To MSc or not to MSc? Deliberations from two physiotherapists

Undergraduate perspective on Sports & Exercise Medicine – a BJSM blog series

Part 1 of a 2 part series on making your post-graduate plans.

By Jonathan George (@J_George85) & Gruff Parsons

Is a SEM Masters degree worthwhile for physiotherapists? To get the lowdown we sourced opinions from two up and coming  UK physiotherapists currently enrolled in the Cardiff SEM MSc.

Firstly, Mr. Jonathan George

I’ve always wanted to do a Master’s degree, to challenge myself academically and open new doors. Passionate about Sports Physiotherapy, Sport & Exercise Medicine (SEM) was my obvious choice. After researching different UK courses, Cardiff’s structure fitted with my desire to learn about the breadth of SEM in addition to focused knowledge and skills training.

A final decision I had to make was whether to take the course full time or part time: full time allows you to immerse yourself completely into the course with one module continuing seamlessly into the next; this means an immense amount of work in a short space of time. In contrast, part-time takes the workload pressure off slightly, but does mean an overall longer commitment. You’ve got to ask yourself – do I want a sprint or a marathon?

I went for the sprint and jumped in at the deep end balancing my degree with full time work in professional rugby union.

My experience

At times it has been immensely challenging getting home from work after a 12 hour day or a weekend match day and then sitting down to do work whilst your mates go to the pub! However, if you (like me) enjoy expanding your SEM knowledge, this isn’t as hard as it sounds. Still, my advice is, before you apply, think carefully about your time management. There is no point trying to complete the program in one year and falling at the final hurdle because you can’t meet deadlines!

Really, whether it is full time or part time, any Masters level degree is going to be a lot of work,.

Tips for success

Keep a diary! You have to be extremely well organised and efficient with your time. Managing your work commitments, studying, reminding your friends you exist, and keeping peace with your better half is not easy. I generally aim to do a few hours of work each evening during the week, then on non-match days at the weekend I split between work and relaxing – that’s the aim anyway! Overall, I’m happy to have chosen to be a full-timer and I think that a SEM MSc will help me improve enormously as a physiotherapist in sport.

Next, Mr. Gruff Parsons

As a determined junior in pursuit of my dream job, my seniors made it blatantly clear that a post-graduate qualification is a key to succeeding in sports physiotherapy. Three years after graduating and finding my feet, I began looking at avenues to develop my knowledge and understanding of SEM and further my career.

The big question that lay before me – a degree in sports physiotherapy or sports medicine?

This decision depends on your own personal strengths and weaknesses as a clinician – don’t let others make it for you!

I had been fortunate enough, through my job in elite sport, to learn some excellent cornerstone physiotherapy skills – manual therapy and specific rehabilitation methods. However, I lacked a depth of knowledge and understanding of pathology and the medical techniques used in sport. Often these approaches are managed by the sports doctor, but I was aware that under more recent financial strains a lot of jobs for physios in sport meant working independently from medics. Therefore, a sound diagnostic reasoning and broad understanding of medical intervention is essential, especially when going for more managerial roles. With these factors in mind, I felt that the Sports and Exercise Medicine course, with its more medically-focused approach, suited my goals as a junior physiotherapist.

I was going to do it, but where?

I knew I wanted to complete the course as a full time student as I had the opportunity to live at home with my parents for another year – the holy grail of money saving. Also, I wanted to continue to work while studying — for  financial and professional reasons. So I needed a course that offered some flexibility in its lecture programming. Cardiff Metropolitan University ticked all these boxes. The course, like many others across the UK, offers lectures for an entire eight week module presented in an intense five-day residential on-campus. The gaps in between modules allowed me time to balance my current job as a sports physiotherapist with coursework & clinical logbook commitments.

You need to do your research to find a course that suits your timetable!

To give a brief overview for any Undergrad for newly-qualified physios considering a SEM MSc, I’m just over halfway through the year long course as I write this and I’ve already covered MSK pathologies, Sports Science (Physiology, Psychology, Biomechanics, Nutrition and S&C) and Sports Medicine (Environmental Medicine, Radiology, doping, medical conditions in sport) modules – the breadth of topics covered is fantastic!

How am I assessed?

Case studies, essays and critical evaluation of recent research are used to assess my critical reasoning and ability to write coherently. Viva voce examinations and clinical OSCE-style stations also assess oral presentations and showcase MSK examination skills. Finally, my year-long Research and Methods module will conclude in the form of a dissertation, hopefully transforming my Post-Graduate Diploma into a Master’s of Science Degree. That’s the plan anyway…

I believe as a Physiotherapist seeking to build a career in sport, a substantial post-graduate qualification will certainly improve my prospects and opportunities – you’ve got to stand out from the crowd!

This degree need not be SEM, find out where the gaps in your knowledge lie and take initiative to fill in the blanks!

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The member society for UK physios in sport is…..Physios in Sport (@PhysiosInSport) (Absolute bargain at only 21 GBP/year for students)

Jonathan George BSc (Hons) Sport & Exercise Science, BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy, MCSP, is the first team Physiotherapist at Saracens Rugby Club 

Gruff Parson BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy, MCSP, ACPSM, is physiotherapist for the Wales Sevens and Cardiff Blues Academy Rugby teams

Liam West BSc (Hons) MBBCh is a junior doctor in Oxford, England. He coordinates the “Undergraduate Perspective on Sports & Exercise Medicine” Blog Series for BJSM.

If you would like to contribute to the Undergraduate Perspective on SEM BJSM Blog, please contact Dr. Liam West at liamwestsem@hotmail.co.uk

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