I have always been drawn to ask “Why?”. This was not with the intention of frustrating others (however this has happened on occasion!), but from the standpoint of wanting to gain a greater understanding of a particular topic area. This desire to improve my knowledge undoubtedly helped my studies at school, and when beginning at University. However, as I progressed through my physiotherapy degree I was regularly answered with “We don’t know yet”. Credit must go to the University staff for keeping the degree programme up-to-date and teaching based on the most up-to-date evidence available which often poses many further questions. Rather than putting me off this gave me a desire to be part of the teams addressing the ‘yet’, and providing answers to others like myself asking “Why?”.
After qualifying I prioritised gaining further clinical experience. I completed both junior and senior rotations within acute hospitals during which time I worked across areas including: General Medicine and Respiratory, Surgery and ITU, Neurorehabitation, Musculoskeletal Outpatients, and Stroke Rehabilitation. Following my interest in Neurological Rehabilitation I joined a community neuro-rehab team delivering physiotherapy care outside of acute hospital settings. It was at this point I became increasingly aware of the long-term psychological impact of many diagnoses, particularly neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and Motor Neurone Disease. In this role I gained equal satisfaction from both the impact of physical rehabilitation and the inter-related psychological improvements in patients’ presentation. My wife and I then relocated to the North East and I began to work in an acute mental health setting for the first time and was able to focus more objectively on the links between physical and mental health.
On beginning in post, staff were mostly welcoming however I enjoyed the challenge of demonstrating the benefit of physiotherapy in mental health settings to staff who were initially more sceptical. I took confidence from the fact there is an emerging clinical evidence base in the area of physiotherapy practice.
Alongside my junior clinical roles, I had continued to remain research aware, despite not initially being ‘research active’. This changed during a chance encounter at a local neurorehabilitation conference which led to me being able to volunteer as a research trial assistant for ongoing work within the hospital. I owe a great deal to the individuals who gave me this opportunity, many of whom I remain in contact with despite having relocated to the opposite end of the country! At this point I should probably tell you that I was brought up with the philosophy of “Shy bairns get nowt” – A northern way of saying “If you don’t ask then you’ll never know” which as a naturally very shy person didn’t come easily to me.
I was encouraged to contact researchers and clinicians who were experts in my area of interest and this has given me the opportunity to learn directly from leaders in the field.
When contacting individuals with requests to learn from their experience I have found the vast majority to be both welcoming and supportive. In general people are happy to share their experience with a view to helping others and ultimately providing improved care to the patients we serve.
Through making such contacts I have been able to progress from completing a funded research internship, to a master’s degree, and am now in the process of completing my PhD.
Alongside my PhD I am also involved with various other projects centered predominantly around the links between physical and mental wellbeing and is something I hope to progress further.
One positive to come from the Covid-19 pandemic is that we are no longer constrained by geography when reaching out to others. As long as you are prepared to accommodate virtual meetings at unusual hours on occasion then there is no reason not to meet with clinicians anywhere in the world… The worst thing you can be told is no, or requested to postpone a meeting slightly. Shy bairns get nowt, sometimes you just need to remember that we’re all working towards the same thing: improving patient outcomes.