiotherapist was reward enough, but these awards made all the hard work over three years that much sweeter.
You have stayed at the same trust. How different is your role now?
Practising as a qualified physiotherapist is everything I’d hoped for – and more. It’s a big step up, which I had felt prepared for through my time as a technician. But it’s a steep learning curve as a newly qualified band 5.
The added responsibilities have raised the ceiling on the opportunities available to me and the ways in which I can contribute to patient care and the profession. Every day is a school day and I expect this to continue throughout my career as a physiotherapist.
What’s your message to support workers who want to qualify?
Do it. I appreciate it’s not always easy. There are lots of factors to consider. Finances are usually the biggest hurdle. So do your homework on the financial support that may be available through universities. Ask your trust if bank working opportunities are possible alongside your course of study – but make sure you are realistic about what you can commit to. Ultimately, your priority must be your academic study and getting the most out of your degree course.
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