Work Experience 9: Physiotherapist
Something I’m trying to discover throughout my 40 work experience jobs is what I’m passionate about. What would be the job that I’d happily spring out of bed for each morning and find enjoyment and fulfilment from each day? Surely having a passion for work would lead to the most successful and satisfying career possible. Sounds ideal to me!
I loved working alongside Fiona Pringle in her physiotherapy practice, Target Physio. Not only is Fiona truly passionate about the science of physiotherapy and enabling fitness, she also has a passion for people. It’s obvious that she takes a genuine interest in each of her patients as well as her staff members, and that was pretty special to see.
What did I do?
I was privileged to be able to sit in on Fiona’s appointments with fourteen patients over two days. I wasn’t sure if her patients would be on-board with having a stranger in the room and was happy to hang out in the waiting room if anyone felt uncomfortable, but they were all so lovely and welcomed me in.
Although I didn’t get to give anyone a back rub, do any soft tissue manipulation, stretch anyone’s limbs or demonstrate follow-up exercises (clearly the patients would’ve left in a far worse state than when they arrived) I was able to observe Fiona working and talking with her patients.
Each appointment began with a brief overview of the patient’s history, as much as they were comfortable sharing with me, and what led them to seek treatment. There are a range of reasons people see a physiotherapist, from sports injuries, to rehabilitation after surgery, to pain and discomfort due to poor posture, sore joints, and the niggles and loss of balance that creep in with ageing. The patients Fiona treated while I was there were a variety of ages with differing concerns, and I found it fascinating.
What did I learn?
There’s a reason why physiotherapy is one of the most difficult university courses to get into…the body is so complex and there’s so much to learn!
Fiona explained that to be a physiotherapist you have to know your anatomy exceptionally well, you have to know all the pathology exceptionally well, all the different ways of moving a particular joint down from tiny movements to large scale movements, then package it all together according to the individual. There’s no part of the muscular-skeletal network that physiotherapists don’t target, by blending joint mobilisations, muscle releases, nerve glides, muscle stimulus, muscle strengthening, muscle endurance, and bone strengthening. You’ve always got an original body to apply these things to, which is why Fiona believes it’s a job that never gets boring.
Fiona’s mission statement is to enable fitness for each of her patients. Her aim is to break people’s reliance upon passive treatments and use physiotherapy as a tool in their self-management.
Research shows that the extraordinarily huge reliance people have on passive treatments, thinking that either medication, surgery or passive treatments are the only way you can fix anything in your body, is completely erroneous. Fiona explained that it’s sent our entire society on a completely wrong trajectory of rising disability and chronic pain throughout the health system. According to Fiona, physio is at the forefront of trying to pull people out of that mechanism.
I have to admit, a couple of years ago I saw a physiotherapist in the hope that the treatment would ‘fix’ my back after a minor injury. As well as some soft tissue manipulation that provided a lot of relief, I was shown a range of exercises and stretches which I was required to do every day until my next appointment. Of course, I only did some of them. Sometimes. I didn’t realise how critical it was to follow up with the exercises in order to speed up my recovery and get a better outcome long-term. After seeing patients that had engaged with the physiotherapy journey and done everything they’d been asked to do between appointments, I definitely saw the importance of it. I was amazed when I was told how much function or range of movement they’d regained in a relatively short amount of time.
There are so many amazing topics that Fiona covered and I learnt so much that it’s really not possible to cover it all here. This included research on the ageing body, the part the brain has to play in healing and functionality of the body, the idea of continuing activity after injury so as to not lose conditioning, and that even though you may lose some functionality after an injury or episode it’s possible to get it back if you fight for it. All really interesting and exciting stuff! I really hope Fiona shares it all in a TED talk one day.
On another note, observing Fiona interacting with her patients was such a valuable experience in itself. She’s respectful, thorough, attentive and calm, and has a way of giving advice that makes her patients sit up and listen. She checked in with patients during treatment to make sure they were comfortable, informed them of what she was doing as well as explaining why, and treated each patient as an individual. One patient told me she always leaves her appointments with Fiona feeling positive, inspired and heard. The passion Fiona has for people and her physiotherapy work clearly benefits her patients greatly. I’m going to continue the search for mine!