Students graduating this year have had a unique experience. We consider whether it has left gaps in the skills they need to enter the workplace
My recent placements have involved virtual consultations and less face-to-face patient contact than previously. Will this be a problem when I apply for jobs?
Leon Palmer-Wilson, MSK clinical specialist physiotherapist at Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust: ‘Not at all. This pandemic challenged us to work differently very quickly and some staff and students have thrived on that. Those who’ve taken virtual placements have shown real adaptability; the ability to switch mindset like that is a real strength.’
Hal Brace, service manager for South Tyneside at Connect Health, an independent provider of MSK services for the NHS:‘The people coming through now have a level of digital literacy which is probably superior to a lot of the more senior physiotherapists and something we’re all battling to upskill in. It’s a unique skillset to have right at the start of your career.’
Ashley James, national clinical education lead for Connect Health: ‘Graduate students who have done virtual placements have the ability to get up and running very quickly with patients who now prefer virtual consultations. We see it as a real positive.’
I have not had placements in neuro, respiratory and MSK. Will this be a barrier when it comes to my employability?
Tamsin Baird, CSP professional adviser: ‘It’s more about the fundamental, transferable skills you gain while you’re on a placement, like good communication, the ability to analyse information, problem solving, interpersonal skills, and whether you’re committed to lifelong learning.’
Leon Palmer-Wilson: ‘If I pick up a CV, and the applicant hasn’t done the full rotation but shows evidence of being adaptable, flexible and driven, I would be happy with that. We’re looking for a passion for MSK and some sort of experience in that area.’
Ryan Mackie, clinical lead MSK physiotherapy and hand therapy at Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust: ‘I think, “can they do the job for us? Will they be helpful for patients and the team? As a person are they motivated to expand their knowledge and become an MSK clinician?’’
Reena Patel, CSP education adviser: ‘It is important to focus on clinical skills but it’s often the non-clinical aspects such as time management and communication that challenge people in the workplace, so employers really value those critical skills, too.’
I’m not sure where I want to work after I qualify. What are my options?
A physiotherapy degree opens many doors in a variety of careers settings. There’s the NHS, private practice, a charity, setting up on your own – or splitting your time between different jobs. You could work with a sports team, at a gym, a care home, with the armed services or at a prison.
It really comes down to which option works best for you. Are you happy to work shifts, for example? Do you see yourself in a hospital setting or in the community? You don’t have to practise as a physiotherapist, either: your skills qualify you to work towards teaching, research and management roles. Find out more from your regional Council for Allied Health Professionals Research (CAHPR) hub or speak to universities.
Is it better to take a rotational post?
Rotations can give a broader knowledge and experience of different pathologies that patients present with – helping you to pick up on Parkinson’s symptoms in an MSK clinic, for example. But rotations can’t cover every speciality. And if you know you want to specialise, a broad overview can also be learned in other settings.
Reena Patel: ‘There is no right or wrong in relation to rotation versus specialising – just what’s right for the individual. Clinical skills are a fundamental part of our practice but for our profession to thrive we also need academics, researchers, policy makers and entrepreneurs. Students – and anyone wishing to develop their physiotherapy career – should think sectors, not just specialities.’
How can I specialise and still broaden my knowledge?
As with rotational posts, the breadth of knowledge is often determined by the patient population that you are working with. The CSP website highlights ways of continuing your learning development, with professional guidance, clinical advice and information on continuing professional development.
Many organisations, including NHS trusts, run preceptorship programmes – structured learning plans which guide and support all newly qualified practitioners and give a great foundation for lifelong learning Connect Health runs a 15-month graduate development programme aimed at new graduates who want to work in MSK. The first four months concentrate on transferable core skills like good communication and understanding pain, and the rest of the programme includes education in other disciplines, from experts in their field. They have had more than 200 virtual student placements since the beginning of lockdown in March, and students have come from 15 different universities across the country.
What are the main skills that employers look for in a graduate physio or new recruit?
Reena Patel: ‘Employers are moving away from the one-size-fits-all approach and looking for people who are good learners and keen on ongoing development.’
Ryan Mackie: ‘I look for someone who can build a rapport with patients and their team through good communication. Resilience – the ability to overcome obstacles and suggest solutions– is important, plus taking the time to consider where areas of their role can improve, for the hospital, themselves and their patients.’
Hal Brace: ‘We’re not looking for a stereotyped formula. We’re looking to add to a team of people who complement each other and have a variety of different skills.’
What do new graduates say?
Amie Neal joined her MSc Physiotherapy course at Birmingham City University with a clear idea that she wanted to specialise in paediatric care, and didn’t swerve from that view.
After graduating, she took a job as a static Band 5 children’s physiotherapist, working in the community for the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust. Almost a year later, Amie has no regrets about being the only one on her course not to take a rotational post.
‘I love my job,’ she said. ‘I go to work every day knowing I’ll enjoy it. If I was on rotation, I know at least some of the time I’d be working in an area I didn’t find so rewarding.’
She added: ‘When you treat people in the community, you build a rapport with the patient and, in the case of children, their family. The variety is amazing and you get the satisfaction of seeing them progress over time.
‘I’d advise students that if they don’t get a placement in an area they’re interested in, they should try spending a day or two there anyway, as a volunteer. I did that with the team who ended up offering me my job.’
Aaron Brindley’s job as academy sports therapist at Premier League football club West Bromwich Albion is the dream of many physiotherapy students – but it’s the result of years of hard work, and a willingness to grasp every opportunity.
After graduating with a Sports Therapy degree he got a placement with Leicester Tigers because of contacts made while volunteering with charity events.
He then took an unpaid internship at Derby County FC, who funded an FA first aid course. That led to work as a first aider on academy team match-days at West Brom, which gradually developed into also helping out at academy training sessions.
Realising a physiotherapy degree was ‘the golden ticket’ to a career in sport, Aaron enrolled at Wolverhampton University. While there he took every chance for work experience and continued working at West Brom before being offered a full time role there before his degree course finished.
My advice to anyone is to be proactive,’ he said. ‘Don’t let any opportunity pass you by, even if you think it’s beneath you, because you don’t know who you’re going to meet and who that person might know.
‘I also use Instagram and follow hashtags to contact people I think might be able to offer me advice or give me ideas. It’s already opened doors for me.’
Amanda Stephenson graduated with a first class honours degree in physiotherapy from the University of Wolverhampton with job offers from four placements. But the coronavirus outbreak put paid to every one.
The mum of two school-age children had already ruled out applying for a rotational post with her local NHS trust as it would have involved long commutes and no child-friendly hours.
Conscious that she had a mortgage to pay, Amanda drew on her retail background, plus five years’ experience working as a physiotherapy assistant, to set up on her own as a physiotherapist. She built her own website and started advertising as Physio in the Sticks as soon as her HCPC came through.
‘I think I spent £2,000 on my entire set-up costs – that’s a website, uniforms, PPE, advertising leaflets and business cards,’ she said. ‘I also had to upgrade my broadband so I could see some patients online. I was soon treating five or six people a week, which is now up to around 12 people a week.’
She added: ‘When I set up my business I felt I was backed up into a corner and didn’t have an option but it’s the best thing I did. My advice to anyone in a similar position is to just give it a go!’
Author: Claire White
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