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Why you should VOLUNTEER your time as a “Young Physio”

Who is Dom?!

Howzit guys, I’m Dominic Haussamer and I’m currently completing my community service year in Pietermaritzburg. I recently graduated from the University of Cape Town (2018) and attended high School at Somerset College, just outside Cape Town.

I am a sports fanatic and played cricket, squash, hockey and rugby throughout high school and university. While at UCT, I began to focus on my rugby and this lead me to play for the UCT u20A team and captain the UCT Health Sciences rugby team for three and a half years. I adopted UCT Health Sciences rugby as my baby and invested a great deal of time and money (which as many university students can agree, is quite scarce during your times as a student) into the team. I organised social events, fine sessions, inter-varsity fixtures against other universities and even acquired a sponsorship for the team. (funnily enough, when I approached Nick to ask if Enhanced Physio would sponsor our team, he sadly declined my offer, most likely due to the fact that he was a Maties student and not from UCT! :))

Playing for and being involved in sports teams has so many benefits. You become part of something greater than yourself and strive towards common goals with your teammates. The power sport has to bring people together is something I truly find special and one of the many reasons I love working in sports. The injuries in sports and orthopedics are of a wide variety and every patient is different. The injuries seen in rugby players will be very different to that seen in a professional golfer, this variety is something I love, as it ensures you stay on top of your game as a therapist and prevents you from becoming one dimensional.

After being placed in a hospital based environment for my community service, I quickly realized I needed to branch out and get involved with more sports and out-patient focused physiotherapy opportunities. I personally believe the amount of sports related injuries you get exposed to in your undergraduate degree is far too small, especially if you aim to pursue a career in sports physiotherapy and orthopedics. This is the reason I volunteered as the junior Physiotherapist at False Bay rugby club for 3 seasons and why I believe that those interested in sports need to expose themselves to more sporting injuries and environments.

How I got involved at Enhanced Physio:

I reached out to Nick Pereira from Enhanced Physio (knowing they were based in KZN, and specifically PMB where I am doing community service). I’ve since begun shadowing Nick Pereira at Hilton college after work on a weekly basis and recently through colleagues and friends of Enhanced Physio, I took annual leave to spend a weekend at the Sharks in Durban, where I learnt a great deal from Curt Barnes, Callie Hugo and Robin Williams. When UKZN hosted the Madiba’s in Pietermaritzburg I took the opportunity to shadow, Niel van Biljon, one of the partners at Enhanced Physio. I recently began assisting with the management of the Hilton rugby teams during their weekend fixtures while one of the sports medicine team was on maternity leave and helping out learning about schoolboy match days.

This has been a great and fruitful experience as I am surrounded by not only Nick, a highly qualified sports physiotherapist in his own right as well as Neil Van Biljon (current UZKN, Sharks Craven Week and SPT qualified clinician), but also Carl Schmidt who previously worked at the Sharks and has his masters in Sport Science as well as Mel Carey highly experienced biokineticists with adolescent sports and her husband Chris – sport scientist, housemaster and Hilton College medical team member. Along with the great coaching staff, the multidisciplinary team creates a great team dynamic, which enhances the care and performance of the players at Hilton college.

The Sharks Medical Team and Hilton College Sports Medical:

The dynamics and setup at the Sharks and Hilton college are very different, offering a variety of conditions to assess and treat. The Sharks team medical setup only deal with professional rugby players, who are required to play weekly. One of the first things I realized while at Sharks was the value and emphasis the therapists and players place on time. The players aim to play every week and it is the therapists job to insure they are fit to play. Being a rugby player I know we can often be difficult patients, as all we think about is playing and performing and not how our poor time management skills can affect others. On many occasions at the Sharks, players would come see the Physio without a booking or just before a match, stressing about an injury. These added players on top of the booked patients adds to the volume the therapists needs to see for the day, resulting in a stressful environment. A skill I learnt from the Sharks therapists was to accept the pressure and not allow it to affect your management of players. This high patient load, causes the therapists to think on their feet and challenges their time management skills. This made me realize the importance of these two skills and has motivated me to improve them during this year.

The Sharks Medical team have great facilities and a very experienced medical team, consisting of physiotherapists, biokineticists, sports and conditioning coaches and massage therapists. This large team of professionals provides a great opportunity for learning and sharing ideas regarding patient diagnosis and treatment. I mainly shadowed Callie Hugo and Robin Williams while with the Sharks team and Curt Barnes while at the outpatient department. Callie has a background in Osteopathy and I saw him use some of these techniques while treating a players cervical spine. This mainly included grade 5 manipulations, which was very new to me and exciting to see.

Robin, being the youngest physio at the Sharks, is always enthusiastic and “on the go”. He has a great relationship with all the players and they all enjoy his treatments. Robin, much like me, started focusing on sports while at university and has also played for the UCT Health Sciences rugby team. This experience in sports has lead him to become one of the best “tapers” I have seen. While shadowing him I learnt some great new techniques and applications of all the varieties of tape. The Sharks senior and junior teams focus a great deal on skills training, such as reflexes and agility. These drills and exercises were also awesome to learn.

Finally I spent some time with Curt Barnes in the Sharks Medical center. Here they assess and treat members of the public, ranging from previous professional rugby players Curt used to work with, to general orthopedic pathologies. The first thing you realize when being in Curt’s presence is, everyone – colleagues and patients (Nick often calls him “his inspiration”) love and respect him. Out of all the physios I have shadowed, Curt definitely is the best communicator. His ability to educate patients on their condition, but also to establish a great rapport with them and make them feel comfortable is awesome. I really believe that the proper education of patients and establishing a comfortable environment where both physio and patient know what to expect from each other, is a crucial skill. This is where Curt Barnes excels.

( ARTICLE by Curt Barnes on Concussion in Sports)

Hilton college offers a very different working environment to the sharks. The school children, ranging from ages 14 to 18, participate in a wide variety of sports including: basketball, hockey, tennis, rowing, golf and cricket. As adolescents are still growing, they often present with injuries that are different to those adults would experience and at times react differently to physio compared to adults. Due to the range of sports, types of athletes and injuries there is a larger variety conditions seen at Hilton college. The atmosphere at Hilton College is a lot more relaxed, than that at the Sharks. Nick takes his time with the children, ensuring they are 100% ready to return to sport. As most of the pupils are minors, communication with their parents is vitally important. When not treating patients, Nick can often be found on his phone chatting to a parent about their child’s rehabilitation and prognosis. I thought this was a very important aspect of the management of the children at Hilton college, as the parents often don’t see their children for extended periods of time and this communication helps them stay re-assured and up to date. During the afternoons; the coaches, bio’s and S&C often come check in to chat about certain pupils and their return to play / medical management. This communication among the team, along with the dedication the children show towards their rehab, creates a productive and effective environment.

The atmosphere while working field side at a Hilton College fixture, is very different to that of a club rugby game in Cape Town. The fixtures play host to completely different crowds and there is significantly more attendance at KZN school rugby than club rugby in CPT. Most rugby clubs in the Cape only have a match day Physio, along with the registered paramedics. Hilton College ensures the entire medical team is there on match day. This allows the bios and S&C to take the warm-ups and activation drills, while the physios run pitch side.

Final Thoughts:

I have been privileged to shadow at both facilities and learn from the professionals that work there. Something I noticed while shadowing was the emphasis the clinicians placed on staying up to date with current research and always aiming to enhance their learning / knowledge. During my shadowing I’ve learnt a great deal of new assessment and treatment techniques as well as improved my clinical reasoning, a skill that in my opinion was lacking. The extra time you put in will result in improvement of your hands on skills, improved clinical reasoning, greater experience and knowledge of sports related injuries and conditions and will allow you to connect with the right people, whom can help you find the “perfect” job in sports for the future. I therefore cannot emphasis enough, the importance of getting involved with extracurricular shadowing and networking in your community service year. These experiences have taught me that, in terms of sports physiotherapy, you learn the bear minimum in university. If you aim to become a top sports physiotherapist in South Africa, you need to realize that you are going to have to sacrifice a great deal of your personal time. This includes weekend volunteering, attending courses and lectures and finding mentors whom you can learn from.

Working closely with all of these clinicians has shown me the opportunities and variety of services sports Physiotherapists can get involved in. This has given me more guidance into my goals as a Physiotherapist. I have recently set myself new personal goals. My dream is to be recognized as one of the top sports physiotherapists in South Africa, “specializing” with soccer and rugby players. I want to challenge myself to always keep learning and being innovative. This mentality will hopefully carry over to how I assess and treat my patients and allow me to provide the best care to any patient I see.