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In this blog, student, Christopher Banks-Pillar, shares his experience, having progressed from training as a physiotherapist to currently completing his final year on the MSc in Evidence-Based Health Care here at Oxford.

Profile picture of Christopher Banks-Pillar

I started my training as a physiotherapist in 2003 at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle. I chose the university for a few reasons; the lecturers were respected clinicians and the course benefitted from close links with the Newcastle Trust where many of the students completed clinical placements. Some students were even given the opportunity to spend some time working with the best football club in the world, the mighty Newcastle United. (I was one-another blog post perhaps). One last reason, let’s face it, Newcastle is a great night out.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the course. I had the privilege of working with some great clinicians and inspiring patients to whom I will always be grateful. However, one experience stands out the most.

The physio course occasionally joined forces with the other Allied Healthcare Professionals (AHPs) to encourage multi-disciplinary working. These were often noisy and crowded affairs as people from different backgrounds who’d not seen each other for ages would be reunited to discuss their placement experiences. One term the course designers decided a “Study Skills” module should be offered to teach AHPs “the fundamentals of research methodology” (I can still remember the collective groan of my fellow students). I had completed an MSc prior a few years prior and enjoyed trying to decipher the hidden meanings in the literature, so this was right up my street. However, these lectures were scheduled at 2 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon.

As you may remember, Wednesday afternoons are largely reserved for playing sport and being a “sporty” course, very few people ever stuck around after midday. It was amazing how many people suddenly took up rugby, hockey, football, and even soap-box racing (yes, it was society). Unsurprisingly, these sessions were badly attended. At the first session less than 10 attended and at the second there were only 3. This meant we had almost one-to-one tuition from a couple of extremely keen PhD students from Newcastle University who’d been drafted in to help. It was from this small start that I began to question what the literature really meant and how my patients might benefit. As it happens these lectures helped me secure my first role at the John Radcliffe in 2007 at a time when there was a significant lack of physio jobs and students were leaving to become accountants. I was asked by the interviewer how I would critically appraise a paper on ACL repairs and after a shaky start, I managed to make my way through it. It was a good job I wasn’t too hard as one of the authors was on the interview panel. 

I was recently sent a Twitter feed entitled “What’s something that should be taught in PT school but isn’t?” ( I scrolled through the comments agreeing with a few of the posts and judging others who used the feed as an opportunity for self-promotion (I won’t identify this professional group!). I think what almost saddened me was that I could only find one comment that said, “understanding bias and critical appraisal” from a physio in the US. No posts came close.

If it weren’t for those two PhD students in Newcastle, I may never have been inspired to search harder for those gems hidden deep in the literature. I may not even have ended up on the MSc in EBHC. The course has enabled me to see things differently and appreciate what is possible when you apply its principles. I’ve also had the good fortune to learn from some fascinating and inspirational individuals (fellow students included) who’ve propelled me beyond my expectations and allowed me to realise my potential. My career goal now is to pass on this knowledge to AHPs in the early stages of their careers. I’m sure it’ll be a steep learning curve filled with little mistakes but one mistake I will try to avoid is teaching it at 2 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon.