Dr. Caroline Belchamber – Staff Profile

Dr. Caroline Belchamber is Course Leader of the postgraduate MSc Physiotherapy (Pre-Registration) course at AECC University College.

She tells us more about her life in the Physiotherapy profession, the ways in which Physiotherapists have played a major role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and what she feels makes the MSc Physiotherapy (Pre-Registration) course at AECC special.

A varied career

“After qualifying as a Physiotherapist in 1993, my first jobs were in acute care in hospitals. I originally thought that I wanted to go into neurological physiotherapy, but I ended up specialising in respiratory.

“In the early stages of my career, I worked on acute and chronic respiratory wards, in a cystic fibrosis clinic, and on an intensive care unit. I was asked if I would work in a pilot study for lung cancer, which led me into a more specialist area of primary and secondary lung cancer in a hospice environment.

“I hadn’t been in a hospice environment before, but I enjoyed it and learned a lot. During that time I also completed my Masters at the University of Greenwich. My dissertation focused on rehabilitation in palliative cancer care, which was quite innovative at the time.

“Following that, I wanted to go back into a hospital setting: specifically, an Oncology ward to learn more about chemotherapy and radiotherapy to understand the effects and impacts that the treatment has on patients. I wanted to look at how we as Physiotherapists could help patients manage the effects and rehabilitate them following treatment.”

Sharing knowledge

“I was asked to deliver some sessions at Poole Hospital on the non-pharmacological approach to breathlessness. I also gave some presentations on rehabilitation in palliative care to other Physios and Occupational Therapists in the south of England on a freelance basis.

“I was invited to teach as a Visiting Lecturer at Bournemouth University on their palliative care unit. I then became a Physiotherapy Lecturer at the University for 10 years. During that time, I introduced a palliative care thread within the curriculum. I also started my career in professional practice, looking at the role of the Physiotherapist within supportive and palliative care.

“Once I had completed that, I really felt that I wanted to go back into practice and secured a national post with Professional Leaders of Education, across seven hospices and four neurological centres. From there I came to work at AECC University College to continue teaching as a Senior Lecturer and Course Leader.”

Improving quality of life

“One of the highlights of my career has been gaining an understanding of how we as Physios can help people achieve the highest quality of life possible within the constraints of their conditions.

“Another highlight is seeing students develop from novice Physiotherapists, to flourishing in the practice, and then graduating to become incredible clinical practitioners in a variety of different settings.

“Implementing the pilot study was another key highlight and presenting my Masters in Rehabilitation in Palliative Care to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists’ Congress.”

COVID-19 pandemic

“The role of Physiotherapists has really been highlighted during the pandemic. There’s been a focus on the role of Physios in providing rehabilitation and getting people who have been very ill back on their feet.

“COVID-19 affects multiple organs, but one of its best-known effects is on the lungs – in particular, the dry cough. Physiotherapists can help with these primary symptoms; we have experience in managing coughing using breathing techniques. We also have a good understanding of oxygen requirements and suctioning in hospital settings.

“Respiratory care is the bread and butter of Physiotherapy, which many people don’t realise – they believe it’s purely musculoskeletal.

“Physiotherapists are also supporting with rehabilitation. Before COVID-19 the ‘right to rehab’ was being pushed for by our profession through government. The pandemic has highlighted the fact that post-COVID, rehabilitation is required – especially in the case of long COVID where symptoms such as fatigue and respiratory symptoms last a long time after the initial infection.”

What makes a good Physiotherapist?

“As a Physiotherapist, you need to have good communication skills. You need to have empathy, compassion and humanity: you’ve got to remember that the patient in front of you is a person and someone’s wife/husband or family member.

“You need to be good at collaborative working; working with one another’s strengths to achieve the best outcome possible for the person, and you need to be calm and respond well in a crisis. In this current climate, we need to be resilient and have good self-management to be able to provide care.

“Physiotherapists also need to be adaptable and flexible in their approach to work.”

MSc course at AECC University College

“One of the things that makes this course special is that we’re unique as a University College in our healthcare setup on campus. That offers students of the course some fantastic opportunities; for example, we’re able to provide our own placements on campus, which is very unique. We have a lot of extra resources that a lot of Universities aren’t able to offer.

“The University College has an international reputation for its musculoskeletal healthcare and we’ve got a number of highly-qualified academics bringing different specialities. We also have a rich and diverse international student community, with students coming from all over the world.

“It’s really key that Physiotherapists understand the mental health aspects of their patients’ care and the psychological impact of conditions. We’re lucky at AECC that the University College has a strong Psychology offering too.”

Applicants

“We’re looking for applicants that are confident, articulate, and who have a broad set of life skills. Above all, we’re looking for a very wide understanding of Physiotherapy. We provide Physiotherapy within a range of environments, such as: paediatrics, respiratory, neurology, women’s health, elderly, palliative supportive settings and neurological centres. It’s this wide variety of different roles and settings that we hope applicants will be excited at the possibility of working in.”

You can find out more about the MSc Physiotherapy (Pre-Registration) course here.

Caroline Belchamber