In two months time it will be 8 years since I graduated as a Physiotherapist.
Yesterday, I started thinking about how much I have learnt since I stepped down the stairs in my Graduation gown, delighted and daunted at the thought of going out into the world to work as a Physio.
I know so much now, that I wish that I had known then.
These are five things that I would tell my 22 year old slightly awkward and bewildered self, whilst I was standing on the great steps at Wits University posing for a photo with my brand new degree in hand...
If you are not sure, ask. Risk looking stupid, believe me it's going to happen at some stage. Rather risk looking stupid by asking, than just going ahead with something because you sort of think you know and you probably should know, but you aren't quite sure.
I struggled hugely when I when first graduated with feeling that I should know by heart every single thing that had been mentioned at University. There is nooo ways that you can! Read up on your own where possible and ask the Physio's or Medical team around you for help when you are in doubt.
2) Doctors are also human beings. So consult and confront them!
As much as we are all used to revering the mighty consultants who rule wards and run clinics, they are really just people like us.
They do miss things and it's more often than you think. If you have noticed something that you think is pertinent to a patients care, then tell the Doctor. Write a letter or write it in the Patients notes, or god forbid if it's urgent, even give them a call. Most Doctors like to work really closely with therapists and other health care professionals, and I have seen time and again, how a patient has benefited from something being investigated that a nurse or therapist had initially noted.
I have also found that Doctors really like the Physiotherapist's input on their ward rounds. So ask if you can join in on them. It may mean that you need to get to work a little earlier, or leave a little later sometimes, but it is so worth it. You will learn so much and develop a stronger relationships with the Doctors on your ward.
Many Patients are also quite intimidated by their Doctors and are often too nervous to ask a Dr question or make an observation directly to them. We are in the very fortunate position as Physiotherapists that we get to act as a voice for our Patients to their Doctors too.
On a side note, I am always fascinated by how Physio's from different cultures interact with Doctors.
I find that South African, Australian and New Zealand Physio's are far more likely to be more boldly outspoken!
And remember that most of the truly great Doctors are ultimately nerds. Nerds that are so passionate about their field of expertise, and so thrilled that you are taking an interest in it too, that they will be happy to explain even the most basic of things to a willing listener.
3) Not every Patient is going to like you.
And you are certainly NOT going to like all the patients that you have to see.
If it's the former, as much as it hurts the first few times, just know that not everyone is going to connect to you. And some Patients will be really horrible to you, and sometimes, it will make you sad. In the same way that you are drawn more to some people than others, the patient-physio relationship is even more complex. You may be causing your patient pain by what you ask of them, or if they are dealing with a difficult diagnosis, it's often you as the Physio that bears the brunt of their inner anguish as you challenge them physically and spend a lot of time with them.
As for the ones that you don't like, and your reasons for this will be many, just try to be as patient as you can. You will have smelly, rude, bad paying and nasty individuals that you have to treat, and it isn't very pleasant.
I find this the most challenging parts of my profession, and I wish that I had a simple answer for how to work with people who you really don't like.
I always struggled with treating Prisoners the most when I was working with adults.
On another side note: One of the most bizarre situations I've had, was when after treating a Prisoner for weeks, who used to arrive in his prisoner overalls, handcuffed to two Prison Guards, he turned up all alone and in his normal clothes. "Been let out." was all he said to my confused face as we commenced the treatment...
4) Be completely Present for every treatment session that you do.
And I know that this sounds bizarre as to provide a Physio treatment you need to be physically present, but being mentally present is more of a chore.
Whilst you are with your patient, focus very part of your being into providing the best treatment that you can. Ignore your thoughts of what to make for dinner, or the email you should have responded to. If it's the hundredth time you are having to explain to the 90 year old lady how best to sit down safely and her Nurse is regaling you with a very interesting story about her weekend... Ignore or silence the Nurse and try to explain with all your heart to the forgetful old lady why she shouldn't throw herself back onto the chair. Knowing that you will have to explain it all again the next time too..
This is difficult. But you will be amazed by how much more you and your Patient will get out of the session.
5) You are SO Lucky.
To be entering into this incredible profession.
Yes your heart is going to break at times when one of your Patients passes away, or their cancer recurs.
And it's going break a million times over when due to time or financial reasons you can't help a someone as much as you would like to.
Or when you can't convince someone to make a lifestyle change that really would change their lives.
But more often your heart is going to rejoice when you get someone standing or walking for the first time or after surgery.
You will delight with your patients when their test results finally come back all clear, and your heart will leap when sometimes tell you that their pain is now better or all gone as a result of your work.
You will hear the most incredible life stories from people from walks of life that you never knew existed. You will laugh and cry with incredible colleagues, and you will learn so much from the people around you.
Now go out and read up, become as obsessed with evidence based research as those irritatingly brilliant Australian Physio's are. Explore as many different areas of speciality within the profession that you can, and when you find the right one for you, become as brilliant in it as you can. It may not even involve working directly with Patients all the time, but that is ok too.
Most importably, go and connect with your Patients and use your ability to improve their lives in the best way that you can!
Wow what a long post!
If you are still reading, thanks :)
And if you missed my exciting announcement yesterday... then read here!