New Directions

What makes an accountant, singer and travel operator switch to physio? Tamsin Starr discovers the mid-life career changers putting it all on the line to pursue their dream

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Charting the course of mid-life career changers into physiotherapy

‘A bedside manner and client care are the biggest things I bring to my course. I know how to speak to a client in a professional manner, which is something that can’t be taught in the same way bones, muscles and brains can. Developing compassion is a huge learning point.

Plus, like all my fellow mature students, I’m not afraid to ask questions in class – what’s the worst that can happen?

Also, we bring a level of control to the room. We are so focused, partly because we don’t have time to redo anything! Younger students will listen to us - and often ask us for help.

‘Although being a student at this age isn’t easy, this is the first time in a long time that I’ve felt content. I have a routine, I know I’m on the right path, and that puts everything into balance.’

Adrian Lee-Stokes, 35, was a performing artist, and is now a BSc physiotherapy student at York St John University.

‘I started out as a dancer in musical theatre and then went on to travel the world performing on cruise ships with my wife. It was a very physical life, which sparked a lifelong interest in working with the human body. After we “retired” and moved home we did the usual things like buying a house and settling into normal life as best we could. 

‘Unfortunately I didn’t cope well and and I got disillusioned with my direction. I was working office jobs and supporting my wife as she retrained to become a primary teacher. I got really rather physically unfit until I discovered triathlon. I fully threw myself in and have become completely addicted. 

‘When I was made redundant during the financial crisis, I decided to follow my passion of working with the human body and applied to work in the NHS while studying for an Access to HE course. Working full time, studying, training 15+ hours a week, being a dad to a two-year-old and a husband was hard work but it was a challenge I really enjoyed. 

‘What I’ve brought to physio from the performing arts is a confidence to do things and not worry about how you look – standing in front of thousands of people on stage will do that. And working on cruise ships taught me to communicate with people from all walks of life and every part of the globe. When it comes to something like subjective assessment, that skill is critical to getting all the information you need out of that client or patient – when we were taught it on the course, I found it almost second nature.

‘I have a wonderful little boy, and I’m training to qualify for team GB’s amateur triathlon team as well as studying so I have to be extremely organised with my day. But the fact that this course is so exciting and enriching and I’ve wanted to do it for so long makes it so much easier. 

‘I couldn’t be happier than how I’ve felt on this course. All my work has come to this point where I feel like it’s just the beginning of something very special and exciting. 

Success lays outside the comfort zone – there’s never a “right time”,  so if you really want to go for a new career, do it. You’ll get comfortable in your new zone soon enough.

Nev Kalsi, was an accountant, then completed a BSc in physiotherapy at the University of Wolverhampton.

He says: ‘As a kid coming out of college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I kind of fell into accountancy, which I did for eight years – not really enjoying it much. 

‘I was also very sporty, and had a lifelong interest in the human body, but it never clicked that I could make a career out of that. Then my mum had a fall at the hospital where she worked and dislocated her shoulder – she was in a huge amount of pain. Seeing the impact of physio in helping her get through that tough period, and increasing her confidence, coming out better on the other side impressed me so much I started reading about physio.  With mum’s help I arranged to observe a physio at work, and I suddenly knew what I wanted to do. I had a fire in my belly!

‘It was not plain sailing – I had to leave my job where I had lots of responsibility knowing I would have no income for three to four years and do an access course to get into university, which was tough having not been in education for quite a while. All the while I was wondering whether I was good enough, or just wasting my time.

‘But I got a place at university, and became more and more inspired along the way. The whole experience made me more confident and a stronger-minded person.

‘And I bring a whole range of skills from accountancy to physio – from experience of being patient with clients over complex business transactions, which is useful now in dealing with patients who have dementia and take longer to process information, to knowing how to build a rapport, problem solve and present to senior managers. 

‘Now as a band 5 in the NHS, I’m a lot happier, and feel like I have a purpose! I’m going to work with the sole aim of helping people, which is what I want to do, and always have.

‘I’d say to anyone thinking of doing the same, it’s fine to have worries, but know in your heart you have to do what it takes to get yourself on the right track. If you work hard enough you can do it.’

Nick Miles, 47, was a travel business owner, and is now a BSc physiotherapy student at the University of Brighton.

He says: ‘I began changing direction in my career when my partner of ten years passed away from breast cancer at the age of 30. It was an incredibly life-changing experience and it made me decide to work with people to live healthier and fitter lives and hopefully avoid illness.

‘I became a personal trainer, and a CHEK practitioner before starting a travel business taking people on cycling adventures across Europe that involved a lot of planning, fitness, endurance and supporting people in challenging environments.

‘Then the pandemic hit and suddenly I had no customers, so I was forced to look at other options. There was so much crossover from travel to physio – both involve understanding human performance, setting goals, offering reassurance when things get difficult, working with injuries and understanding the lifestyle and physical factors that may affect people’s ability to positively reach their destination.

‘It wasn’t easy to get on my degree course. I had to complete a condensed A-level in psychology in a year, which was a big ask and a real challenge.

But I’m absolutely loving being at Brighton Uni. Having worked for myself since I was 20, I absolute love having a timetable and being told what to do!

‘My young children are really fascinated by my studies, which is lovely, so quite often my demos at the weekend involve drawing their nerves and muscles on them. They are always really up for it and are learning too!

‘So what I’d say to anyone thinking of changing careers too, is if you have a curiosity for something like physio or you are passionate about human performance, challenge yourself to see what you can achieve and be excited about where  it may take you with a new qualification.’

Kayleigh Nias, 32, was a local historian, and is now a BSc physiotherapy student at the University of Winchester.

She says: ‘I loved the research in my previous job but while history is important, you’re not making a difference to people’s lives the way that physio and all healthcare professionals can – this is so much more me.

‘So when lockdown happened my partner encouraged me to go for it, and I ended up getting a place at Winchester. 

‘Along the way, I spoke to a lot of current physios who were so encouraging and supportive. They just said, “Don’t let your age or being a mature student be a barrier to doing this” so I followed their advice.

‘There are so many transferable skills from my previous career. As a historian you have to learn to get your preconceptions out of the way, and look at evidence objectively to come up with a hypothesis and conclusion – that’s what you do with physio. Research and analytical thinking are really important in both, as well as being able to change your communication style to suit different audiences.

‘I did my Master’s and PhD on the history of the CSP so spent seven years immersed in physio without doing any of the practical. I feel so grateful to be able to go for my dream career, and do something I love. It’s such a privilege to have this opportunity.’

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