Patricia Smith: reaching out from academia

University lecturer Patricia Smith gives her free time to run community musculoskeletal workshops in east London

Patricia Smith:reaching out from academia

Patricia Smith is a senior physiotherapy lecturer at the University of East London. She grew up in Jamaica and qualified as a physiotherapist at the University of the West Indies. She came to live in the UK in 1994 and specialised in treating older people. She has a PhD in community-based physiotherapy and lives in Newham, east London.

Why physiotherapy?

As a child, I knew that I wanted a health-related profession where I could help people in a physical way, although at the time I didn’t know that this is what physiotherapy is primarily about. 

Due to my interest in natural sciences, I did a first degree in chemistry. I taught the subject at a prominent high school in Jamaica. However, I realised that, much as I enjoyed teaching, I was keen to work in health so I resigned and went to study physiotherapy.

I enjoy my work immensely and teaching physio undergraduates at the University of East London combines my love of both physiotherapy and teaching.

Tell us about your PhD in community-based rehabilitation?

It was extremely demanding and I learned so much about my weaknesses and strengths and the need to keep focused on my goal. 

The best part was the year I spent in Jamaica doing fieldwork and collecting data. I lived with the families of children with physical disabilities, developing a greater understanding of the barriers to health provision, and how parents in a poor rural community developed coping strategies. Two great examples of this were the improvised standing frames and parallel bars that the families made.

What inspired you to volunteer to run health workshops in Newham?

Many people in the borough need simple advice about health and exercise for musculoskeletal conditions, such as osteoarthritis. So I run health workshops in public libraries to enable people to drop in for help. For example, mothers can come when they are at the library for under-fives’ activities, or carers can pop in during their lunch break. People can fit it in round their commitments. The workshops are all about self-management and empowerment. They are also a forum for people to socialise and share experiences.

What impact have cuts made on services?

At a Trades Union Congress black workers’ conference, I proposed a motion urging the TUC to work with health unions to challenge cuts to mental health services. I did this because cuts are having a disproportionate impact on black and minority ethnic people, who are over-represented in mental health services.  I also called on the TUC to consider financial support for voluntary organisations working in black and minority ethnic communities on mental health.

What’s next for you?

I would love to develop my health workshops and get more physiotherapists and students involved. The next set of workshops will be in January 2019 and I hope that people will either come forward or volunteer in Newham, or be inspired to replicate this model elsewhere.  I’m also researching issues around patient attendance and engagement within physiotherapy.

How do you relax?

I walk and swim, but most of all I love playing the piano. My favourite composers are Bach, Beethoven and Chopin, but I also enjoy playing jazz and contemporary music. I hope to one day give a recital and raise funds for a charity for people with disabilities.

I am also an avid practitioner of qigong, a system of coordinated body posture, movement, breathing and meditation. As busy professionals we have to find ways to maintain good health, remain resilient and stay productive. For me, qigong often helps. 

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