What transferable skills can physiotherapy training and practice offer?
In 2007, I gained a place at King’s College London University to study physiotherapy. At the time, I had no idea of the opportunities that would be available to me once I’d qualified. I had hoped that the degree would allow me to work in varied areas of clinical healthcare; however, I did not know that it would also give me the skills, experience and confidence to work in a variety of non-clinical areas relevant to the profession, ones that rely on translating knowledge and experience from my professional background.
At the start of training, physiotherapy students are encouraged to think about the transferrable skills they gain, and how best to utilise them. As a student moving between placements, I would get nervous because I felt I did not know enough about the new area I was stepping into. However, over time I remember each new placement would become ever so slightly easier, due to the knowledge, experience and skills I had gained from previous placements. I suspect each individual develops differently. For me, it was the growth in my communication skills and ability to build a rapport with patients and fellow professionals that allowed me to feel more at ease. As I progressed in my career, I found that my ability to rise to the challenge of new roles and responsibilities, such as leading a multi-professional team or engaging with stakeholders, was underpinned by learning and experience gained from previous posts.
Transferable skills are also gained in other areas of life, and it is important for continuous professional development (CPD) that individuals are encouraged to maintain complementary interests and reflect upon them. For example, volunteering with autistic children gave me invaluable skills to use during my rotation at the Evelina Children’s Hospital in London. Working in a physiotherapy clinic in St Lucia grew my leadership and problem-solving skills, and volunteering at the London marathon helped me with history taking and managing acute injuries. Many physiotherapists will have such outside interests and experience, which enhance and enrich their healthcare roles.
A year ago, I came across an advert for a physiotherapy teaching fellow at Kings College London. I was keen for a new challenge and wanted to extend my expertise into a different area of the profession. I felt that the experience from my career thus far had provided me with skills that could transfer to this new role, and persuaded myself that there would be nothing to lose by applying.
If you are interested in experiencing some non-clinical work I would recommend looking for opportunities through universities and secondments within your trust. Even if they are for short periods, they will give you an insight into the possibilities open to you with your physiotherapy background, and help you realise that you have a wealth of knowledge, skills and experience that you can bring to the role.
Preparing for a non-clinical interview was daunting as it was out of my comfort zone. However, as with many reflective activities around professional development, it helps to explicitly consider the variety of knowledge, experience and skills that can transfer from a clinical role to a non-clinical one: for instance, experience of clinical education, an understanding of ‘coal-face’ contemporary healthcare issues, communication skills, and the familiarity with varied viewpoints that comes with working with diverse stakeholders.
Sadly I wasn’t successful at that particular interview. But it opened up a secondment opportunity for me in the practice-based learning team (another learning point – one opportunity often leads to another, so don’t be discouraged and keep exploring!). I moved from working clinically in the community to an entirely educational role at the university. After getting used to the (sometimes dramatic) change in setting and context, I really appreciated the expanded perspective offered by working in physiotherapy education.
As I move through my own career, I reflect most upon those things that did not go to plan, but in turn led me along a path that I would not have considered otherwise.
I learnt much from it, in particular about the opportunities and challenges facing physiotherapy students today. This exposure to another aspect of the profession also came with opportunities for gaining insight and experience in other non-clinical domains, such as leadership, research, policy development, governance and quality improvement.
It was the experience from this secondment that gave me the confidence to apply for a professional adviser position at the CSP, and I got the job! I now find that I regularly rely on the knowledge and expertise gained throughout my career to make a success of my new responsibilities: helping to make a success of the fast-paced advanced practice agenda, increasing capacity for physiotherapy students, developing practice-based learning tools and staffing level standards.
It would be unrealistic to pretend that moving from a clinical to non-clinical role did not come with challenges. Firstly, there is the battle with imposter syndrome that comes with not only working in a completely new environment, but also with people of considerable experience and expertise. I had to learn new ways of working and time-management to deliver deadlines, engage with non-clinical professionals, and communicate in large forums such as conferences and workshops. However, these challenges are not completely divorced from those undertaken when embarking upon a new clinical job, and I am pleased I have come from a high-pressured NHS environment that gave me extensive grounding in problem-solving, delegation and time-management skills.
Succeeding through failures
When I speak with most of my colleagues, most recently the very successful advanced practice, researcher and consultant level physios, I can see that there is no single, fixed, ordered career route. As I move through my own career, I reflect most upon those things that did not go to plan, but in turn led me along a path that I would not have considered otherwise. At the beginning of my career, I thought I would work in a musculoskeletal field. However, I realised soon into clinical placements that this was an area I struggled in. I loved the ward environment and progressed through my rotations in inpatient settings. After a few years of this, I rotated to a community post. In all honestly, I was not looking forward to this, due to what I feared was my lack of knowledge and expertise. However, this rotation ended up being one of my favourite times as a physiotherapist, and I still use the skills I learnt from this, particularly around complex decision-making when there is perhaps no optimal solution.
The CSP has a number of articles about developing your career through clinical, research, leadership and educational routes. I would recommend reading the 2017 Frontline articles on ‘CPD Practice: your physiotherapy career’ series 1-7.
On the flipside, there have also been a number of disappointing job interviews and unsuccessful applications, which resulted in me re-thinking the range of options that were perhaps available to me. However, if I had not experienced these disappointments, I realise that other opportunities I have profited from may not have presented themselves, and ultimately, I may not be in the role I am now.
I have also realised that it is important to reflect not only upon the skills and knowledge I have brought to my non-clinical role, but also on how I have developed over the time I have been here. Firstly, I had never considered that I could write an article for Frontline! However, with the support and direction of my colleagues, I have been able to write on a number of issues relating to my role on the professional advice service (PAS). I also have learnt so much from working with stakeholders such as Health Education England and the Health Care Professions Council (HCPC). One of my greatest achievements was organising and speaking at the advanced practice session at PhysioUK19.
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