When I applied to physiotherapy school in England, I couldn’t help but start planning the places I’d travel to, the pubs I’d grab a pint in, and the football matches I’d get to watch… and of course how excited I was to start school.
For the first two months this is exactly what my time in England looked like. I was able to spend a weekend in Paris… that still feels weird to say… and I was in classes or labs 4 days per week. However all too soon this came to a crashing halt. When the pandemic hit hard in March 2020 everything became a huge unknown. Classes were canceled and put online indefinitely, and I ended up coming back home “just until after Easter break, I’ll be back in England by the middle of April”. That obviously didn’t happen. After many canceled summer plans to travel around Europe, I was able to make my way back to England in September of 2020.
From September to March of 2021, 90% of our learning was online, we were able to go into labs once a week, and practice as many skills as we could. For those of us lucky enough to be living with roommates in the program we would practice what we could from special tests of different joints to mobilisations while facetiming with others in the program. Like so many others during this time, I really struggled with online learning. Part of why I went into physiotherapy school was because I enjoy being interactive and learning while doing. I like being able to practice the skill and ask questions as I go. The thought of going into placements with such minimal patient contact was a terrifying thought.
The other major issue we were trying to navigate was a lack of available placements. Due to covid many of the placements that were normally available to students weren’t. Whether due to covid restrictions not allowing extra people, lack of staff as many physiotherapists were reassigned from their ward, or outpatient settings to the hospital covid wards.
Going into my first placement was an exciting but nerve-wracking experience. Not only would I be placed within a hospital setting which I had no experience working in, I also felt completely incapable of treating patients. If you asked me how I would treat the patient I could tell you exactly what I would do but actually being hands on seemed like such a foreign concept. I kept having to remind myself that I had worked as a kinesiologist for almost 1.5 years and if I applied the communication skills, empathy and patient handling skills from that I would be okay.
Luckily, everything turned out great! I was very lucky to have gotten incredible educators throughout and a very wide range of placements. I was able to learn so much about how to be a good physiotherapist in a wide range of settings and I got better and better with each placement. My biggest challenge throughout a lot of my placements was myself and not always believing in me and my skills. In England almost all physiotherapy is done under the public sector through the National Health Services (NHS). Four of my clinical placements were based within a hospital, 2 inpatient and 2 outpatient, with my fifth and final placement being in the community. While I’ve known for a while that I wanted to work in private practice in Canada, being able to get such a wide range of experiences has helped to shape me into a well-rounded practitioner.
While there were a lot of challenges throughout there were some positives that came out of going to school during a pandemic. During two of my placements, elderly medicine and acute respiratory, I was able to work on covid wards in the hospital. This gave me a very unique opportunity that not a lot of other students will get. To treat covid patients brought an extra challenge due to the extensive scarring on their lungs. I was also able to help treat covid patients post ICU stay; some of these patients we had to teach to roll in bed independently and within 3 or 4 weeks we were able to get them sitting independently and starting to stand again after months of being bed ridden from how sick they were. Being able to see the impact I was making in such a short amount of time really made me fall more and more in love with the profession.
While my experience wasn’t exactly what I imagined it to be, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I was still able to travel and learn about new cultures, I was able to live in another country on the other side of the world, and most importantly I got an incredible education which has gotten me that much further to making my dreams come true.