Clinical Leadership Placements: A View from a student Physiotherapist. By Kathryn Harris

My final placement as an undergraduate studying BSc physiotherapy was based with the NHS Leadership Academy, part of Health Education England. My university includes a leadership module within its 3rd year syllabus so I deemed this placement irrelevant, but open to see what might come of it, so I asked myself – What does good leadership even look like? And can inclusive and compassionate leadership be the answer to reforming the NHS at a time it is most in need? With Support from my Practice educator Rachael Moses and her amazing team I began my leadership journey (or some may call it a journey of self-awareness and discovery)!

Slowly, I started to realise that to thrive and succeed in my career I needed to be more than confident and capable clinically. At the end of the day we are talking to and interacting with people, and what they want more than anything is to be listened to. Patients, families, colleagues, not one of these people will be on the same path that I am carving out for myself, so who am I to assume that I know what is best just because I’ve been in a similar situation. Professor West talks about listening with fascination and to do this I need to be completely present in the moment of interaction. Its important to let people speak.

In any career within any sector there are going to be hurdles to jump, doors that close, gut-wrenching disappointments, at times your best just isn’t going to be good enough. These negative experiences can blind you to the reason you chose that career path in the first place. The very first step I have taken on this leadership journey is to get to know and understand myself. What are my three values that I hold deep in my core that I will never compromise on? These values will vary person to person, but when you are having a bad day and you struggle to see any light look back on what they are. What can you do to make sure that you uphold your values with every interaction? Are you in the right team that will support you? Working in healthcare is hard. Physically and emotionally. You need to be a part of the right team, if you aren’t and you want to stay true to yourself maybe it’s time to get brave and look to move elsewhere.

Everyone holds the power to make change. It might not seem that way, you might just feel like a cog in a big wheel, but without the cogs the wheel breaks. Everyone is a leader. We lead our own lives in our chosen ways every day. We know who we are as people, be brave and bring that person into the workplace. There is so much talk around encouraging diversity in the workplace so why are we all expected to act and behave in the same way? Here is where leadership and change start. Leadership isn’t about having all the answers or being the most productive or efficient. Its about stepping into the grey areas with openness, vulnerability, and curiosity.

Ask me 8 weeks ago and I would have said the most important quality a physiotherapist can have is to be competent clinically. I would have mentioned about the need for effective and efficient communication, the need to work well with others, being aware of my own development needs and strong clinical reasoning skills linked to evidence based practice – a textbook answer. This isn’t the only answer, I know now that being a good physiotherapist is so much more personal than that. I don’t have a definite answer, and that’s OK, the journey isn’t over yet, in fact its just starting.

The undergraduate cohort is vast and what better way to drive the peer led new power of the NHS with its new recruits. Lead yourselves with kindness, inclusivity, compassion, and dignity, listen with fascination and be confident that you are able to lead and drive small action cultural changes within the large action framework that is the NHS. I believe that compassionate and inclusive leadership is the key to the survival of the NHS. So, lets educate the workforce of tomorrow, leadership isn’t about critically analysing set theories, policies, and governances. These are all important adjuncts that need to be acknowledged and worked within, but leadership isn’t that linear. Leadership is personal, fluid, and open to change. What makes a good leader? Its multifactorial, and I believe it starts with being appreciative of yourself, your wellbeing, and your values.

For me, the last 8 weeks on my clinical leadership placement was probably a curve ball that I wasn’t expecting to become so invested in. Do I think having a clinical placement for leadership should become a mandatory element of completing a Physiotherapy degree? No. I think leadership is an integral part of the profession and everyone needs to be more aware of the implications of poor leadership and how they can combat this. However, to truly reap the benefits of embarking on a leadership journey the individual needs to be invested and committed to themselves, looking at their journey and be comfortable with what they discover  when looking in the mirror. My leadership journey has only just started – I have left this placement  feeling like I don’t know who  I am as a person and I am discovering new things about myself every day. I am not comfortable with being uncomfortable, but I have the tools and support to acknowledge this feeling and work through it day by day. Treating myself with kindness and compassion. I have learnt that the journey of self-development is never over and I am ready to keep on learning.


Photo of Kathryn Harris

Kathryn Harris

Kat Harris – 3rd year Physiotherapy student at the University of Worcester has completed placements in community paediatrics, Private MSK, acute and community rehabilitation, acute surgery and critical care, and a clinical leadership placement.

Declaration of interests

I have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: none.


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