Do Physiotherapists get ‘too attached’ to their title?

Author: Carl Davies

During the #physiotalk tweet chat tonight, an interesting discussion developed.  Many Physios, as they often do, began to tweet about how proud they are to be a Physio, how it define’s them and how important it is for them to identify as a ‘Physiotherapist’.   It was supposed to be about what it is like to be in non-clinical, non-traditional roles.  For a little while though, it seemed to get side-tracked on to how important it is to hold on to your professional title.  I chose to challenge, stating instead that I think moving into roles outside that of the ‘traditional Physiotherapist’ have moved me to a point in my career where I no longer ‘define‘ myself as a Physiotherapist.  It’s important to note the distinction, as I am not saying I am not proud to be a Physio, or that I am no longer a Physio.   Just that I no longer define myself by the title.

 

Some tweeted that they “always introduce themselves as a Physiotherapist” or that they “could be everything and still keep the physio title”, others said “once a Physio, always a Physio” and “I’ll never drop the Physio title” and others still decided to tell me that it was because I was a Physio that I was able to do the others roles I have done.   I’m not sure it’s as clear as that and it made me wonder why defining themselves by the Physiotherapist ‘title’ is so important to many?

 

Is it useful to define yourself by a title?  We generally try so hard not to be put in a box or labelled, but professional titles seem different?  Many seem to want to cling to it like a badge of honour, but does it actually impact on your ability to see beyond those boundaries? Being a Physiotherapist is something I trained for.  I learned those skills, gave my all to help my patients, and loved doing it….but then I also moved on.  Being a ‘clinician‘ (not a Physiotherapist per se) has been invaluable in developing my knowledge of health, the NHS, and the wider health & social care systems.  I think every profession holds a different perspective, which is why it is so important to get a seat at a table at which we can influence.  Waiting for roles that allow us to cling to our ‘Physio’ title (such as Head of AHP’s, or Associate Director of Therapies etc), though the numbers of such posts are growing, can limit opportunities for lots of great minds to have a voice in places that they are REALLY needed.

 

As a Physiotherapist, I grew as a person and as a professional, but I also saw its limitations, and became frustrated by a system in which problems seem to prevent myself and my colleagues giving the patient the best in care.  Some of the care being delivered didn’t appear to be evidence-based, patients arrived too late, had already been given poor care elsewhere, had travelled too far, had too many cancellations or there was too much variation between clinicians – the list went on and on.  They weren’t things I could fix as a clinician, nor as a ‘Physio’ service manager.  These were systemic problems, that were rife throughout every service of the NHS, and I believed I could see solutions for them.  I saw a way to make bigger changes and have a bigger impact, for greater numbers of patients than I’d ever be able to see in person, as a clinician.  However, doing that meant leaving behind a title I’d trained hard for.

 

Of course, I’d always be a Physiotherapist, but I’d could no longer say that my long-term career goals would be in a anyway associated with Physiotherapy.  Whenever I spoke to anyone about it, they all told me I was doing the wrong thing.  “You’ve trained for 3 years and worked your way up, don’t throw it all away” or “you won’t like management, it’s all paperwork and meetings”.  I’ll say now, it was the best decision I ever made.

 

To clarify, I am ‘proud‘ to be a Physiotherapist.  However, I’m no more proud than I am to have been a project manager, a County Councillor, a behaviour change specialist, a transformation specialist, a Commissioner or a senior manager.  Each one of those roles helped me develop skills that are invaluable to me today and have helped shape my journey to who I am, both as a professional and as a person.  Steve Jobs said:

 

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever”.

 

Unfortunately, many people do try to link the dots as they look forward, and it may limit the opportunity to broaden horizons, develop new skills and experience new environments – “I’m a Physio, I do Physio-related jobs”.  I believe I’m better at what I do because I took on new challenges and experienced new, unfamiliar roles.  I also believe that I was able to learn from, and reflect on, those new challenges because I was able to let go of some of the pre-existing beliefs I had as a Physio.  I regularly found myself thinking about how different things actually were to how I’d believed them to be when I was a Physio.  Holding discussions in strategic conversations, completely out of my ‘natural environment’ so to speak, changed my perspective and I heard the perspectives of others without a need to be defensive.

 

Taking a leap, and letting go of the ‘title’ can free you up to think differently.  Yes, being a Physiotherapist and the experiences it brought me helped me develop…..but so did letting go, so did allowing myself ‘not‘ to think like a Physio, but like a Commissioner or a manager.  It would have been very easy to allow being a Physio to dictate my decisions, but I chose to try and allow previous beliefs and experiences to take a back seat and look at things afresh.

 

I’ve worked with some fantastic people on my journey, and to a penny the best are the one’s who are willing to let go of all their professional and personal biases and keep an open mind.  I’ve also worked with many an individual who is very blinkered by their very narrow field of experience, married to their profession, unwilling to challenge their own beliefs as readily as they will challenge others’.  They are the ones that are adamant that the NHS just needs more of ‘them’.  “All we need is more doctors” or “All we need is Physiotherapists doing x,y,z”.  That bias, that inability to put your professional title aside, creates problems in a system that needs more objectivity.  It needs complex solutions to complex problems and we do not “solve problems with the same level of thinking that created them” (Einstein).

 

I’m sure there will be some people reading this (or that have been involved in the tweet chat) that are adamant it’s possible to ‘do both‘, but that’s very easily said.  It’s one of those answers that sounds like your saying all the right things, but that hasn’t really been given that much thought.  I didn’t forget to be a Physiotherapist, nor do I hide the fact, I simply choose not to let it dictate who I am or the decisions I make – I won’t let myself or my career be dictated by my attachment to the profession and I think I can offer more, and my opportunities are greater, because of that.

 

Cue “I’ll always be a Physio first” or “I can still define myself as a Physio and do all of those things”.   It sounds great….but I’d really question if you can.  Has ‘being a Physio’, and your determination to define yourself as one, led you to make decisions you always would have done ‘as a Physio’?  Have you moved into a non-clinical role that is simply a different ‘type’ of Physio role?  Have you stayed ‘committed’ to Physiotherapy at the expense of new challenges, roles and experiences?  If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then I’d suggest your attachment to the title of ‘Physiotherapist’ may actually be limiting your opportunity and starving the NHS of diversity in key roles.  Physio’s have a diverse range of skills and experiences, and significantly different perspectives to many of those that sit in positions as key decision makers for healthcare.  It’s vital we take opportunities to shape the conversations with those people.  Let go of the attachment to the role, realise you are much more than a ‘title’, and you might find that an NHS with lots of ‘former Physiotherapists’ (in wide ranging and varied senior roles) delivers a much greater benefit to patients.