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Career developmentApr 19, 2023

Physio David Williams helps an NHS trust to gain gold status for its work with Armed Forces veterans

A physiotherapist who started out with a career in the Royal Marines has broken the mould by using his previous military experience to make a difference in healthcare. David Williams grew up wanting to be in the Armed Forces, but his journey took an unexpected turn and he forged a new career as a physiotherapist.

Determined not to let his previous experience go to waste, David has worked hard to improve support for ex-military patients and colleagues in his role as chair of the Armed Forces Network at University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust (UHDB) and has seen the network go from strength to strength.

David said: ‘When I finished my A-levels I joined a building firm and trained as a plumber, but I always wanted to be in the military. When I was 22, I joined the Royal Marines and I was there for three and a half years.’ Unfortunately, a serious training injury resulted in David being medically discharged and having to 'find a new job, new career and almost a new life’.

Photo Credit: UHDB
David says Twitter has been a 'valuable tool' in building a second career in physiotherapy

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Pathway into the profession

David explained: ‘My experience in rehab was really interesting and I needed that time to find a new path. I spent a lot of time with physiotherapists and I was really interested in the work that they do, so I went to university to train as a physio and I haven’t looked back since’.

David joined UHDB in 2019 as a rotational physiotherapist and worked in areas including specialist medicine, healthcare of the elderly, and respiratory and musculoskeletal physiotherapy. He said: ‘I wanted to give something back and enjoy working with patients in their recovery, like I was once helped.’

Despite David embarking on a new career, his past military experience stayed with him and he wanted to incorporate that into his current work. ‘I've always had this desire to lead and serve a bigger purpose and that’s what really attracted me to the Royal Marines. I spent some time in a high-performance environment where I saw great leadership and great role models and that part of my life was cut really short really quickly. I tried to scratch that itch in different ways and that is how I came to be involved in the Armed Forces Network.’

Helping the trust gain gold status

During a relaunch of the existing staff networks in 2019, an opportunity arose for David to take the lead on the Armed Forces Network in his workplace, as he explained. ‘Initially we were focused on supporting staff such as reservists or veterans but that has grown and now we collaborate a lot with defence medical services and have combat medical technicians working in the trust.

‘We've implemented a guaranteed interview scheme for service leaders and we've also achieved Ministry of Defence employee recognition scheme gold status, which means that we are in the top three per cent of organisations within the country that are supporters and collaborators with defence.’

The network also achieved Veteran Healthcare Governance Alliance status which champions a focus on veteran care. David said: ‘It means that not only is UHDB the best place to work but it's also the best place to work if you are a veteran, a reservist or a spouse of someone who is in the military. I think that is really important and I am happy to see that the majority of NHS organisations are on the road to being more forces friendly which is really encouraging.'

My experience in rehab was really interesting and I needed that time to find a new path. I spent a lot of time with physiotherapists and I went to university to train as a physio and I haven’t looked back since 

Developing as a leader

David recently embarked on a regional clinical fellowship to gain some leadership experience as well as becoming a governor at the trust. He said this has given him the chance to see the bigger picture of healthcare systems, comparing it to ‘looking under the bonnet at the [car's] engine’.

‘I ride this wave of activity and interests and I love to get stuck in and involved. It's been a real privilege and a great way to share what I can offer through an allied health practitioner (AHP) lens, it is about being able to support people where I can and being visible as an AHP. I am interested in technology and how I can make a difference on a much bigger scale, so it is important to me that AHPs and therapist take up these roles. It has really helped me develop as a person and a leader, and I can take those skills back into my organisation.’

Social media platform

David, who is currently on a secondment at NHS Midlands as a regional clinical leadership fellow, said social media has been a vital tool in allowing him new opportunities and finding like-minded individuals to share best practice with.

He added: ‘I discovered Twitter when I was at college and could see all this rich conversation between physios which gave me a glimpse inside the industry. It's been a valuable tool in building my career and networks and I even wrote my dissertation on physio students’ use of Twitter, so I am quite an advocate.’

Twitter: @xDavidWilliams

UHDB was formed in 2018 to bring together five hospitals to provide the highest quality care to patients across southern Derbyshire and south east Staffordshire. It provides services from five sites: Royal Derby Hospital, Queen’s Hospital Burton, Sir Robert Peel Community Hospital in Tamworth, Samuel Johnson Community Hospital in Lichfield and London Road Community Hospital in Derby.

Author: Rhea Simpson, UHDB communications officer
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