All Change: First steps in a new career

Taking your first steps into a career or a new post offers many chances to reflect on your practice, says CSP adviser Nina Paterson.



Having been asked to write an article for Frontline on helping students to remember to make time to reflect once they graduate, I found myself empathising. I’m five weeks into my new role at the CSP, getting my head around new duties, learning on the job and doing things for the first time (including writing this!).

Although there is only ever one first job, we get plenty of ‘first times’ – a lateral career move (like mine), career progression, redundancy, a career break can all put us back in that ‘new space’. So I hope this article resonates beyond the original target audience.   

As I’m discovering, when there’s change, you’ll never have a better time to evaluate your practice and learn through doing. If you make the time, you’ll find that you will be able to capture all your learning.

Remember what you know, and what you can already do

First steps – don’t panic and clear some space in your head to think and remember what you already know. All easier said than done. It might be new and overwhelming now, but it won’t always be like that.

If you’re just starting out, you don’t need anyone to remind you how much you don’t know. You might need a reminder that you have lots of transferable skills to draw from. You’ve had lectures, practised, learnt how to problem-solve and critically review evidence.

You’ve identified your strengths and weaknesses, as well as analysed your actions and interactions. You’ve kept a portfolio, passed reflective assignments, attended debriefs after placements to unpick your experiences.

Wherever you’ve studied, you experienced numerous practice educators who aside from wanting to help you hone your physiotherapeutic skills, also wanted you to demonstrate an ability to translate knowledge into practice, to problem-solve, to think critically about why you are doing something and to reflect on your thought processes and the outcomes.

If you’re no longer newly-qualified, then the good news is that you have the experiences listed above to draw on, plus your experience of the working world. Even if your lecture notes have long gone, the concepts only need a little refreshing.

This article and the suggestions box highlights a few places to start – the CSP library, for example, has a great set of books and articles that can get you started. It even has e-books, so if you want to read on your mobile as you travel, you’re all set. If you take students on placement then the courses and the materials that the universities offer will cover how to help students develop  – and these principles apply just as well to you.

I was lucky enough to be at one of the recent Physiotherapy Works events, another great opportunity to learn through doing. During the afternoon, the delegates were working on a business case. Members at my table were developing an innovative multi-professional community-based service addressing obesity.

Half-way through someone commented: ‘Who knew I was an expert in public health?’ For all kinds of reasons, not just being overwhelmed in a new job, or overloaded in an old one, it’s easy to forget what you do know, and what you can do.

Remember why you’re doing it

At some point, I’ll be reverting to my post as education adviser. A large part of that role involves visiting universities. During these visits I talk to students, service users, the teaching staff and practice educators. I always enjoy those discussions, I’m always struck by the passion and enthusiasm displayed by everyone there.

The conversations always come back round to why physiotherapy is so important, making a difference to the patient, client or service user at the heart of the care. That commitment was apparent again at the Physiotherapy Works event.

This is what drives professional development: commitment to high quality patient-centred care. Is it a challenge to ‘make space to reflect and evaluate your practice in your first job with other competing demands? Yes. And it will be a challenge at other points along the way? Yes, especially where change is involved, but its importance doesn’t lessen.

Naturally-occurring opportunities

Continuing professional development (CPD) is really nothing more that you being able to show that you regularly reflect/self-evaluate your practice, can identify your strengths, respond to your weaknesses, and that you are constantly seeking out opportunities that demonstrate your commitment to the delivery of excellent patient care.

Which is why it’s not all about courses (albeit a valuable way to learn). The great news is that conversations with a colleague in the car, discussions with your multidisciplinary colleagues, managing your caseload, offering peer advice through iCSP, reviewing patient feedback, carrying out audits, taking students on placements, and your appraisal process at work are all naturally-occurring opportunities to reflect on and learn by doing. 

The Health and Care Professions Council offers some more examples. See here for more details. 

All you need to do is record the learning.

Find an approach that works for you

We’re all different, that’s why giving advice is hard, and why there are so many books, articles and research papers written about how to ‘do CPD’, how to reflect, think critically, plan. Find a style that works for you in a format that you like and go for it.

Normally at the end of an article in this series we include a set of prompts, things for you to go away and think about. This article was made up of things to think about, so really this is a call to action … you have the ‘tools’, clear your head, find a way to make the time, and do it.

And finally, if you know of some great resources or have some practical tips you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. Email us at:;

Suggestions Box

  • Are you coming to Physiotherapy UK and looking to develop your reflective practice skills? If so, a number of sessions should be of interest, including John Cowan and Clair Kell’s lifelong learning workshop. Geraldine Hastings will be leading a group discussion that examines whether attitudes towards aging impact on care. 
  • CSP ePortfolio has a section dedicated to understanding reflection, a great set of templates to suit every style and approach.
  • Previous Frontline CPD articles. Take a look through the back catalogue of CPD articles here and  search for ‘cpd’
  • Grab a book from the CSP library. Check out the catalogue online to see the range of books, e-books and articles available.

Nina Paterson

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