The next generation

As students start their physiotherapy degrees or apprenticeships we asked chartered physiotherapists to share what they wish they’d known as students

dear student self
Members share and reflect on their student experiences

Whether your own first day as a student was a few months back or many years ago, you probably remember that feeling of the exciting but daunting unknown. 

What can make a world of difference is the support we receive from those who have already trodden that path to qualification and given the time-travelling opportunity, what would you tell your student self?

Ryan Smith Assistant physiotherapist at Leicestershire County Cricket Club, Leeds Beckett University graduate

Reflecting back on my time as a physio student, I realise there was a lot of unnecessary worry! 

When undertaking my modules and placements, so much was running through my head it was difficult not to feel overwhelmed. However, with hard work, a good diary and lots of people to help me along the way, the time quickly flew by and, before I knew it, I was out in the big wide world as a qualified physio.

From a professional point of view, the best advice I took on board was to trust and develop my own skill set. Now working in MSK, I’m so glad I took on this advice as a student. 

Studying MSK, it was easy to get consumed by the many models and methods of assessment, treatment and outcome measures. Although it took time, I’m glad I had the patience to find a way of working that made sense to me. Doing this as a student has meant that, now as a qualified physio, I can take on board new information and suggestions and mould them to my own method of assessment.

I absolutely loved my placements within NHS settings. However, I have always held an interest in working in sport which suited my professional interest in MSK. The breadth of physiotherapy has allowed me to pursue this career direction. 

My advice to anyone wanting to follow this path would be to gain experience within a variety of different sports. 

The reality of my role means hours can be very different to those in the NHS, and students should be aware of the demands it can place on you organisationally. However, I am now combining both my passion for sport and physiotherapy, which makes this sacrifice completely worthwhile.

Dear my student self

I want you to really embrace the profession and look forward to the journey ahead. Physiotherapy is such a diverse profession. It will give you so many different and rewarding experiences. 

Towards the end of your degree, allow yourself to enjoy being a student. With deadlines and placement grades looming, it’s easy to get ‘tunnel vision’. But the major strength of doing a physio degree is the wide variety of people from all walks of life you get to meet. Make sure to spend time with your cohort; getting to know their stories and experiences. And don’t worry so much. Lots of great professionals will be keen to help you and push your skills, which will open many doors. When times are tough, know that it will definitely be worth it! from Ryan

Aaron Patel Band 6 physiotherapist, Midlands Orthopaedic Centre, The Dudley Group NHS Trust 

Having been qualified for over four years now, I’ve had time to reflect on who I am as a physiotherapist and most importantly, remembering my winding but blessed journey in becoming who I am today. Growing up, we were taught the value of knowledge and teachers as without them, we would not reach our full potential. This is something I held in high regard throughout my student years at the University of Central Lancashire. Viewing the placement from the educator’s perspective, I am mindful we don’t create carbon copies of one another. Each student possesses unique values. 

A good educator will catalyse that value by allowing you to express it freely and with vigour. I often look back and wonder if expressing myself and my flair earlier would have led to a more fruitful path. However, hindsight is a wonderful thing! Besides, how can we progress forward if we wish for a different past?

Dear my student self

As an experienced physiotherapist and clinical educator, what I wish for my students is what I wish for you. 

I want you to ‘grow into your own’ on placement and throughout your student life and subsequent career. Many of the students I have been fortunate in educating have shown empowering confidence while maintaining humility and seeking guidance whenever possible. They, and you, deserve credit for this. 

It’s important to show individuality. You may want to try to be someone else, thinking it would better your grades and overall performance. As is often the case, such attempts never result in what you expect or want. However, it will eventually ignite your desire to become…well…you!

Your student journey will have ups and downs, including having to resit a placement and rewrite an assignment at the same time, during your second year. It will take time to figure out that you need to be a more proactive learner as this specialist teaching is not a ‘me-to-you’ style of education. Speak openly to your friends and you will get the reassurance and boost you so desperately need. It will be tough at times, no doubt, but you will get there!

In the years following qualification, you will slowly develop your own style of learning, which will transfer into your own style of teaching and educating. In the meantime, relish each opportunity to learn and take it with both hands. As my late auntie, Hasu D L Patel BSc (Hons), PhD, MB ChB, FRCS (Ed), FRCS (Plast), often said to me: ‘Knowledge is Power’ from Aaron

Zahra Fazal Physiotherapist, West Hertfordshire Trust

Dear my student self

Over the next few years you’re going to have good days and feel like you’re on top of the world. Remember those moments because they’ll be the ones that will get you through the not so good days. Some days you’ll even question why you put yourself through this course; but don’t forget the promise you made. 

Remember your health is so important. If you don’t look after yourself, who will? Sleep, sleep and sleep a bit more if you have to because you’ll need it! Don’t give up sports and your hobbies because they define you. They may even be vital in helping you get through your degree. 

Don’t just memorise everything. Understanding and implementing it into your practice is so much more important than just recall. Bring together what you’ve learned from both university and beyond. You’ll be a better practitioner for it.

You don’t have to agree with everything everyone tells you; make your own judgements with your own knowledge. You’re smarter than you know (and I know you!) Question and challenge because that’s where the real learning takes place. ‘It’s always been that way’ doesn’t mean it has to stay. That courage to speak up will take you further along than you will ever realise. 

Don’t compare yourself to others. You’ve already achieved so much. Focus on your wins and your gains because nobody can take that away from you. It’s okay not to be the best – you just need to give it your best. 

Smile. Laugh. Live. Your university life will be some of the best moments, but your degree doesn’t have to define you.

There’ll be moments when you’ll wonder if you should join a society or go to a social. Do it! That’s where you’ll learn what no teacher can teach you.

Use your ‘yes’ wisely. Some days you’ll feel it’s better to say no and that’s okay too. If it’s a chance you’ve been given – take it. It’ll get you so much further than you’ll ever know. Don’t waste your ‘yes’. Be clever, but enjoy it. 

It’s okay to fail. Nobody is perfect and even the best of us make mistakes. If we don’t accept our failures, how can we learn to be better?

You are going to be amazing, and you’ll surprise yourself along the way. Just smile and enjoy every rollercoaster, because you’ll survive and you’ll never be prouder. from Zahra

Nicky Mackay Senior orthopaedic physiotherapist, Dorset County Hospital NHS Trust 

Dear my student self

The first thing I wish to tell you is to be yourself. The physiotherapy profession is a people profession. You build rapport with patients and colleagues because of who you are and how you interact with people. Do not be afraid to show your sense of humour, talk about your family and friends or discuss the things that are worrying you. The reason why we are good at our jobs and motivate and empower people is because we are good listeners, so make sure your educators and colleagues get to know that you are capable of doing the same. 

Secondly, you do not need to know everything. It is perfectly acceptable to not know the answer as long as you are honest.

Accept that you do not know something and use it as a learning point to guide your study. Just make sure that when you are looking for answers you are able to critique and determine if the information has come from a trustworthy source. 

Thirdly, it is okay to struggle. Being a physiotherapist can be incredibly hard at times. As a student you will be having to juggle university work, being away from home and, at times, missing out on all the ‘normal’ student activities all whilst dealing with the public in a very demanding environment. Be open and honest with those around you and ask for help when you need it. This is how you will explore your potential. 

And lastly, enjoy yourself! This is the start of an incredible career in which you can make a huge difference to so many people. Take every opportunity you can as a student to meet people, observe and ask questions. Use your reflections to document what you have learned. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and attend events, training, and conferences.

Believe in your work and the valuable contribution you can make as a student and you may even get to present your dissertation at Physiotherapy UK!

Trust me, you will look back at this time and be so proud of what you’ve achieved. Good luck.

Rebecca John Senior physiotherapist, Russells Hall Hospital, The Dudley Group NHS Trust

At university I lacked confidence in my own ability. As a dyslexic student, academic work was challenging and I found that I could only excel at practical tasks. I worried that I wouldn’t pass my exams, my dissertation or that I wouldn’t retain information well enough to succeed at an interview to secure a job. I wish that I had known that I wouldn’t be expected to know everything

Next generation
The next generation

straight away and that the true learning would begin when I started my career within the NHS. 

Because I had previous experience as a personal trainer, I assumed I was destined for a career in MSK or sport. 

My most challenging subject proved to be cardiorespiratory, which I thought I would never grasp and was too complex for me. I wish that I had known that if I sought help and studied hard it would turn out to be my passion. I wish that I had known that grades were not the be all and end all, that I would be able to learn practically and increase my confidence and competence. I wish I had a wider knowledge of all of the diverse areas of clinical practice available to a physiotherapist.

Dear my student self

You don’t believe in yourself now and you lack confidence. Not to alarm you, but you are about to embark on your NHS career filled with enthusiasm and excitement, but very quickly you will be on the frontline facing a global pandemic. You thought you could never be a respiratory physiotherapist but you will be forced to hone your skills on the job and will work in an ICU looking after deteriorating patients daily. 

Other people will have confidence in you and invest in your progression within the NHS. You will soon have a student of your own to whom you have the pleasure of imparting knowledge and watching their confidence grow. Within 18 months you will progress from band 5 to 6 and will begin to develop as a leader as well as a physiotherapist. 

Have courage, confidence and continue to be passionate about delivering excellent patient care and you will succeed! from Rebecca


We also asked physios on Twitter and Instagram to share what they would tell their student selves.

@physioNikitaM ‘There’s lot of support available to learn on the job, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Ask for help when needed, reflect on your experiences (good and bad), work on your communication and listening skills, and make your student journey fun!’
@BurchRhona ‘It’s an old cliché but having the courage to say you don’t know what something is and/or ask for more information is actually something your practice educators will admire in you and not criticise you for!’
@PhilippaFord1 ‘You are the future of the profession so go forth and show the world what a fantastic profession you work in! If you want to change things – get involved and ‘influence’ to effect change!’
@tracyjbury ‘You will find a career path that is so rewarding if you are open to opportunities and try them, even if you think you don’t stand a chance…Someone may see in you what you haven’t seen yet!’
@LPhysioprof ‘It’s possible to be a clinical academic and be able to contribute to the evidence base for the profession, whilst still being able to help patients and help train the physiotherapists of the future. Your career is what you make it.’
@HelenFosterPhys ‘Don’t fear failing or getting things wrong; it’s this stuff that helps you grow most. Find and grow comfortable with your own style as a physio.’
@rebekahwithak23 ‘A good sign you understand something well enough is that you can explain it in a way that’s easy for anyone to understand. Don’t be too dazzled by people who use long convoluted explanations that don’t make sense. Also ask ALL the questions – better to ask now and know later.’
@wilson_sarah23 ‘Spend less time worrying about what you think you should be doing and hear the patient.’
@EWPhys ‘Don’t worry about where other people are on their physio journey…it takes each individual a different amount of time to reach the end of it.’
@Imialicexo ‘Placements are an absolute game changer for your confidence and growth as a physiotherapist.’
@gitaramdharry ‘I could do a PhD! I had no idea back then that our career path could be so varied.’

Get involved

Share your advice to your ‘student self’ on Twitter. Tag in #DearMyStudentSelf and @thecspstudents and we’ll share. 

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