After the world celebrated international women’s day last week, we thought it might be timely to release an initiative we’ve been working on for a little while – Inspiring Women in PT. This is an opportunity to acknowledge some truly incredible women in the field of physical therapy. Women who are pushing our profession forward, and deserve to be widely recognised for their efforts. We have interviewed some amazing female physios to find out their ‘why’, as well as some gems of wisdom they have gained throughout their careers. Each month we will introduce you to a different physical therapist and get to know more about them and what makes them tick. We are honoured to put together this initiative with one of the most influential female physios in the profession, Dr. Karen Litzy.
Here is part 1, featuring world-renowned shoulder expert Jo Gibson, enjoy!
Affiliation & Location (business, university, hospital, etc)
Liverpool Upper Limb Unit (Royal Liverpool Hospital), West Kirby Physiotherapy, Bone and Joint Centre (Liverpool Spire Hospital), Liverpool University.
Can you describe a challenge in your career and what you learned from it?
“Probably one of my biggest challenges was taking up the mantle offered to me by my colleague Professor Simon Frostick in my job as an Upper Limb Specialist. Simon was truly a trail blazer for physiotherapists despite being an Orthopaedic Surgeon! When I started working with him he made it very clear we were a team and that whenever he spoke at conferences he expected me to speak too. He put my through my paces in clinics and in front of other medical colleagues – I have never read so much or gone on so many courses trying to ensure I had the skills for the job I was in. The first time we lectured together at a conference I had this rose tinted view of the world that we were going to show what physio and surgeons could achieve if they worked together more closely. It was a shock to experience some of the negativity from other Orthopaedic surgeons – they were extremely derogatory and made some fairly unpleasant comments as to why I might be there! In addition some physiotherapy colleagues were derisory and assumed my motivation was self- promotion rather than a genuine belief in my profession and its potential – that was hard to stomach. Now, my Dad was a psychiatrist so I had been around medics for my whole life and wasn’t going to be dismissed- anyone who knows me understands I am a little competitive! Similarly I was not going to waste the forum I had been given to promote physiotherapy and help improve patient care. I can be a sensitive soul and suffer imposter syndrome regularly however I know what I believe in and knew what my intentions were. This motivated my research interest (as a tool to make people take notice) but also my passionate promotion of physiotherapy at every opportunity- I wanted us to be taken seriously. I developed a thick skin but also kept the faith and took every opportunity to speak and challenge the hierarchical model. I learned not to give up, that if you believe in something you have to do what you think is right and strive hard even if others question your motives.
One of the best moments years later was when an Orthopaedic surgeon sought me out at a conference to proudly tell me that he now had his own ‘specialist Physiotherapist’ as Prof and I had shown him what could be achieved. Simply awesome. Similarly a physiotherapy colleague came up to me and said – “I got you so wrong, I thought it was all about you but now I know it was about us and doing better for patients” – made me cry!”
Name one accomplishment you are particularly proud of and why.
“My two proudest accomplishments are my two wonderful kids – Will and Jack who make me proud every day. I am not sure how they have turned out to be such excellent young men but they seem to have done so despite me!
In terms of professional accomplishments I think the establishment of Physiotherapy Fellowship posts within our Unit has to be up there. Thanks to the huge drive and support of my Orthopaedic colleagues and Industry we have established two fellowship posts, one in shoulder arthroplasty and one a 3-year post during which the post holder can do their masters, lead research activity in the Unit and be mentored by me and the team. I have had the pleasure to mentor the fantastic individuals who took up these roles and seeing their growth, development, and subsequent contribution to the world of Upper Limb Physiotherapy is truly an accomplishment I am proud of.”
Can you name a mentor, colleague, professor, etc that changed the way you practice? If so, tell us about it!
“There are so many people that have had an influence on how I practice it is difficult to pin it down to just one!
Many of the patients I have met have been the inspiration to look for different options or treatment approaches when what I knew at the time seemed to fail the person in front of me.
In my early career the legendary Louis Gifford helped me see patients and their pain through a different lens, and the power of the patient story. The fabulous Lorimer Moseley helped further my journey and quest to understand pain better. Ben Kibler and Tim Uhl showed me a different way in respect to shoulder rehabilitation, particularly the influence of the kinetic chain, during my fellowship in Kentucky and gave me tools which I value highly to this day. I could go on and on, as I have been so fortunate to meet and be inspired by so many fantastic clinicians and researchers. However if I do so this would be like a Gwyneth Paltrow Oscar speech!
If I look back to defining moments in my career the first has to be an MACP placement where I was mentored by two people (Fiona Creedon and Janet Wiggins) who are now my best friends. They truly taught me how to clinically reason – I was 8 years into my physiotherapy career –I was disillusioned and looking for new challenges. I remember being told I was an ‘information gatherer’ rather than a clinical reasoner at the start of the placement. It sounded bad! I felt like I had been found out – the first instance of imposter syndrome! After two weeks of my placement my skills had improved exponentially and I felt re-enthused and ready for new challenges. The clinical reasoning skills I gained from these two amazing ladies transformed the way I practiced and I have no doubt I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now if it wasn’t for them.
I have been lucky to meet and work with some amazing people over the years and attend some practice changing courses. However Fi and Janet were unsung heroes, skilled educators and practitioners who completely changed the way I practiced and gave me the most important foundation on which to progress.”
How do you stay up to date with the latest evidence in physical therapy, and why do you believe that is important?
“In short I read lots! Social media such as twitter and face-book has been a game changer in terms of colleagues and fellow professionals flagging up key papers and research. The challenge is the sheer amount of literature – my ‘to read’ box is huge and one that gets visited most on trains or in airports when I am travelling. One of the reasons I teach my course and attend conferences is to ensure I keep up to date with the current literature. You don’t want to stand up in front of a room of people without knowing what the current debates or findings are. I think the biggest challenge for clinicians currently is that the only thing we can be certain about is uncertainty!
Keeping up to date with the evidence is a crucial part of reflecting upon my own practice and appreciating new perspectives and always striving to do the best I can. I love the fact that I never stop learning – reading something that inspires or conversely completely questions my practice is what keeps it fun and challenging. However I think it is key not to just consider evidence from our own field and look to other disciplines that give us a different lens through which to view our practice.”
Knowing where you are in your life and your career what advice would you give to your younger self?
“Enjoy the ride! I wouldn’t change anything that has happened to me during my career as everything has contributed to my learning – the good and the bad. However in terms of the skills that I believe would have equipped me best I would advise my younger self to ensure they do a communication course early in their career (a game changer), ensure they have a mentor that equips them with sound clinical reasoning skills ( an essential foundation), understand the basics(!) of pain, and also ensure that they have the skills to critique research methodology ( make sense of the good and bad) and critically reflect. And never stop learning!”
Scenario question: You have been invited to speak at a conference but are unable to attend. Is there a #womeninPT you would suggest to take your place? If so who would that be and why?
“Now that is really hard!! There are so many fabulous female speakers out there I am spoilt for choice. I have had the honour of speaking with ladies like the legendary Jill Cook and Ebonie Rio recently and the wonderful Anina Schmid -all awesome. However, given that I am usually asked to speak about upper limb I would probably suggest the very lovely, knowledgeable and extremely funny Val Jones who is an awesome promoter of all things elbow. Val and I did the MACP placement together where I had my clinical reasoning epiphany. She also introduced me to gin and tonic for which I will be forever grateful ( I think!). She is a fantastic educator and an asset to any conference programme.”