Ian Peters - Physiotherapist
Written by Evan Duxbury
I grew up on Vancouver Island and was treated by several Physiotherapists for various injuries as a young athlete. The Physiotherapists I saw gave me the impression that the bar to become a physiotherapist was so high and so heavily rooted in sciences that I never even considered it as a career option. After high school I completed a diploma in Hotel and Restaurant Administration and worked in the hospitality industry for a couple of years before starting a degree with the pursuit in mind of becoming a teacher - knowing full well that it was not really where I fit. By fluke, I learned that physiotherapy had become a master’s degree and I could apply with my Bachelor of Arts degree. I was very excited. It suddenly seemed like the perfect fit.
I completed my Master Degree in Physiotherapy at the University of Alberta. My first job as a physiotherapist was working in a private clinic. Prior to being accepted to the U of A, I was fortunate to have done some job shadowing at the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital where I had been exposed to stroke, traumatic brain injury, and spinal cord injury rehab, all of which had piqued my curiosity. This exposure, as well as exposure I’d received as a student in hospital placements, led to my desire for more interaction with other rehab disciplines and medical professionals. After working my first year as a private practice Physiotherapist I decided to put in an application at St Paul’s Hospital(SPH) and wound up staying for the past 5 years, rotating through several patient areas before spending the past two and a half years in the Complex Pain Program.
Like most Physiotherapists I am very competitive, internally and externally, which is probably part of why we work and study so much. I have studied hard to complete courses and to get several different certifications under my belt, including manual therapy courses, acupuncture and UBC Gunn Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS). After working in the complex pain department for a few years I began to worry that I might be losing some skills that my colleagues in private clinics were using on a daily basis; skills that I had learned, but was not putting to use with the low functioning patient caseload that I carried. So, I went back to working in private practice to prove to myself that I still had “it.“
The private sector has a glamorous image because that’s where you see athletes and a larger variety of patients. The image associated with hospitals is one of patient toileting and cleaning up bodily fluids. However,in my experience, neither stereotype is completely accurate.
Quality of Care
The public sector allows me to work with patients over a longer period and help them achieve greater progress. In private practice, clients are paying for each visit, so they usually leave as soon they stop feeling pain. As a result, and contrary to what I had expected, I have found I get to use higher level skills more consistently at SPH than in the private clinic, and am able to treat my patients through to the end of their rehab.
Part of earning money in a private clinic is being a salesman. There is always pressure to
show value to ensure that your client keeps coming back and for you to keep your schedule full. Working in a hospital lets me focus entirely on helping my patients without finances being a burden in their rehab.
Private clinics can be a very individualistic effort. You build your own caseload and are responsible for doing all the research you need to treat your cases. The physiotherapy department at PHC is very collaborative,not just internally but also with the likes of Casting Technicians and Occupational Therapists to name a few. We have practice leaders and research educators to help us keep track of the latest industry practices, and have frequent in-services.
The biggest draw of working in the private sector is the pay. You can earn a lot if you have a consistently full caseload. However, it does take time to build up a caseload, and if you are sick, on vacation, or if your client cancels, you are not earning money. When you compare this to working in a hospital with a guaranteed hourly wage, benefits, paid sick and vacation days and a pension, things start to even out.
The public system gives you regular hours, and longer shifts whereas when I work privately I work mainly later shifts, starting around 1 pm and only lasting 6-7 hours. As a result, my days are very broken up. For these reasons, among others, I have begun my transition back to the public sector. Currently, I am working two days a week at SPH but will be moving back into a permanent position in six weeks. In my experience, most Physiotherapists are very career oriented. My advice to physiotherapists who are just starting out is to make sure you are living and not just working and taking courses. The importance of balance in life i essential and should not be taken for granted. Take some time to enjoy your only shot at life. Competition, learning, and completing courses are all very important, but make sure you find a balance that allows you to fully enjoy this rewarding and exciting career. Private practice perhaps best suits those who enjoy variable hours, or enjoy a daily fast-paced job, or for those who are more business minded. I have found that the public sector has allowed me to live a well-rounded life. That said, I will continue to work one night a week at a private clinic to keep my foot in the door and to stay up to speed on both the public and private systems.
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