Five years after starting an actual community practice, Maria Lewis is set for a virtual future delivering physiotherapy online
Maria Lewis specialises in the rehabilitation of older people in the community. For five years, she has run her own practice, Reach Physiotherapy, in north Wales. Born in Nuneaton, she qualified at the University of East London – one of the first students to graduate from its three-year course. She lives in the Welsh coastal town of Deganwy.
Why did you set up your own practice?
I reached a stage in my career where I needed the flexibilty that I knew private practice would give me. Being a mother of four could be considered a full-time job on its own. It certainly was for a few years, but I needed to return to my career and regain my own identity. I also wanted to be my own boss. I wanted the ability to see a problem, find a solution and implement that solution, if I so wished, that very same day. I love a challenge and setting up your own business from scratch was certainly a challenge. Owning your own business means you are someone who lives and breathes what you do. Whatever you put in, you get out.
Does the NHS offer its physiotherapists flexibility of hours?
During my career in the NHS I was very lucky to work alongside, and be managed by, some wonderful physiotherapists. Sarah Keilty, a legend in the world of respiratory physio, and the CSP’s very own past chair Sue Rees. These are just two of the people who inspired me.
My managers were always extremely flexible and did everything in their power to accommodate my wishes. This included holding my job open while I took a sabbatical. And following the birth of my twins, they allowed me to return to working 30 hours a week, but over just three days.
I could not have asked for more flexible managers. But sometimes you just need some time out to be a mother.
Why did you decide to specialise in treating older people?
If there is one thing that north Wales has plenty of, its older people. With my business hat on and a knowledge of the lack of community physiotherapy in the region, I knew there was a great opportunity to build a successful business. I had experience working with older people in a hospital setting and knew I would enjoy the challenge of treating them.
You think physiotherapy should be exploiting digital technologies. Why?
Initially, working as a private community physiotherapist, I felt quite isolated. However, thanks to digital technologies, I soon felt connected to my peers. The use of iCSP and social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, allow us all to stay connected and share good practice. The ability to direct message people makes our world so much smaller. And it gives us the opportunity to have conversations with those people we have always wanted to talk to.
Our future success as a profession will rely on us embracing digital technology and coming up with clever ways of giving the public a digital physiotherapy experience that will enhance their care.
What’s next for you?
After five years of building Reach, it’s now time for me to hand over the reins to another fantastic community physiotherapist, to continue the work I have started in north Wales. For me, its time for a new challenge, that merges the world of digital technology and physiotherapy.
Working alongside my business partner Sally Tawhai, we have developed a virtual learning management system that delivers exercise for people with early-stage Parkinson’s. Many of our patients live in remote, rural areas. Our online system, Reach Your Peak, aims to offer people with Parkinson’s a truly interactive physiotherapy service – wherever they are.
It can be accessed from the comfort of their own home. It can enable them to feel supported by their own physiotherapist, to be part of a community or, if they so wish, retain a sense of anonimity. So, watch this space.
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