Support worker takes award for enthusiasm as he studies to become qualified

Healthcare support worker (HCSW) and mature student Chris Milligan has won Glasgow Caledonian University’s Physiotherapy Society ‘Above and beyond’ prize.

Glasgow Caledonian University's Physiotherapy Society's 2020 award winners at the gala ceremony on 5 February. Chris Milligan is pictured on the far right.

Judges said he was a ‘key member’ of the physiotherapy community at GCU, he loved helping people and engaging with all year groups.

Volunteer roles Chris has had included peer tutoring, coordinating the 2018 and 2019 senior sports days (responsible for recruitment and allocation of volunteers) and being an active and integral member of the physiotherapy society, as vice secretary and, soon, secretary.

NHS career

He started in the NHS aged 20 and has spent eight year as a befriender in Leverndale, a band 2 physiotherapy support worker at Western Infirmary General followed by a band 3 physio/OT support worker in Southern General Hospital/Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

His current role is band 4 assistant practitioner in Glasgow Royal Infirmary (GRI).

Support worker and mature student Chris Milligan

Explaining his journey to become a mature student, Chris said: ‘I applied previously to GCU but was told while I had great experience I had been out of school for too long. I was instructed to complete the SWAP access course at college but this wasn’t feasible due to my finances.’

He was signed up to complete a higher national certificate in allied health professions at New College Lanarkshire but this didn’t go ahead due to poor uptake and financial costings.

OU study while working FT

‘Eventually GCU agreed that I could do modules at the Open University; human biology (level 2), chemistry (level 1) and maths and statistics (level 1). I completed these whilst working full time as a band 4.’

The modules were funded by NHS Education for Scotland.

‘I wouldn’t have been able to complete them without their support,’ Chris said.

He is now half way through his third year at university while still working in GRI on a bank contract.

This means he is two days at university and two-three days at work.

CSP gives thumbs up

CSP professional adviser Sara Conroy, who presented the prizes at the GCU event on 5 February, said: ‘This is such good news given that in Scotland there are no apprenticeship routes, we lack a workforce supply and there are many HCSWs who would welcome the opportunity to become qualified.

‘Chris told me how hard it had been for him to get into doing physio such as having to prove his ability to study and doing an OU degree while still working full time as a physio HCSW in the NHS. Also he still needed to work to support himself.  

‘I also spoke with one of the lecturers who described the difference between someone like Chris coming to study compared to a school leaver. That he brought with him the patient experience, professionalism and true understanding of the role and that he was “80 per cent ready” and only had the easy academic bit to learn.’

Management encouragement

‘I’ve had great support from my line manager who is flexible in allowing me to fit my work around my studies, such as when I can do my shifts for example.’

Chris described the decision to go to university as a mature student aged 28 as ‘difficult’.

‘There was a reduction of money coming in, bills and responsibilities and keeping a social life but it was one of the best decisions I have made.

‘There needs to be more support and an easier pathway for mature students/physio support workers to apply for and go to uni.’

Chris said: ‘I have met people who will become friends for life, the skills and knowledge that I have gained will serve me well in my career.

Study benefits

‘I love helping people and have always looked for jobs where I was able to do this but never really felt like I had a career. The course has given me this and more. I will be able to help people regain their confidence, reclaiming their independence and increasing their self-esteem.

‘I can see the direct link through what I learn in uni and how this impacts people when I am working. I am able to put into practice the theory and practical skills I learn in the classroom/lecture hall into the patients I still work with during the week/weekends.

‘If any other support workers have any doubts about going on and furthering their career, I would encourage them to take the leap of faith and trust in their abilities. The hardest bit is the first step, if I can do it, so can you.’

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