There is quite a lot of pessimism and negativity among healthcare professionals at the moment. Reduced funding, job cuts, professional encroachment and general uncertainties about the future are having a bad effect on people’s health and wellbeing. So I thought it might be a good idea to take a moment to remember what makes physiotherapy so great. Not all of these things will be relevant to every physiotherapist, but most will.
- Touch people. Very few people can do this, and almost no others get to touch people for therapeutic reasons. Some touch to perform a procedure, others to care, but few touch to reduce pain, help move or build strength, flexibility and power;
- Transform people’s lives. Perhaps the most powerful effect of really great physiotherapy is its ability to help people feel different: to give them confidence to try something that’s been too painful or frightening to do for a long time; to take control of their lives; to breathe more easily; to stand on their own again; to move more freely; to be happier…Physiotherapists do this every day, and rarely give themselves the credit they deserve for their transformative power;
- Are first contact professionals. Few others, outside medicine, have this privilege. Awarded after many years of struggle and tests of our autonomy, first-contact status isn’t available throughout the world for physiotherapists, but it’s available in many countries. It’s a mark of our social capital and the high regard physiotherapists are held in by society at large;
- Are diagnosticians. Because many physios can see people without a medical referral, they need to be able to differentially diagnose. That skill comes with a lot of expectations about physiotherapists’ safety, and ability to show consistently that they can handle the responsibility;
- Are safe and trusted. People trust physiotherapists. We deal with some of the most intimate, personal aspects of people’s lives – from death and dying, to personal bodily dysfunction and the heartache of suffering, and act as a constant companion in times of strife;
- Are powerful advocates. Because physiotherapists have earned a high degree of social support, they can speak up for those less fortunate, and advocate for people whose voices are not being heard. Marginalised communities, children, the elderly, disabled people…whomever they serve, countless people benefit from physiotherapists’ voice and support;
- Are experienced. One of the greatest assets physiotherapists have is their access to the public health system. Working with people who have had strokes, or live with COPD, chronic low back pain or depression helps when it comes to treating the elite athlete, the child with cerebral palsy or the post-op patient. Experiencing the rich tapestry of life gives physiotherapists enormous advantages over many other healthcare professions;
- Work with people, not just bodies. All good physiotherapists know that it’s not enough to treat the body-as-machine, or to look no further than anatomy, physiology and pathology when treating people. To know people as social beings and the ways that our feelings, thoughts and emotions affect how we feel makes the difference between being technicians and practitioners. And physiotherapists are fabulous practitioners;
- Are inclusive. Physiotherapists have worked in teams and been dependent on the help of others from the outset. They are good at knowing their limits and not stepping on others’ toes. They’re often seen as pragmatic, enthusiastic and motivated people who like to get things done. As they have shown for many years that we make great allies;
- Are adaptable. No matter how difficult things seem right now, people will always want someone to use their hands in skillful, caring ways to heal them of their suffering; they will always want people who can see them move and work out what is going wrong; and they will always call for professionals they can trust, who care for them, not just their illness.
Physiotherapists are all these things and more, and we should try to remember this when the day-to-day pressures of work make it hard to see the wood for the trees.