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February: Spotlight On An Expert

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Introducing Chartered Physiotherapist & Expert Witness, Katharine Atkin...

I recently supported my 16-year-old to make decisions about what A levels she should take. What A levels do you take when you don't know what career path you'd like to follow? It made me recall my own decision-making at that age. I remember going to a careers fair at 16, not knowing what I wanted to do, just knowing that I didn’t want to sit at a desk! At the careers fair my friend dragged me to the physiotherapy stand as that’s what she was interested in... I picked up a leaflet, and decided there and then that physiotherapy was for me (and she became a teacher!).

During my physio degree, I visited a prosthetic centre, and was fascinated by the concept of phantom limb pain. I researched it for my undergraduate dissertation, and developed an interest in amputee rehabilitation from there. I knew that I wanted to work in a prosthetic centre, but diligently completed my junior rotations after graduating in 1996. As anyone working in amputee rehabilitation knows, there are few physio posts in prosthetic centres; there are only 35 centres in England! So, to bide my time while waiting for a post in a prosthetic centre, I did locum work.

Eventually my patience paid off, and I started working in amputee rehabilitation in 2001. In 2004 I got married, and followed my husband to a new town as he climbed his career ladder. This meant temporarily going back to locum work, while again waiting for a post in a prosthetic centre. To put myself into the best employable position, and to fill the void left by no longer having to plan a wedding, I decided to undertake a part-time Masters in Rehabilitation Studies at Strathclyde University. It was either that, or retrain to become a prosthetist, such was my interest in prosthetics!

I started working at Portsmouth Disablement Centre in 2006. Through the prosthetic centre, I helped to set up a sitting volleyball club. At a national level, able-bodied can play alongside disabled. We competed in National tournaments, and I loved it! Through this, I became an honorary physiotherapist with the Great Britain women’s sitting volleyball squad. We attended the World Championships in Oklahoma in 2010, and I remained part of the squad until 2011, when I had to step down as they needed someone full-time on a voluntary basis to support them through to the London Paralympics in 2012.

After another move close to Bath with my husband’s job in 2012, I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, and got a job in another prosthetic centre.

Throughout my career, I have been a member of BACPAR – the British Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in limb Absence Rehabilitation. During one executive meeting in 2017, I got talking to Kim Ryder (another Somek Associate) about medico-legal work. She sold it to me, and I successfully applied.

My start to medico-legal work was a shock! I felt so out of my comfort zone! Sara, my Associate trainer, was incredibly supportive and encouraging, reminding me that I was an expert in my clinical area, and knew my stuff, even if I didn’t yet know how to express it in a legal document. Kim was a great support too.

I told my husband that I’d made a mistake so many times, but he told me to give it three reports before I made any decisions about quitting. He was so right (don’t tell him I said that!) – the almost vertical learning ‘curve’ levelled out after three reports. I’m now 6 years in, with numerous cases behind me, and I love it! It’s an area of physiotherapy that I didn’t know existed when I trained, so I make it my mission to tell everyone about this additional role that I do.

It was medico-legal work that got me back into physio, when, in 2019, I quit what I had thought of as my dream role in a prosthetic centre. It was the job that I’d thought I’d be in until retirement. I left that job as I felt my work-life balance was off, but in reality, and with hindsight, I experienced burn-out. I stepped away from physio, thinking I’d leave it all together, and set up a cake business.

I realised after a short break, that if I was to continue doing my medico-legal work, and call myself an expert witness, then I needed to continue doing clinical work. I set up my own private prosthetic physiotherapy practice – Prosthetic Physiotherapy South West – in late 2019, and started a bank amputee job in 2020 at a local NHS community hospital. My working week is now varied, and I manage my work around my life, and I love it. If I’m not working, I’m found paddleboarding, dress-making, or still making the occasional cake!

So, although I never wanted to do a job sitting at a desk, and medico-legal work sees me sitting at my desk, I really enjoy the mix of jobs that I have right now. 

If Katharine's account of her journey leaves you feeling intrigued to find out more, why not visit our recruitment pages here. We would love to hear from you!