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Career lessons from a “young” South African physiotherapist.

I’ve just hit the big 30 – when I reflect on my professional career, including my student days over the last 10 years, there are so many lessons learnt that have placed me in my current situation. I’ve been the junior, the always working weekends, I’ve worked with coaches, Dr’s sport teams in a host of environments and learnt in all of them. This is in no way saying that I have achieved my goals already, or claiming success – but I am committed to lifelong learning and development and thought I should share some of these lessons with my colleagues.

1 – If you’re in healthcare to make money, you should change your career. Seriously, if you want to make millions, own property in Sandton and drive a 3 series through your career choice – unfortunately it’s probably not going to happen. This was so disappointing for me when I thought my piece of paper from Stellenbosch University entitled me to a very comfortable life of semi luxury – this was not to be. However it did teach me how to be thrifty, make use of what resources I had, manage my personal finances accordingly, and think long and hard about why I wanted to stay and work in healthcare. Healthcare is stacked to favor medical aids and medical technology, so if you’re in it for the $$$, try one of those – and don’t let either of those affect your practice or patient care.

2 – If you’re not learning, you’re getting left behind. This is a science, things change daily, monthly, yearly – CPD points are one way of trying to incentivize continued learning, but let’s be honest, sometimes they are a hack. Learning something because you want to compared to just passively receiving information because you have to are completely different approaches. If you still refer to tendon pathologies as tendonitis – you need to seriously get into some literature, blogs, social media, podcasts, YouTube, ANYTHING to get your knowledge up to scratch. There are definitely times when I felt my knowledge was inadequate to really help my patients, and that type of honesty is sometimes hard to express – but we should care enough about our patients to at least try keep our knowledge relevant through the multitude of resources available at our fingertips in 2018.

3 – Break the mold. This is the stereotypical path that I’ve seen in orthopedic physio. Finish comm serve, work as a junior with a basic salary, move to a commission, eventually find your own space to rent, open your own practice and hope people come to see you. If this cycle continues we’re going to have more private practices than physio’s to work at them! Instead of fighting about how the world views us, we still resort to passive treatments and “releasing” muscles with our hands and selling all sorts of ridiculous adjunct treatments – we need more debate, more teamwork, more collaboration, more taking control – ESPECIALLY from the “younger” physio’s. Experienced physio’s – we’re now dealing with millennial’s, a generation who will be loyal to your practice if you look after their needs, and run a tight business ship. Allow for employees to grow, be transparent, celebrate their successes and be involved in their lives.

If you’re still in your first 10 years of practicing, I believe we should all be pushing the envelop of where our profession should be going in SA. How can we make physio better for our future colleagues who will only graduate in the next 10 years??

4. Practice what you preach. If we’re prescribing exercise, and fixing people who are exercising, then surely we need to be exercising? As well as experimenting with different types of exercise – I gained the most insight into injuries through playing sports and sustaining injuries during sport and exercise! Don’t go out and get injured (!) but a little bit of experience will go a long way by means of empathy with patients.

5. Network is Net Worth. A phrase from business, has never been more true. If you want to have a seat at the table, you need to know whose already sitting down. Reach out, connect with other professionals, make contacts, ask questions, debate things – and not only within physio but with other industries as well – not only in SA but globally. The world is a much smaller place thanks to the internet and social media – let’s use this to its fullest potential.

6. Crabs in a bucket. Unfortunately the world and its people might not want you to succeed – but the success of others is not your failure. It’s not you vs. them, it’s you vs. you. Celebrate the success of your peers, employees, managers, patients, of others in general. If we spent less time criticizing each other’s efforts and practices instead of learning from them – we’d be able to move our industry forward. Don’t pull anyone down who is trying to improve themselves in whatever capacity that may be.

Let’s take back our profession and steer it in a direction that’s right for both our colleagues and clients – continuously challenging each other, learning, debating and growing. If you look at sports physio in Europe and the US, they are both heavily linked to exercise and even leaning towards physio’s becoming certified strength and conditioning coaches, because of the need to adequately prescribe exercise both rehab and conditioning. Somewhere along the way SA physio’s absconded our involvement with exercise and put all our eggs into the manual therapy and passive side of treatment, lets up-skill ourselves and show our colleagues that the best of sports physio in South Africa is still to come!

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