Shock of the new

The chance to break out of our traditional role and widen our scope brings huge benefits – for physios and patients, says Amy Coleman.

I have been a physiotherapist for 15 years and among my peers I don’t think any two of us have taken the same career path. Our skills and knowledge come from a wide variety of sources and given how broad our scope of practice is, there is no ‘normal’. So I’ve been surprised at the contrast of opinions in the profession on whether we should widen our expertise to take on skills such as venepuncture, diagnostics and prescribing.
 
As demand on NHS services grows, it seems there is neither the time nor the luxury of doing your job the way you want to. To add to the pressure, the average patient is now much more involved in their care, with higher expectations and demands for specific tests and treatments. 
 
I work in acute medicine and one only has to look around the unit to see that all professionals feel this pressure and frustration levels are high. 
 
My team and I have battled to promote the role of physiotherapy and make our referrals more relevant, constantly reiterating criteria for treatment, only to struggle in return to get x-rays reported, pain relief reviewed and drugs administered. 
 
It is too easy to complain and adopt an ‘us and them’ stance and become stagnated with unachievable workloads. 
 
The emergence of ‘new’ roles in my trust seemed to arrive all at once and, knowing something had to change, I gratefully began a master’s degree to become an advanced clinical practitioner. 
 
This was one of many solutions to address the shortage of both medical and nursing staff, which teaches you to assess, diagnose, prescribe, research and lead service development. I had no idea where it would take me and met a lot of resistance from colleagues for breaching the traditional boundaries of my role. 
 
However, I’ve been welcomed and supported by my medical and nursing colleagues who are happy to teach me the extra skills I need to help them. At times, this pushes me outside my comfort zone but the rewards and challenges are entirely worthwhile when I see the potential for improving care.
 
Imagine being able to combine our joint assessment skills with the ability to order an x-ray, or supplement your pain relief techniques with painkillers when necessary. 
 
With our skills in counselling and education we can explain the medical interventions alongside our exercise routines and lifestyle modifications. The patient receives the same care but in one package with no long waits and multiple appointments.
 
Integrating my work with the other professions means I now have the support, networks and opportunity to tackle openly the problems I encounter. I haven’t finished the course, but am excited to see how I can develop my role. 
 
I will always be a physiotherapist, but one who reacts to the needs of the patient more comprehensively and efficiently, embracing the need for a changing workforce.
 
  • Amy Coleman is team leader at South Warwickshire NHS Trust 
 
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Amy Coleman team leader at South Warwickshire NHS Trust

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