Mercedes Donaldson enjoys her unusual role as a physiotherapist at an independent school. Janet Wright reports
Sport is an integral part of life at Bryanston School in deepest Dorset, with most pupils at the co-educational boarding institution playing a sport such as cricket, rugby, netball or rowing on three afternoons or more every week.
When Mercedes Donaldson was offered the chance to act as a physio during school rugby matches on a year-round basis in 2010, she grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
‘I was working in a local private physio practice when I heard about the post through my fiancé, who teaches at the school.
Though I was enjoying the job I had, I missed treating people with acute sports injuries.
This was something I had a lot of experience in, having previously worked for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in London and then in Dorset,’ she explains.
Ms Donaldson’s career began at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in central London. After completing her junior rotations, she went on to specialise in outpatient settings as a band 6 physio. Next, she spent several years as a locum physio with the MoD.
‘I thrive in an environment in which acute injuries present themselves on a daily basis and there is pressure to ensure a speedy recovery as soon as is clinically safe,’ she says.
At Bryanston, Ms Donaldson soon realised that pupils who had picked up an injury during a match were itching to play again the following week without having seen a physio in the interim.
‘Though a physio from a local private practice was linked to the school, he could only commit to working one day a week and it soon became apparent that demand was growing.
‘That’s when my role started to develop,’ Ms Donaldson explains. At first she worked five afternoons a week on a self-employed basis but, by the end of 2010 the school was employing her on a full-time basis.
‘As well as working weekdays, I am pitch-side during matches on Saturdays,’ she says. ‘The advantage of me being on site means that pupils no longer have to make time-consuming journeys to see a local physio, possibly missing important lessons as a result.
‘Sports are a major part of life here, and many of our students represent their home county or region in a wide range of sports. Some even play for England.
But I don’t just work with sports players – I also see a number of musicians as well as students who need treatment after having operations or who have low back pain.’
Ms Donaldson’s innovative post is attracting interest from other schools, particularly when staff at away fixtures witness her at work on the touchline.
‘The services I offer are ever-changing. I have set up triage clinics and core stability classes, and run lower and upper limb rehabilitation classes.
I also run programmes for other members of staff on how to offer effective warm up and cool down routines.’
Working as a lone physio means that continuing professional development is vital, she explains.
‘I attend external courses throughout the year, keep up to date with current research and use iCSP on a regular basis in order to liaise with fellow physiotherapists.’ fl
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