Claire, a physiotherapist, has a passion for international development work, a passion that is fuelled in her new role in NHS England’s Global Health Partnerships Directorate, as a Partnerships Manager. Rewinding the clock a few years, Claire’s first opportunity to gain hands on experience in the field was at the end of the second year of her bachelor’s programme where she grabbed the opportunity to shadow a physiotherapist working with disabled children in Tanzania.
“It was from there that I thought this is an area I’m really interested in. I feel like I can learn so much from them and try and offer what limited abilities or even just advice that I could from my experience in the UK as well. So that was kind of the beginning of it”
After graduating, Claire travelled again in South America before taking up her first post in the NHS.
“…but I was always trying to think. How can I get involved in working in global health so became involved in lots of different networks and charity organisations which did work overseas but ultimately I knew that I wanted global health to become my full time job”
However, she took the advice of experienced colleagues and worked hard to gain more clinical skills and it was to be a further 3.5 years before she did her next project, this time in Madagascar where she went for three months in 2019. She had no set plan in mind because:
“I can’t do that until I understand how their healthcare service works. So it all kind of happened quite naturally where I started writing down my written observations of how their healthcare service worked”
Her work was multifaceted, interviewing physiotherapists to see how they…
“…linked into their healthcare service and then from there again making Connections with the Ministry of Health …and they were really interested in it cause they said that a service evaluation of their physio service had never happened before and they’d be really interested in the outcomes for developing their service”
She also made connections with the university in Antananarivo, to understand the process for training physiotherapists.
“They started saying, well, rather than just looking at the capital city, you should go to other regions as well. So I spent my three months travelling around Madagascar to five different regions and doing the same thing. So recording observations, doing interviews and collating all those findings”
On her return to the UK, Claire wrote a comprehensive report for the Ministry, which she had translated into Malagasy to avoid misunderstandings and co-authored a journal article with a physiotherapist from Madagascar about her experience. The Malagasy Ministry of Health built on these recommendations to implement a master’s degree programme for physiotherapists.
Claire’s experience taught her a lot, as well as being useful to the people in Madagascar. She learned much about thinking out of the box, project management skills and the importance of service development. It also gave her a greater interest in the wider areas of health that she had not previously considered. An important lesson learned was how important it was to build up relations through being on the ground and learning quickly that short training programmes were not “going to go anywhere” because they were not going to be shared with others. Her whole experience also made her realise how fortunate we are to have the NHS.
Claire is looking forward to returning to Madagascar in September 2023. To do a follow up project that was postponed from April 2020 due to Covid but in the intervening years has been keeping in contact through email and social media. She wholeheartedly recommends similar opportunities for those with an interest in global health but realises it is not for everyone.