Welcoming graduates into the world of work

Professional adviser Nina Paterson shares stories from new graduates, and their colleagues

Welcoming graduates into the world of work
Welcoming graduates into the world of work

Sometimes when you’re writing an article for Frontline serendipity intervenes. Out of the blue, I was contacted by Karen Jones, acute physiotherapist at Great Western Hospitals NHS Trust. Karen contacted the CSP to say her team was planning a ‘top secret graduation ceremony’ for their band 5 physiotherapists who had missed their graduations, because they’d moved so quickly from university into the workplace, as a result of the pandemic. Two of Karen’s band 6 colleagues, Beth Goodenough and Chelsey Tyler, came up with the idea having worked closely with the band 5s, preparing them for work on the on-call service and work within the respiratory and rehab services during the pandemic. With this article about to be written, how could I turn down the invitation? 

In truth, as someone who has spent the best part of my career working to ensure that graduates are fit for purpose and the student experience is the best quality it can be, I really didn’t need persuading. It was a real pleasure to attend.

The team had wanted to do something special for their new graduates, recognising the contribution they had made to the wider service. They wanted to acknowledge how they had stepped into respiratory physiotherapist roles working with patients with Covid-19, upskilling quickly and willingly to cover ICU, supporting their nursing colleagues. 

Pride in the team

What the graduation ceremony lacked in pomp and circumstance, or long flowing gowns, it made up for in heart, face masks, socially distanced seating, and a real sense of celebration. 

I felt immensely privileged to (virtually) be there. The sense of pride in their families’ cheers and faces was palpable even on Zoom. I listened to the consultant anaesthetist talk about the kinship he feels with physiotherapy; their nursing colleague spoke of her pride in the team and singled out the integral role played by these physiotherapy new graduates in building a strong MDT ethos at a time when it was needed the most. Mostly I was in awe of the sense of team that came across even in a virtual environment and the very real confidence the whole team had in their band 5 colleagues.  

I will confess to becoming quite choked up watching them with their paper sashes and mortar boards sourced online, elbow bumping as they collected their certificates and later again when they peered into the screens to wave to their families. 

Embracing change

For students reading this who are about to graduate, I want to reassure you and potentially inspire you that this will soon be you. It is particularly important to say this now because I know that added insecurity that has crept into the mix because, like those in the year above you, you’ve studied via a different delivery model to your predecessors. You don’t have to delve far into the physiotherapy archives to know that the way it has been taught, and what has been taught, has been ever-evolving. Take the 1950s – a tiny minority were debating whether men were ‘intellectually up to the challenge’ of being physios. Don’t ask! All I will say is that change of any sort, always brings with it uncertainty, some insecurity and sometimes resistance. Until that change becomes the norm. 

You may be the first to be experiencing a different approach to learning but much of what you experienced is here to stay. These changes were coming anyway, pandemic or not. So while you may be at the forefront, your experiences will become the norm. The shift to technology-enhanced learning and placement diversification was happening anyway, the pandemic just accelerated the innovation.

And for employers, team leads, and line managers reading this, who may be wondering what to expect from those who are studying and qualifying through the pandemic I want to inspire you too. 

Your new and soon-to-be peers are incredible. They may have developed some doubts that they are somehow not quite as ‘good’ as previous cohorts because they’ve had a ‘pandemic experience’, but you shouldn’t share those concerns. 

Always learning

You and I know that no new band 5 has ever experienced everything physiotherapy has to offer, and you’ll remember yourselves how you felt on your first day. It’s our collective responsibility to do what’s always been done – welcome the new band 5s into the workplace, take them under the team’s wings and develop them. 

If you didn’t catch the recent CSP student webinar live, you can catch it again on YouTube Julia Roth, band 5 rotational physiotherapist at NHS Grampian, shared her experience of starting her career in the middle of the pandemic. She was joined by Victoria Dickens, director of AHPs for the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group, who gave her perspective of new graduates as an employer. 

Every single physiotherapist who has qualified has a unique student profile – with different strengths and weaknesses. But what all newly qualifying physiotherapists have is the foundation upon which to build – a baseline of underpinning knowledge as a starting point.

You’ll also see here the story of another new graduate Tara Caroll – what’s amazing for me is the consistent messages that are coming through them all. It was clear from being at the graduation and talking to Karen Jones that their band 5s are competent, capable, fast-learners. They are flexible, team-players who have strengthened their multidisciplinary teams, and have stepped into ICU in Covid conditions. 

Listening to Julia and Tara another point came through so strongly – that it is normal to feel scared. This transcends the pandemic – newly qualified physiotherapists from the year dot have felt the same. Victoria picked up the same point as a manager – she remembers that feeling clearly and also noted that when you qualify ‘you’re never the complete package’. In fact, she went further – wherever you are in your career, you’re never the complete package and are always learning. She asks colleagues for help daily – that’s the great thing about being part of a team. That’s also the joy of being a physiotherapist – you’re always learning.

Trust your knowledge

Something else that came through very strongly when Victoria and Julia were talking relates to change and the need to embrace it rather than worrying about what you’ve not experienced. 

Every single physiotherapist who has qualified has a unique student profile – with different strengths and weaknesses. But what all newly qualifying physiotherapists have is the foundation upon which to build – a baseline of underpinning knowledge as a starting point.  

Your unique experiences are an asset

The ability to communicate, problem-solve, apply principles, to learn, to reflect, to be aware of your limitations, and to ask for help transcend settings, and the virtual experiences, while unusual until now, will be more normal features of healthcare provision post-pandemic. 

What was wonderful to hear was Victoria’s similar take on these changes. She told students on the webinar that they shouldn’t start from a point of worrying about what they haven’t done but rather should embrace what they have done that’s different – and that it’s these things that make them stand out. From an employers’ perspective, having a student that’s had a leadership, research or policy placement is bonus.

They’ll be an asset. Julia, on her experience of virtual/online learning, reflected that it had advantages in the workplace that she hadn’t foreseen. 

Finally, I wanted to return to the point about the collective responsibility to each new set of graduates. This shone through so much in Tara’s reflection, and very much so at the Swindon ceremony. I want to reassure those coming out into the world of work shortly – your colleagues are waiting for you to join their teams. They will welcome you and be so very proud of you all too. Nerves are normal, embrace your difference, keep learning and you’ll look back and be proud of yourselves too. 

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