Recently, we held interviews for a physiotherapy position. Throughout the course of our interview process I got to really chat with a great bunch of people from a wide range of backgrounds, experiences and qualifications. Although the experience was varied, the common denominator was a mutual passion for working with animals, a desire to really make a difference. Many were keen to start a new journey, a new career path, one where they felt would bring real job satisfication and many had specific experience working in the veterinary field whether it be in kennels, volunteering with the RSPCA, some HND and HNC courses, dog walking etc. right up to qualified veterinary physiotherapists and hydrotherapists. The most common question I was asked as I got to know these candidates further was "what can I do to progress into a career in Veterinary Physiotherapy."
Let me give you some background on the history of Veterinary Physiotherapy. Therapy, including manual therapy e.g. massage, spinal mobilisation and manipulation and strengthening has been common practice in some shape or form for centuries. Animals have played a pivotal role in many areas including war, therapy, companionship, working dogs / horses and much more. However, a more structured approach to qualifications is relatively recent and thankfully the United Kingdom is one of the fore runners with progressing this forward both with standardisation of qualifications, provision of work experience and placement centres and especially within the ACPAT field, progressing research and evidence based studies... ultimately, pushing the standards of practice.
It was of no surprise that some had applied to Alba Physiotherapy as it was the first opportunity they have had to realise there were such opportunities out there and opened the door to thinking further about where they may like to go with their career. So, if that's you, then read on… let's chat through some options and get into the real bones about this topic (physio joke no 1)!
For many, the main question burned brightly…
"I LOVE working with animals, which course should I go for?"…
Firstly, with the emergence of online courses and the increase in awareness that we can do more for our animals has led to any Google search producing a variety of courses out there to be found. In order to find the best course for you, RESEARCH, and then research some more!!!
What do you need to look up?… Here are some starting points... Find out the content, the method it's taught by i.e. online or in person. Find out WHO is teaching it, what clinical and academic background they are from, duration and where, AND costings including hidden costs like flights, accommodation not to mention the time you will need to devote to getting the best out of these courses.
I always say there is no point in just attempting to pass these courses… do it with bells on! This topic of study is fascinating, rewarding and tough but once you pick up the books you won’t want to put them down... so time is often the most precious currency.
So lets tackle these individually
I always advise people not to go by the title of the course, or indeed what you will be called when you qualify. I've completed a few qualifications throughout my time and one thing that is certain, if you don’t like the content of the course it is infinitely harder to pass it, soak it up and most importantly enjoy it. And life is too short to not be enjoying learning about one of the best topics there is to find out about. If you can contact the university to find out the content, syllabus and what the process is you will get a good idea of how much time is spent on crucial elements like physiology of tissue healing, pain physiology (which is huge), the depths of rehabilitation and the research behind it, behaviour and how it can be affected by stress, pain and between different breeds and species.
Anatomy is a biggie!!! You need to love anatomy because often when you learn all your muscles, bony landmarks, nerves etc. you need to do it all over again… and then again for it to sink in! if you know your anatomy, your clinical reasoning or the reason why you would choose a certain treatment at that stage of healing for your patient, will be better.
Communication and psychology and huge factors! Although you want to treat and work with animals, you cannot forget our owners are vital to all this process. Owners tell us the history, and are often THE most qualified to telling you how their animal and pet are really doing as they know them inside out. If communicating with people isn’t one of the key elements, working with people when their pet and animal is unwell or in pain becomes infinitely harder to do the best job and ultimately, make a difference which is the reason many want to work in this industry.
2: How is it Taught/ What is the Course Delivery?
Who will be your teachers/biggest influencers? They hold the secret to your career path and progression. Nowadays distance learning and online resources and classes is huge! This is fab in that it cuts down travel time and expense to courses but it's also challenging. You have to work harder to be motivated the whole way through to link with your classmates and tutors. Have the confidence to ask questions to people you sometimes haven’t met, and have the discipline to continue with studies even when life is getting tough. All really important things to take into consideration.
I always recommend people to look at how many placement hours are required. This is essentially ‘on the job’ experience and who do they require you to get experience with. There is a huge difference doing 10 case studies yourself with some support from your mentor (on line) than spending 150 hours at specialist centres. There is also a big difference working alongside an ACPAT physiotherapist for example, than shadowing at an orthopaedic centre. Both are really beneficial but as your studies process, the more specific you can make your work experience, and the more opportunities there are to literally soak up information, the better prepared you will be when you qualify and make that jump to working on your own as a fully fledged therapist.
If you hope to work in a centre with an underwater treadmill, but you’ve had 1 week being a part of a team that treats animals in a pool, be mindful of the differences and transferable challenges. If you’ve worked with hydrotherapists but plan to be involved in physiotherapy/rehabilitation specifically, then seek out more opportunities to embrace the full meaning of that difference.
3: Who will be your teachers/ biggest influencers. They hold the secret to your career path and progression
I've touched on this point already but check out the background to courses, work experience etc. The overall aim of different professions is to improve the quality of life of our patients and hopefully, solve our patients' problems. Each of the schools of practice have common themes and also some clear differences. I have worked with and mentored students on placement and therapists who have qualified in a variety of different pet care professions and there are differences. There has to be. If you are being taught or working with someone who has taken 1 year to qualify or someone who has been through qualifications that require over 6 years to qualify, you will undoubtedly get a difference in depth of learning, teaching and ultimately clinical reasoning.
This can be a biggy, and to be honest was one of the stumbling blocks people spoke about throughout our interview process. It can be costly and much as we are passionate about achieving a qualification, resources can often determine your ability to grab opportunities. Placements, study time and travel to courses take up time and annual leave, time away from our family and can add to the stress of studying and exams considerably if you haven’t planned well in advance. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail… that old chestnut still applies. And don’t forget… Over the course of my physiotherapy and veterinary physiotherapy studies, which took altogether 8 years of qualifications, life happens. I've travelled through snow storms, no sleep, sick pets, said no to many social gatherings and then some. It is the most exciting time of learning, but can be the most challenging…But folks,... when you’ve got to work hard for it, it's all the more rewarding!
So, here are some ideas to think about. One of the most common questions I'm asked is, what course would I recommend. Hopefully this gives you a background to where to start your research and considerations to what you can be thinking of to get closer to choosing the best path for you. I am practical by nature and absolutely love getting stuck in and hands on. I'm not shy with the academic side but people, animals and physiotherapy give me a buzz every day. I've been really blessed that the courses I attended not only had a big push for the academic side, they were also very practical and group/team based. I've met friends for life, and felt true passion and joy of learning.
The hardest roads are often the most rewarding. No matter what your path, my main advice is to listen to your heart and stay true to yourself and what works best for you as a learner. I know exceptionally gifted and qualified clinicians, as well as people who have no qualifications at all who have followed their dream and I have had - and continue to have - the pleasure of learning from these folk all the time. If you have an open mind, are willing and keen to fail forward, you WILL make a difference.