A day in the life of…A Physiotherapist

There are many diverse and interesting roles at The Percy Hedley Foundation. So, with this in mind, we would like to share some “Day in the life of….” features on our blog over the coming weeks.

First up! Our Physiotherapist Fiona Jenkins has kindly shared an insight into her role as a Physiotherapist.

Why and how did you become a college physiotherapist? 

After A-levels, I attended Northumbria University for six years and took two degrees back to back — biomedical science and physiotherapy. I qualified as a physio in 2008, and then worked in the NHS until 2015 specialising in neurology. But that year I also came back off maternity leave and needed a better work-life balance because my NHS job involved working weekends, being on call through the night, and on shift over Christmas and Easter. A job came up at the college and I got it!  

How challenging was the transition from NHS to college? 

I moved from my NHS specialism, neurology, and working with patients with MS or who had suffered stroke and brain injuries – to supporting young people aged 18-25 with learning disabilities, so it was about getting my head around communicating with people unable to talk or with profound disabilities and come up with new strategies – eg trying to treat students and have a really good rehab session. I had to adapt and work closely with other staff in college such as speech and language therapists. You have to look at how to get the best out of a particular student by working with the whole team around you and getting them to focus on how you want to proceed to achieve their target.  

What’s your main role? 

I started in 2015 as a senior physio when student numbers had doubled in one year. In early 2020 I became the college therapy team lead so I now operationally manage occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, and physios. Most of my week is spent working clinically as a physio offering various forms of hands-on physiotherapy. I have regular contact with staff, students and parents, make referrals to different specialists, and undertake colleagues’ performance reviews, and look at how we can improve quality and develop our services.   

What’s a typical day? 

I start at 8.30am with a staff meeting to discuss current issues or something coming up during the term. Teaching sessions run from around 9.30am to 3.30pm; we will either go into a session and integrate our therapy into that class or pull a student out of class and do, say, hydrotherapy or rebound therapy (on the trampoline). It could be a one- to-one session depending on a student’s needs. Twice weekly we have in-service training after work where we might teach staff new techniques or complete training.  

Approximately six students are in any one group (they may have cerebral palsy, autism or a range of other disorders and disabilities); not all students in any one group will have the same physical disabilities. We might, for instance, support a student in a maths session to use a standing frame or complete physio during the session so they are not just sitting in their wheelchair. Unlike NHS physios who would complete an initial assessment, set up a programme and then come back to review it six weeks later, we stay with the students, tweak their programmes as needed, and are really flexible in meeting their needs. We can therefore give very clear advice to the SSAs and tutors.   

After daily sessions finish, we write up our notes, and are regularly completing reports for local authorities – even though we are not part of the NHS, we still have to follow Chartered Society of Physiotherapy guidelines and the health standards of our regulatory body, the Health and Care Professions Council.  

Any significant tasks you have done recently? 

We have been restructuring our adult services within the Percy Hedley Foundation, which incidentally also includes College. We are recruiting heavily and I am supervising a new team of therapists, meaning I have been doing less clinical work in order to sort out a structure for the Hedleys Horizons service. 

How are you coping with Covid-19? 

It’s really challenging. Lots of students with respiratory problems would have been shielding; many have not returned to college this term even now. We’ve had to adapt, offering ‘out-patient’ clinics, home visits and remote online therapy sessions using the Microsoft Teams platform during which we monitor how students are coping with their exercise programmes and liaise with parents.  

We don’t do A-levels. All students have their own Education Health and Care plans – some have mild physical disabilities but are cognitively very able while others have profound and multiple learning disabilities. We have a large autistic cohort, including many students with behavioural, rather than physical difficulties, who require occupational therapy. Everyone’s needs are so variable and that makes it really interesting. It’s quite a special time to work with this age group as you are setting them up for adulthood.  

What’s the most challenging aspect of your role?  

Funding! Not all students automatically get their therapy funded so we have to assess them and recommend the therapy they need to the local authority for a decision. The problem comes when someone up to now has had therapy sessions every week, then at 18 they move to adult services and sometimes lose funding streams and deteriorate as a result. We have to fight for it through appeals and evidence and its getting harder and harder. 

An achievement you are really proud of? 

Guest lecturing at Sunderland University. We clinically supervise physiotherapy students who do placements with us and the university asked us to run sessions on learning disabilities. We talked about not assuming things about people based on how they present themselves, and get great feedback. It’s rewarding as we get to open new physiotherapists eyes to a less popular speciality within physiotherapy practice.  

Personal qualities and skills needed in your job? 

Good communications skills, the ability to see much more than speech as the way forward with people, and patient listening skills to understand that individual’s needs and thus get the best out of them. Plus being really flexible as every day can quickly change, particularly during the pandemic. 

Background/training/qualifications? 

You need a BA in physiotherapy, or you can opt to do a masters. You need experience in all the other areas related to physiotherapy -working in the NHS means you rotate around all the core subjects/services and then you can start deciding which areas of physiotherapy you want to specialise in. I quickly went into neurology as that was what I really enjoyed and now it’s begun to play a substantial role in the learning side of disability. But without my general NHS experience of orthopaedics, musculoskeletal, respiratory issues and other areas I’d not have the confidence to do my current job. 

What do you really enjoy doing at college? 

Seeing students who are very physically disabled on land and need support in everything enter a hydropool and swim by themselves, completely independently. It’s particularly good to give many students that sort of freedom to stop them deteriorating when they come to us because of often scant adult funding.    

Examples of students who have achieved something special?  

We have a couple of students who are ambassadors for disability with Newcastle United FC – they are so proud of this achievement and raise the profile of equality in sport. Also, one year ago we held a big sponsored fundraiser for Sport Relief and raised £1,200 – every student did some form of movement for a set period – whether it was swimming, jumping, walking, treadmilling – even though they might normally not have been able to do it. 

What spurs you on to work each day? 

Watching a student grow in confidence, especially those with physical disabilities. They may have spent a long time restricted by school rules and then realise they can, say, call teachers by their first names. This allows the nature of relationships to change and independence to blossom. We all support each other and work together as one big unit.