The Journey of a Physiotherapist: Jenny Smith, Team Lead Physiotherapist Orthopaedics
What made you pursue a career in Physiotherapy?
Originally, I wanted to coach gymnastics but the careers advisor at school said that it would be very difficult to make a living doing a job like that. She said until I was coaching at a national level it would not be a full time job and even then I may not earn enough to be able to ‘live a nice life like have a nice house and nice holidays’. I was then discussing with my dad what I could do and he suggested physiotherapy. I didn’t know what physiotherapy was and he explained to me that it was someone who helped people learn to walk again after they had broken their leg. And the rest is history!
Does your job role live up to your expectations?
Being a physiotherapist has been so much more than what I expected. Like I said I didn’t really know what it was. It turns out there are physiotherapists who help people learn to walk again after breaking their leg, but there are also physiotherapists so many different things.
Everyone has the same common goal though and that is to help someone either regain the quality of life they had previously, or help them adapt so that they can regain as much of their quality of life as they can.
Describe a typical day in your department?
A typical day working in Integrated Therapies starts with a morning handover. We meet with the nurses to check how our patients have been overnight and to learn about any new patients who have arrived. We then prioritise our patients for the day and assign which therapist will see them.
I do in fact work with patients who have broken their legs, and other bones as well. I start by seeing anyone who can go home that day if I have assessed them, and then follow this with any patients who had surgery the day before. It is my job to check that they can move their arms and legs, that they can walk, and that they will be safe at home. I work closely with the Occupational Therapists to ensure that a patient can manage their daily activities at home such as getting washed and getting dressed.
What challenges do you face within your job role?
Physiotherapists do encounter several challenges in their day-to-day work. The biggest one is always having enough time to spend with the patients. You always want to spend as long as you can with them but also want to make sure you see everyone. It is a constant balancing act. And as you would expect when dealing with people in a hospital you can often be involved in quite emotional situations when patients or relatives might be up upset or angry.
Clinically there will always be the challenge of complex patients who maybe require specialist rehabilitation or who require multiple types of rehabilitation for multiple problems. And of course COVID has brought it’s own set of challenges. Our role often involves getting quite close to patients and treatment is often hands-on. Respiratory therapists complete breathing exercises with patients and require them to cough. We have had to adapt what we can.
What are the best bits about the job?
Without a shadow of a doubt the best thing about being a physiotherapist is helping someone regain a skill or function that they had lost and did not think they would get back. It might be something as small as being able to button their own shirt or as complex as being able to walk again but it is the best feeling in the world.
What do you feel are the most important qualities in being a good Physiotherapist and staff member?
To be a good physiotherapist you have to be hard working and have a degree of physical fitness - a lot of the specialities can be physically demanding. You have to be patient – improvement can be slow to achieve. It is vital that you keep your patient motivated.
And you have to want to help people – the hours can be long (often involving being on-call overnight and working weekends), the demands on your time plentiful and sometimes you cannot help despite your best efforts and realising that can be tough so you have to really want to help and make a difference.
Tell us more about the career/education path you took and the qualifications you gained
I have been qualified quite a while now but when I did my training I needed 3 A-Levels grades B or above to get into university and one of them had to be a science. I was lucky to get what I needed. I went to Brighton University and did the standard BSc which took three years. After graduating I started working as a Junior Physiotherapist (sometimes called a Band 5) and did this for about eighteen months. As a junior you complete general rotations through the different specialities as this helps you consolidate what you learnt at university.
I then took what used to be called a Senior 2 Physiotherapist job (now a Band 6) which was a slightly more specialist role based in MSK and Orthopaedic services. I had this job for around 4 years before getting what I considered to be my ideal job as a Specialist Physiotherapist in Trauma Orthopaedics. I have been very lucky with my career to achieve what I set out to.
What advice would you give students looking into pursing this career?
I would definitely advice doing some work experience and getting to know what the different types of physiotherapy are. There are so many that you just don’t realise and who knows what your area of interest might be. I would also advise be prepared to do the rotations. A lot of people get into physiotherapy already know which area they want to specialise in and aren’t keen to complete general rotations however the basic knowledge gained by doing this is essential. You never know when your patient with a broken leg might also have a stroke!