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Published: 1 August 2022

Inspiring the next generation of physiotherapists

Going beyond the day job and empowering the next generation of physiotherapists is one of the reasons why Pilar stood out as Panel’s Choice winner at this year’s Staff Awards. Amy Rutland spoke to her to find out where her passion and commitment comes from…

Pilar BustamantePilar Bustamante, 36, always knew she wanted to work in healthcare when she was growing up in Temuco, Chile, but became a physiotherapist by chance.

She said: “I was going to do a medicine degree but it was seven years, so I thought I’d give physiotherapy a go. I haven’t looked back– it’s my calling.”

After graduating in 2008 from Universidad Mayor in Temuco, Pilar took the big decision to move to the UK and started looking for jobs.

She volunteered in the outpatients at Medway Hospital and within three years in February 2011 officially joined Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust (KCHFT) as part of the Learning Disability Team.

Pilar loved it and has forged her NHS career with the team, she said: “I used to work in special schools in Chile, I’m really passionate about supporting people with a learning disability.”

However, since 2018 Pilar has been the physiotherapy professional lead. This means that she now works across all adult services, supporting physiotherapists and developing them to be the best they can be.

Pilar said: “I look at the identity of the role, support available for colleagues and I noticed there wasn’t something that connected the physios – people were identified as their team, rather than as a physiotherapist – I wanted to change that.”

This kick-started a domino effect of development that Pilar spearheaded throughout KCHFT, supporting the physiotherapists who work here and setting up a framework of support and opportunity for those aspiring physiotherapists who will be looking to start their NHS career, just like she did 14 years ago.

“After looking at our data, I noticed we had quite a few older colleagues who will be leaving the profession in the next 10 years, so immediately I knew I had to look at what I could do to bring new physios in.”

Pilar established relationships with the universities offering physio courses in the region and began to offer placement opportunities in KCHFT.

She said: “I wanted to make sure we could give them a great experience in a community trust, and make the realise that they could come and build their career with us.”

Since then, with the student placements now in place, and more than 115 joining KCHFT, Pilar looked at the entry level job opportunities into KCHFT. “I needed to make sure that we had jobs available with enough support for graduates to come into and start their career. I managed to create a rotational physio programme, with additional preceptorship support built in, that worked across different services, offering experience across different disciplines.

Since the programme started in May 2020, we now have more than 15 new physiotherapists, with more due to join us after the next round of students graduate.

And the hard work didn’t stop there, Pilar has been pivotal in getting 14 new physiotherapy apprenticeships started at KCHFT. She said: “We offer them support and provide mentors to make sure they have educational guidance and give them help on clinical placements.”

These opportunities mean there is now a whole pathway in place, from student support, into graduate jobs and a career in the NHS.

She said: “I love watching the people I meet flourish. Knowing I’m in a position to support, empower and influence people’s lives, their choices and their careers – it’s a real privilege.”

Kickstarting this support package and pathway to inspire the next generation of physiotherapists has been a key reason why Pilar was nominated for Leader of the Year in the 2022 Staff Awards.

“I felt a bit of a fraud when I was shortlisted, everything I do has been done in partnership with the people I am helping – it’s really important to make sure the next generation is empowered and supported to reach their full potential.

Pilar’s humble approach led to her nomination being pulled out from the leader category and celebrated with the Panel’s Choice Award – an accolade given to a nomination that stands out from the crowd, deserving of higher recognition for exceptional work.

Of this, Pilar said: “I see myself as a small cog in the big machine. It’s also more than me, it’s the people around me who have supported me to achieve this legacy. But I was so pleased to be recognised. It makes me hopeful for people like me, coming here from another country and starting their career. My parents always told me to let my work do the talking, and I’d like to think I have.

So, what does the future of physiotherapy look like to Pilar? Well, she said: “The future is bright with a diverse and empowered workforce, things will only get better. I want physiotherapists to be proud. Proud of what they do, proud of who they work for and proud to be a physio. The day this is achieved, my role will be redundant.”