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Meet Kerry Archer, professional lead for physio at Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust

'Trust your ability': a lesson that Kerry Archer learned at work the day we interviewed her

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Kerry Archer is revelling in her new role as a professional lead for physiotherapy, which gives her responsibilities for implementing the latest local and national policies. Here, she answers questions put to her by PhysioUpdate editor Ian A McMillan

What does being a professional lead for physiotherapy entail?

I qualified in 2007 and completed two years of rotations before progressing to a band 6 post. I had the opportunity to rotate in several areas of respiratory gaining knowledge and skills. Then, in 2015, I accepted my first band 7 post as a cancer specialist physiotherapist leading an inpatient team in a busy oncology unit.

It was during this post that I began to develop my leadership skills and learn about the differing priorities of managing a service and nurturing a team. Three years ago, I was appointed by Harrogate and District NHS  Foundation Trust to be part of setting up a new cancer exercise referral service.

As my career has progressed, I’ve been interested in taking on a more strategic role and advancing my leadership skills as well as being able to influence change. With the support of my service managers, physiotherapy manager and physiotherapy lead I have had the opportunity to develop skills and understand more about the importance of developing and supporting the workforce.

My role of professional lead for physiotherapy is to support the physiotherapy workforce at the trust, enabling staff to thrive within their working environment, supporting them to develop and progress within their careers.

I am also involved in service development to ensure that physiotherapy provision is considered, assist to the development of competencies, and implement new local and national strategies. I support our placement coordinators to help provide the best learning environment for students coming to Harrogate on placement.

My role of professional lead for physiotherapy is to support the physiotherapy workforce at the trust, enabling staff to thrive within their working environment, supporting them to develop and progress within their careers [Kerry Archer]

You thanked some mentors in a tweet when you got the job why is having a mentor important?

Having mentors provides you with a sounding board for you to discuss your career aspirations and what opportunities might be available. I have been very privileged to work with and be managed and supported by a range of professionals both clinical and non-clinical who have helped me to achieve my goals through guiding my development – be that through enrolling me on courses or giving me additional responsibilities.

I have been supported in applying for different roles which have given me experience in the interview setting and helped me to recognise the range of skills I have developed throughout my career thus far. If you are looking for a mentor, I would recommend you approach someone in a senior role within your trust who you feel shares similar values or is in a position you aspire to.

Recent graduates sometimes wonder how more established colleagues keep up to date with research and policies as well as meeting day-to-day work demands. What advice would you offer them?

The world of physiotherapy is a fast paced and continuously developing and it can be difficult to keep up with new research and policies. My advice would be to focus on what interests you and try and read a relevant article once a month.

Look at setting up a journal club – your seniors will support you with this. By setting up a journal club it reduces the pressure to find an article every month and it makes the process more interesting and often more effective as you can discuss the findings with your colleagues. Social media, in particular Twitter, is a great place to keep up to date with policies and new research articles. There are many influential clinicians you can follow as well as agencies and professional bodies such as Health Education England and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

How did you end up specialising in this area and what tips would you give?

There is no specific pathway to becoming a cancer specialist physiotherapist and I certainly didn’t expect to be where I am today when I first qualified. Like many I was interested in sport and always saw myself working in professional sport. My first experience of ICU was very influential in my subsequent specialism decision, and I discovered a new-found love for respiratory medicine.

After joining Hull University Hospitals Trust, I was part of a small team who set up a new service managing people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, preventing admission and supporting discharge. This is where my interest in long term conditions and palliative care developed. Alongside this I had the opportunity to work in several different surgical areas including breast and cardiothoracic surgery.

In 2015 I took a band 7 position leading the oncology inpatient team at the Queen’s Centre (a regional specialist oncology centre). Using the skills and knowledge I had developed in my previous roles and through further training and experience working as part of an multidisciplinary team, I was able to develop and progress my skills both clinically and as a leader.

In 2019 an opportunity came up to be part of setting up a new cancer exercise referral service in Harrogate as part of Harrogate and District NHS Trust as the cancer specialist physiotherapist. I have been fortunate to work alongside some very skilled exercise professionals and through sharing of knowledge we are now a highly skilled team providing exercise to all cancer patients in the Harrogate and district area.

If oncology is an area you are interested in going into (and it is becoming a more widely recognised specialism) look at the skills that you already have and how you can use them.

I use the skills I developed in respiratory to help patients manage side effects such as fatigue and breathlessness and I understand surgical procedures to provide targeted/specialist rehabilitation. Treating patients in a variety of settings has allowed me to gain advanced communication skills and be empathetic.

Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Oncology and Palliative Care

I am an active committee member of the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Oncology and Palliative Care and I have been able to surround myself with likeminded skilled physiotherapists and have an opportunity to actively influence national guidance and pathways. The network has regional groups that meet regularly.

A further group has also been set up for those interested in exercise within oncology. Being part of professional support networks particularly working within oncology where you are often either part of a small team or in some cases the only physiotherapist is really important to access a platform to develop your knowledge and skills and connect with other clinicians.

Harrogate and the surrounding area sound idyllic. Are there any vacancies?

Harrogate is a beautiful place – it is a Victorian spa town surrounded by wonderful countryside. It is quite small but only a short train journey to Leeds and York and I would encourage readers to look at vacancies within the trust. We have a wide range of specialisms and opportunities for roles outside of our usual clinical roles including leadership and quality improvement. All our vacancies are on the NHS jobs website.

Tell us about your out-of-work activities

I love to cycle in my spare time and occasionally bring my bike to work with me to go out for a ride around the surrounding areas of Harrogate with a few of my colleagues after work. I have done triathlon for several years now and love the diversity of the sport. I also enjoy running and am an ambassador for 5k Your Way – a Move charity initiative.

5k Your Way is a community-based initiative to encourage those living with and beyond cancer, families, friends, and those working in cancer services to walk, jog, run, cheer or volunteer at a local 5k Your Way parkrun event on the last Saturday of every month (to find out more visit: https://5kyourway.org/).

Tell us one thing that you learned at work today?

Trust your ability

To follow Kerry on Twitter: @Kerry13Physio

To read about a Macmillan Cancer Support initiative to which Kerry contributed, visit: https://www.physioupdate.co.uk/news/physiotherapy-staff-thanked-for-contributing-to-how-to-guide-produced-by-macmillan-cancer-support/

Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Oncology and Palliative Care: https://acpopc.csp.org.uk/

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