Back in November 2016, I attended the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of ADAPT: Chartered Physiotherapists in International Health and Development. Going to this conference gave me the opportunity to meet experienced physiotherapists who have spent the majority of their careers dedicated to working overseas, either in the development of physiotherapy in different countries, or in disaster relief, such as after the Nepal earthquake of 2015. It offered an amazing opportunity to network and seek advice from people I never would have come across, had I not attended. I felt inspired listening to stories from those who had worked in the field, and knew that this is exactly the kind of work I wanted to do!
The advice I was given at this conference would shape the following year for me. The key information and advice I took from the AGM were:
- Gain as much experience as you can before beginning to work abroad, 3 years minimum is a good start.
- Try and gain any voluntary experience you can whilst still working in the UK, with charities who work with groups such as the homeless, or refugees and asylum seekers for example.
- Contact those who have worked overseas previously, not just in a physiotherapy role, and gain as much knowledge as you can to prepare for what to expect when you begin to work overseas.
I returned from the conference excited and full of plans for getting started. This was the beginning of the Northern Network of International Rehabilitation (NNIR).
I became friends with Diana Whiteside after we bonded over our interest in working overseas on our first day of working at Leeds. I contacted her and explained my new plans. I also heard of another physiotherapist at the Trust (Sam Fenning) who was doing her training to begin working with the UKEMT. Together ,the three of us began putting the wheels in motion for creating our own International Development committee based in Yorkshire-exciting times!
We spent the first few months trying to figure out what we wanted to achieve, and getting in contact with people who had worked in Physiotherapy overseas previously (this involved a lot of “cold call” style emailing people and hoping for the best!) Thankfully, anyone I have come across who has worked in this area, has been super friendly, open, and willing to share their knowledge and skills about how they initially started working overseas. I was quickly realising that there are lots of people out there who have worked in this area previously, or want to work overseas. The network was growing!
We decided to hold an evening lecture in the summer of 2017 which would be an introduction to working in International Development. We had 4 key speakers come to the event:
- Dr Philomena Commons spoke about her experiences of working in Bangladesh, included how to get started, what to expect, and cultural differences of working overseas.
- Leah Dalby spoke about her experiences of working with Refugees and Asylum seekers with the charity ‘Freedom from Torture’
- Gaelle Smith discussed the UK Emergency Medical Team (UKEMT). UKEMT respond to humanitarian crises overseas. Gaelle discussed the experience needed to work with UKEMT and the challenges involved with this work.
- Caroline Marshall represented ADAPT and spoke about the support ADAPT give to those working overseas, including the buddy system.
The feedback from the evening was incredible, with many people explaining that they had never realised the diversity of roles and areas physiotherapists could work in, and now felt inspired to begin looking at volunteering or working overseas as a career path! Success!
From the evening lecture in August, my passion for working overseas has only grown. We have now established a committee based in Yorkshire which aims to have regular events such as evening lectures, or weekend study days to help develop the skills of those who wish to work overseas. We hope to have lectures based on areas such as Spinal cord injury, amputees, burns, paediatrics, etc. The list of ideas for lectures and teachings grows daily! We are also hoping to branch out into working with occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, as well as involving students and Universities more in the committee.
If you are interested in joining the committee, or attending future events or lectures, please feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out our facebook page: Northern Network of International Rehabilitation.