Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) – how my eyes were opened to these wonderful careers
Physiotherapist and former Health Education England Leadership Fellow Marie-Clare Wadley began filming some of her colleagues – and discovered incredibly rewarding ‘secret’ careers that provide essential support to patients. Here she describes her experience.
For those receiving A-level results and still wondering about their next steps, or looking for inspiration on the Health Education England Health Careers website, the NHS offers a quite amazing range of careers. Ask anyone in the street and some of the most obvious will spring to mind – doctor, nurse, paramedic – but some of the most critical and really rewarding jobs are unlikely to trip off the tongue quite so readily.
How many people even know what an allied health professional is? Well, the term actually refers to 14 different occupations, namely art therapists, dietitians, dramatherapists, music therapists, occupational therapists, operating department practitioners, orthoptists, osteopaths, paramedics, physiotherapists, podiatrists, prosthetists and orthotists, diagnostic and therapeutic radiographers and speech and language therapists.
I’m a physiotherapist, and when I started out I believed it was the best job ever in health care. I’m a physiotherapist through and through – I get to work with other great professions, both registered and non-registered people who all have the same common goal, and that’s patient-centred care. As my career progressed I started to open my eye and look beyond my own immediate world of work.
I’m a gadget girl – l love looking at life and learning in a different way. I guess being dyslexic made me use other parts of my brain to learn rather than just relying on words – images, imagination or a Marvel film any day. I used to sit and dream of the time I could just point at the air and create a sequence of exercises in three dimensions. The idea of a holographic Allied Health Professional came to mind.
I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity of an AHP Leadership Fellowship with Health Education England. This led me on a journey which opened my eyes to just how diverse and special these AHP roles are. Take podiatry, for example. Think about the horrific complications of a diabetic foot ulcer which, if not treated properly and early enough, can lead to drastic outcomes such as amputation. Which leads us on to prosthetists and orthotists – the ones who, if you’ve had an amputation, can guide your recovery by making bespoke equipment to help you walk.
We are all interconnected. My knowledge really grew when I came up with the idea of making a series of immersive, virtual reality films about the day in the life of an AHP, and it dawned on me that I didn’t really have a clue what these amazing professions did. The first film was Prosthetics and Orthotics in Oxford, where I had worked for years but had never taken the time to discover how important these professions are, even though I have treated many people with amputations over the years. I experienced watching a child be able to kick a ball in the playground with his new orthotics, and seeing a young man who had lost his leg in a road accident perform his traditional street dance Capoeira with his artificial limb brought tears to my eyes.
Watching a combination of technicians, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and prosthetists assess, support and adjust his limb to reduce the pressure on what was left of his lower leg was captivating – a combination of technology, teamwork, skill and professionalism all wrapped up in a humanistic and caring approach which made me very proud to be an AHP working in the NHS.
Yes, these careers aren’t always at the forefront of people’s minds but they are definitely vital. Think about therapeutic radiographers, whose precise technique and highly-specialised training helps cure our loved ones of cancer. And I didn’t even really know what an orthoptist was until I filmed them helping children with visual difficulties and adults with increasing sight loss. I watched their incredible expertise, injecting eyes and pushing to the limit to ensure people with failing sight get the right treatment with the right expert at the right time.
When I started my filming, it was a project. Now it’s a passion, and I want everyone to understand these amazing, rewarding and vital roles. I want people to understand there is far more to the NHS than just doctors and nurses.
AHPs focus on prevention as well as treatment, and if we can stop someone from needing intense medical intervention before it is needed, surely that is where the future of our healthcare lies?
But to do that we need great people. If you’ve completed your A-levels and are looking for a profession that offers real purpose, wonderful teamwork and the genuine opportunity to change thousands of lives for the better, look no further. There’s an AHP role for you.
To find out more, take a look at my ground-breaking films and judge for yourself:-
Marie-Clare is now a leader within the world of virtual reality in health care experiences. She worked alongside virtual reality expert Nick Peres, who is Head of Digital Technologies at Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust.