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StudentsFeb 14, 2023

Student Claire Porter and her father Stuart juggle the personal and the professional at university

It's not terribly unusual for young people to follow a relative – a parent, an uncle or aunt or perhaps a sibling – into a profession. Physiotherapy is no different to other professions in this respect, and there have been a number of families over the years who can boast having had members from different generations working in the field. But it must be very unusual to see a student physiotherapist feeling brave enough – or perhaps 'comfortable' is the right word – to apply for a place to study on a course that's taught, at least in part, by their parent.

That's the case with Claire and her father Stuart who can both be found at the University of Salford. Here, in an exclusive PhysioUpdate interview, they explain what motivates them, how they maintain boundaries at work, and what their fascinating, but very different, personal mottos would be. Let's hear from physiotherapy lecturer and author Stuart first.

Claire doesn't think she'll follow Stuart into teaching but would love to work with children

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Stuart, how do you feel about Claire following your footsteps into a career in physiotherapy?

I have no hesitation whatsoever about Claire entering into this profession – how could I when I've been here myself for 35 years? Like all physiotherapists, she will have to find her own path, but this profession that has given so much to me continues to grow exponentially and she will succeed as all our students do.

How do you manage to maintain personal/professional boundaries with Claire being on the course?  

This has been surprisingly easy: we agreed from day one that Claire would be treated like any other student. For example, I am the admissions officer for our programme and students who are successful at interview receive a phone call from me on the evening of their interview. I did exactly the same with Claire – in fact, she was the last person that I rang!

My greatest fear is my other students thinking that I have a favourite. My job is too important to me to jeopardise the trust of my students. Of course, when it comes to things like exam boards, I have to declare a conflict of interest and I’m not involved in assessing Claire in anyway – if anything when I get home from work she gets a raw deal because I usually crash on the sofa.

I have no hesitation about Claire entering into this profession ... she will have to find her own path, but this profession that has given so much to me continues to grow exponentially and she will succeed as all our students do [Stuart]

You share your work highlights through social media to inform and inspire others – whether it’s gaining a PhD, writing books or having Claire joining the course. How do stay so motivated?

I am blessed in that I have never had a job that I did not enjoy – although it is, I suppose, both a blessing and a curse in as much as I do not see my role as work: it is an absolute pleasure. The downside to that is that I tend to never switch off. However, it is important to stress that I am not alone in this I work with one of the most dedicated teams in the country

Tell us more about your career path, how do stay motivated and what’s coming next?

After I graduated in 1987, I worked in orthopaedics and rheumatology and went to specialise in rheumatology. That was the topic of my PhD – ankylosing spondylitis specifically.

99 per cent of my teaching is undergraduates and 99 per cent of that is with first years. I believe that my skill set is best suited to helping students who are new to the programme. I also believe that it takes skill to teach students who come in with no significant prior knowledge. I haven't thought about what's coming next – maybe your readers could let me know?

If you had a motto that sums up your approach to work/life, what would it be?

As a former classical pianist, it has to be the following: ‘To play a wrong note is irrelevant, but to play without passion is inexcusable’ [Ludwig van Beethoven].

Twitter: @DrStuP

To read about Stuart's latest textbook, which comes out later this year, visit: https://www.physioupdate.co.uk/on-the-move/stuart-porters-book-covers-the-key-issues--thanks-to-feedback-from-university-of-salford-students-/

Claire, what made you decide to study physiotherapy and how has it gone so far?   

I have wanted to work in healthcare for as long as I remember. I have a background in law (which I also studied at Salford), and was able to combine that and healthcare into a Masters degree. However, I still didn't feel excited about my career prospects. The pandemic reinforced my desire to work in healthcare, and – with everything the NHS has done for me – I thought combining a healthcare degree and working for the NHS would be a good path for me to follow.

Realising this when I applied for the programme, reignited the excitement for my future career that I had not felt in a long time. I am only in my first year and have finished my first semester and first practice-based learning placement. I am achieving good grades and thoroughly enjoyed my placement, and I am so excited to experience other aspects of physiotherapy during my course.

Tell us how you feel about following Stuart’s footsteps into a career in physiotherapy?

It's interesting, and I am not sure yet, but when I think of my upcoming career in physiotherapy, I think about something completely different to what he has done. My plans may change, but I imagine my future as working in hospitals. I have no intention so far of going into teaching, and if I was to become an author, I would write fiction books not textbooks.

I think that is what is great about growing up seeing everything he has achieved – with his publications, PhD, international teaching and so on – has shown me what hard work and dedication can do, and also highlights the other side of physiotherapy, that I do not necessarily have an intention of doing. I am unlikely to reach where he has, but it gives me something to work towards.

The most difficult thing to get used to is the change between calling him Stuart (to other staff and my friends) to 'Dad'. It has been tricky, and I have slipped a few times, but we are sure to remain professional [at] university [Claire]

How do you manage to maintain personal/professional boundaries with Stuart? 

I think the most difficult thing to get used to is the change between calling him Stuart (to other staff and my friends) to calling him 'Dad' when I am at home. It has been tricky, and I have slipped a few times, but we are sure to remain professional for anything related to university.

He is often not really involved in teaching my group and when he is, I do have to work on not rolling my eyes too much when he says something embarrassing (as only dads can!), but I'm sure others who have witnessed us in the classes he does teach would say he doesn't treat me any differently than any other student. He even refused to buy me coffee once!  

Do you have any career plans as yet?

When I got accepted on to the programme, I had been considering for a while that I would love to work in paediatrics – preferably in the NHS. I have not experienced that on placement yet, so that may change, but it is usually my first answer when people ask what I want to do when I graduate.

One thing I had never considered before this year was working in a community setting but seeing the amazing work that my local NHS trust's respiratory community physio team does, certainly had me considering working in that capacity once I have graduated. At this point, I am excited to experience everything that I can and will be happy to leave making that decision until I have enough background to make the decision that is right for me. 

If you had a motto that sums up your approach to work/life, what would it be?

I struggled to answer this when I first read it, but what started as a little inside joke actually kinda fits with the question now. So, if I did live/work by a motto, at least for the next few years, it would be ‘turn up on time and do what you're told’.

Author: Edited by Ian A McMillan
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