In person: Great expectations

Physiotherapy students have more than just youth on their side, as CEO Karen Middleton explains.

I’ve presented to many audiences both in the UK and abroad, but far and away the scariest audiences of all are students.
In my last job, I taught final year student physiotherapists and podiatrists at two universities about healthcare policy (thrilling, I know).
Without fail, we would have a ‘lively’ discussion and I would be challenged about my assertions. The questions were not easy and at no stage would they accept ‘it just is’ as an answer.
Since working at the CSP, I have made it my mission to spend as much time as possible with the CSP students at their university, on placements, at their representative conference or by attending their student executive committee meetings.
In October, I attended the Scottish physiotherapy student conference in Aberdeen – a fantastic programme planned, organised and delivered by the students at Robert Gordon University. It was excellent, from the speakers they’d invited through to the logistics on the day. I could find no fault. What talent.

Investing in the future of physiotherapy

I feel passionately that we must invest in the student membership of our profession, since they are its future – we would be mad not to. I am also very aware that I choose to invest my time in them because I get such energy from doing so – it truly makes the job worth it.
Yet I am struck how many times I am told by other members that ‘the students aren’t what they used to be’. My answer is always the same – ‘thank goodness for that!’
Student physiotherapists today will graduate to provide a different type of service than I was trained to work in. They will be providing services to an older population, which is more diverse and has high expectations.
They will be providing a service to people who live their lives through their smartphone, who have more complex conditions and who need to be able to manage their long-term condition themselves. And they will need to deliver a service that is strong on ensuring the public’s health and wellbeing.
They will graduate to find that their first jobs might well be in social care, in the community and in primary care and not in an acute hospital. They may not be within the NHS.
They will need to learn quickly that to be a professional requires more than excellent clinical skills – they will need to be able to show the evidence for their service, demonstrate its value and articulate their offer.
In other words, students of today need to be different because the service they will need to deliver will be different as will their workplace.

Ahead of the game?

Another occasional comment is that the students are ‘not fit for purpose’ nowadays. This concerns me: I wonder if the students are actually more fit for purpose than those who qualified when I did. Are our students actually ahead of the game?
When I speak to newly qualified members, they will often describe the optimism and excitement about their first job; the ideas they bring for improvements; an understanding of how technology could help redesign services; and in some cases, the business skills they gained from a previous career.

All this could be being nurtured by more senior colleagues who realise what an asset they are. It is these recruits who go on to thrive and go the extra mile. 
Others, however, find their ideas are quashed and their passion neutralised. Those of us who are qualified have a real duty to harness the energy and talent of our student members, and not let it go to waste once they qualify. While they may not have our experience, they don’t have our cynicism. 
We can all spot those newly qualified physiotherapists who have great potential and who want to stretch themselves further. It is incumbent on us all to nurture, guide, coach and mentor them.

Rather than students learning to influence upwards in order to get themselves listened to, we need to learn how to listen to them.

Contact Karen


Karen Middleton

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