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Q&A: ExclusiveFeb 11, 2024

Julie Jones - a passionate physio, academic, collaborator, researcher - takes part in a special Q&A

In an exclusive Q&A with Ian A McMillan, Julie Jones discusses her career highlights – which include helping a father with Parkinson's walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day and receiving a People's Award at the 2023 Parkinson's Excellence Network Awards.

What inspired you to become a physiotherapist?

Physiotherapy is such a diverse profession. You can get involved in everything from paediatrics through to the oldest and frailest in society and all stops in between. I am passionate about the value of rehabilitation – supporting people to optimise their function so they can participate in activities that are valued and meaningful to them. I enjoy working with people with long-term conditions, such as Parkinson’s, as they have complex physical, social, and psychological issues, and I love the challenge of ensuring what I deliver meets their individual but diverse needs.

I graduated in physiotherapy in 1999 from Robert Gordon University (RGU) in Aberdeen, and after working in a variety of hospitals and trusts I have returned there.

Julie's role at RGU involves teaching, researching and a small amount of clinic work

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Tell us about your early career highlights

That is a hard question as there are so many. Am I allowed a top four? 

  • Sometimes physiotherapy doesn’t need to be complicated. I had a patient, for example, who had significant issues in walking. We had made some real progress, but his anxiety affected his walking. Faced with walking his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day he was gripped with fear. This would be a big moment for any father, and it was playing on his mind. It even got to the stage where he refused to do it, which upset the whole family. So, we shifted our physiotherapy to the church, and put strategies in place such as installing little LED lights at the end of the aisles. The florist managed to make these visible to him but to the guests they looked like part of the flower arrangements. The lights acted as visual cues – something that can be useful for people with neurological conditions to help regulate their walking. We practised in the church, and then we had mini rehearsals with his close family, and I was there to support him on the big day. It still brings a tear to my eyes now: he was amazing and was the proudest man ever, with the biggest smile. Beautiful.

 

  • Another highlight that occurs to me is someone coming to my clinic after living with a problem for a long time, like finding it difficult to roll over in bed. I help them so they leave with a successful toolkit of strategies that we have worked through together. These collaborative interventions may not require a lot of skill, but they enable to live well people through problem solving, going through practical solutions, prescribing exercise, and providing education. The result is just amazing.

 

  • Last November I received the People’s Award at the Parkinson's Excellence Network Awards, as reported in PhysioUpdate. I was really humbled to receive this award, as I am passionate about working with this community of people. They are such marvellous people – living with a challenging condition that we have yet to find a cure for – and are so driven to help themselves. They want to be involved in research to improve the lives of those who may be diagnosed in the future. I learn something from working with the Parkinson’s community every day and this motivates me to make what difference I can make with my knowledge and skills.

 

  • Last year I also finished my PhD, which was a feasibility and acceptability study of a physical activity intervention specifically developed for people with Parkinson’s. The aim is to support them to get active and stay active, as exercise has been shown to be very beneficial. I am passionate about the value of exercise and completing my PhD, which was inspired by the needs of the Parkinson’s community, was amazing.

Tell us about your current role

I am an associate dean for economic and community engagement at RGU’s School of Health Sciences. I thoroughly enjoy my job, which involves being actively involved in teaching, conducting research and a small amount of clinic work. My role is diverse, as I have a leadership role in supporting the development and delivery of courses delivered in the school, and well as working with external partners in the health sector to develop short courses, CPD modules or formal education programmes to meet the needs of people working within the health and wellbeing sector. Our school’s ethos is to provide our students with the knowledge and skills required to enable them to meet the needs of a rapidly changing health sector. 

We practised in the church, and then we had mini rehearsals with his close family, and I was there to support him on the big day. It still brings a tear to my eyes now

Another part of my job is to involve the community in our work, which makes the learning experience more authentic for the students while also benefiting our local community. For example, we have set up a Parkinson's exercise class at RGU Sport, and under supervision of a physiotherapist, we have students developing and running exercise programmes for local people with Parkinson's. This means our students get a valued learning experience and the Parkinson’s community can attend weekly exercise sessions for free.

The other large part of my role is commercialisation. Within our school we have a variety of state-of-the-art equipment which, for example, allows us to conduct 3D motion analysis of walking and functional activities. I work with local partners, such as the NHS, to provide in-depth assessments of their patients' function which helps to inform clinical decision-making.

I am also involved in research, and work with Parkinson’s researchers from other UK-based universities. I have just been awarded a large research grant to look at the use of augmented reality-based rehabilitation for people with Parkinson’s. This is a collaborative project with the research team made up of people with Parkinson’s working alongside academics from the universities of Exeter and Aberdeen. I am also involved in national research collaborations in the area of Parkinson’s.

And what about your involvement with Parkinson’s Beats?

How long have you got? While research tells us that exercise is beneficial for people with Parkinson’s, a large proportion of them are classed as sedentary. It is so important that people are supported and enabled to be more active. Parkinson’s Beats is a fun and enjoyable form of exercise, combining drumming and music therapy. 

As it can be done in sitting and standing, it is accessible to all. This approach to exercise is ‘cheeky’ as it doesn’t feel as though you’re exercising when you get caught up in the music. People with Parkinson’s have reported many benefits, such as improvements in physical fatigue and mood.  

I learn something from working with the Parkinson’s community every day and this motivates me to make what difference I can make with my knowledge and skills 

How do you support the work of Parkinson’s UK in general? 

I co-lead the Exercise Hub with Beccy Oliver, who is also a physiotherapist. It is part of the Parkinson’s exercise network and has more than 600 members. We run monthly zoominars on a variety of topics that support health professionals in delivering high quality services to people with Parkinson’s. We also run an annual study day to bring people from all over the UK together. In a new role for me, I co-lead the North England Local Parkinson’s Excellence Network with Dr Zoe Muir. It’s about promoting and supporting improvements in care provision. I am also part of the North of Scotland Parkinson’s research interest group, which aims to share and disseminate research to the Parkinson’s community. As part of this, I co-host a monthly research podcast with Helga Macfarlane, in which we interview national lead researchers about their work. 

I am a member of the Parkinson’s UK College of Experts involved in research grant review panels and I also work with the charity on consultancy-based small projects.

How can other physiotherapists get involved with the charity?

The input of physiotherapists is really important. The Parkinson’s Excellence Network has developed some fantastic freely available educational pathways. The charity has also provided funds to support the delivery of our annual exercise hub study day and offers bursaries that support physiotherapists to attend educational events. We use a platform called Basecamp to enable physios from all over the UK to share practice and access peer support.

How do you relax and stay healthy?

I love being outdoors in the fresh air. I’m happiest up a hill or running around the amazing countryside which is on my doorstep – I am so lucky.

Author: Julie Jones
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