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LeadershipApr 6, 2024

With a 22-year research career, Gita Ramdharry is set to speak about the 'good, bad and ugly' sides

In an exclusive PhysioUpdate Q&A, neurological specialist physiotherapist Gita Ramdharry tells Ian A McMillan about her career highlights, which include being a busy clinician, conducting research and maintaining funding sources. She finds time to edit prestigious neurological books, co-write challenging and influential papers, speak at international conferences and also manages to refurbish a river boat in her spare time!

What attracted you to physiotherapy as a profession? When and where did you graduate and how has your career evolved?  

I grew up around hospital environments as both of my parents are nurses. As a result, I always had an interest in health care and was always pretty sporty. Yes, unfortunately I went through the 'physio-in-sports stereotype' right at the beginning! I studied physiotherapy in 1991, on the old four-year degree course at the University of East London. After that, I had my first job at King's College NHS trust, and became interested in neurology through my 18 months of rotations.

I then worked at St George's NHS trust for two years on the neurology rotation. I was delighted to land a senior 1 job (equivalent of today's band 7) at the renowned National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN) Queen Square, London. I studied my MSc while there, finishing in 2003. That gave me a real taste for research through my dissertation, which I did with (the now) Professor Jon Marsden, who was just finishing his PhD at Queen Square at the time.

I was in the right place at the right time when Jon was the first physiotherapist recipient of the Medical Research Council clinical scientist ward. This included funding for a research physiotherapist and PhD fees. I applied for the job and, fortunately, was selected. I completed my PhD in 2008, and then went on to work at St George's University of London as a senior lecturer.

I was able to continue to apply for research funding in that time and was fortunate to receive an National Institute for Health and Care Research clinical lectureship in 2010 for research at Queen Square Centre for Neuromuscular Diseases, and I came back to NHNN as a consultant allied health professional in 2018.

Gita's research journey started when she began asking questions in her clinical practice

Power Diary
Power Diary


You started 2024 with a hectic schedule …

As a clinical academic, every year is busy! Busy is juggling between five clinical sessions a week, leading a research group, my own research activity and applying for further funding. I am fortunate that there is a fantastic group of PhD students and clinical research evaluators that I support. The challenge is maintaining funding sources to keep such talented individuals working within the group. 

How did you get into research and what tips tdo you have for physios who might want to do so too?

My research journeys started when I began asking questions in my clinical practice. My first step was writing up interesting patients and clinical results through case reports. My MSc degree allowed me to start to collect data more formally to answer specific research questions from practice. My interest continued from then.

My tips for a fledgling researcher would be

  • decide where your interests lie
  • ask what questions come from your practice
  • then seek out mentorship and support

A lot of trusts will have nursing and AHP research leads you can approach. Also the Council for Allied Health Professional Research has regional hubs, and is keen to provide mentorship. They will then help you to take your ideas to the next step which may be to start to acquire funding. This can start small, from internships and charity grants.

You co-authored a recently-published fifth edition of the book Physical Management for Neurological Conditions. Tell us more

Some years ago, I was asked by Professor Maria Stokes to write a chapter for the third edition of the Physical Management for Neurological Conditions textbook, which she co-edited with Emma Stack. She decided to step down from the editorship for the fourth addition, and approached Professor Sheila Lennon, Professor Geert Verheyden and myself to take over.

This is now the second in the series that we have co-edited together, and they are a fantastic team to work with. We are fortunate to have been able to collaborate with a really talented and knowledgeable group of authors to produce the recent fifth edition.

We see you are appearing next month at the ACPIN [Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Neurology] international conference. Why does your talk have the intriguing title ‘The good, the bad and the ugly’?

Clinical academic research is a rewarding but also challenging area. I liken it to the ups and downs of a rollercoaster and the talk will outline the realities of following that path. My research career has spanned 22 years, so I am hoping it will become less undulating for younger colleagues coming through. It is important to ensure people do not step into research careers thinking they are straightforward and linear.

The BMJ Leader article, which was summarised in a PhysioUpdate article in January, called for fundamental changes within the physiotherapy profession. Are you optimistic that colleagues from the ‘global majority’ will finally receive their due in the UK?

I can cautiously hope that things will improve, but until there is a fundamental and whole-hearted desire to change the structures and gate-keeping that holds people back now, I am sadly quite pessimistic. It is uncomfortable for people to look at their own biases and behaviours, and they can be unwilling to see how they contribute to the problem.

Until more people are willing to cultivate and work with a deep level of self-awareness, becoming authentic allies to others, I find it hard to see how we can significantly move forward. Forgive me for sounding negative, but progress is slow and there is still disparity in how people experience working within the NHS and higher education institutions.

How do you relax away from work?

My partner and I have, somewhat foolishly, taken on a 44-year-old river boat that was in a state of disrepair. We have spent a lot of time scraping, rebuilding, painting and repairing, but the real relaxation is when are sat on the bow, watching the sunset.

Dr Gita Ramdharry, PhD MSc PGCert BSc(Hons) MCSP, is a consultant allied health professional in neuromuscular diseases at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, UCLH. Gita is also honorary associate professor at the Department of Neuromuscular Diseases, UCL Institute of Neurology.

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