I was reminded of a well known saying recently when I attended an academic conference where I was feeling completely out of my intellectual depth…
“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room”.
Personally, I think this saying is arrogant as how do you know you’re the ‘smartest person in a room, and how up your own arse do you have to be to think you are, and why would you leave the room even if you are the smartest. Anyway, I get the point of what this is trying to get across which is we should seek to learn more from others whenever possible.
Now the reason I thought of this saying was not because I thought I was the smartest person in the room, just the opposite, I actually felt like the dumbest person in the room and wanted the ground to swallow me up at times. Honestly it was just horrible trying to have conversations with some of the other delegates who seemed to quickly leave the room after briefly talking to me.
Now, this could have been due to my lack of scintillating conversation skills, some spinach in my teeth, or perhaps some dodgy aftershave. But I think it was often due to something I encounter quite a lot in physiotherapy and that’s academic or qualification snobbery.
Qualification snobbery is when someone who has certain level of qualifications has the misguided belief that someone else who doesn’t have the same level of qualifications is beneath them. These snobs think that formal qualifications are the only measure of a persons intelligence, skill, knowledge, and worth. A qualification snob believes the less formal qualifications you have the less intelligent and relevant you are.
For example, during a conversation with a very well-known physio academic who had no idea who I was or what I did until I mentioned it suddenly appeared to think my IQ level dropped into single digits when she realised I didn’t have a PhD and wasn’t a widely published author. I swear to god that she even started to speak a little slower and louder as if she thought I had difficulty understanding her until she made her quick excuses to leave the room, and this wasn’t the only time it happened during this conference.
This arrogant, elitist, and prejudiced attitude that some academics have pisses me off immensely… and I wish I could say it’s not that common, but in my experience, it is, especially in healthcare, and especially in physiotherapy. Now I am the first to admit that I am not the sharpest tool in the toolbox and definitely not an academic, nor will I ever be, having no desire to get a PhD and love being a clinician despite its difficulties.
However, just because I dont have a PhD it doesn’t mean I cant hold my own when talking to one. Just because I havent got 150 peer reviewed publications doesnt mean I cant critically review research or interpret it. I’ve just made a choice not to spend anymore time in formal academia for a number of reasons, the main one being my past experiences.
When it comes to my past experiences in academia I will admit that I found it very disappointing. For example, although I was taught about critical thinking it wasn’t really encouraged to be practised. Undergraduates were often frowned upon and labelled as trouble makers if they asked too many questions in lectures or practicals, or god forbid dare to discuss anything that challenged what was being taught.
I remember being chastised in one of my practical sessions by a tutor when I questioned the accuracy and reliability of some pelvic motion palpation techniques we were being taught. I was firmly told that I should do what I was told and that if I carried on asking questions I would be asked to leave the room! Despite a few great tutors, this was a fairly common theme throughout most of my undergraduate training within physio, with the more I questioned what I was being taught, the more trouble I seemed to get myself into
It’s these experiences that have left a bad taste in my mouth that has put me off ever wanting to return back into formal physio academia. As well as it now not suiting my lifestyle or career pathway. Instead, I have chosen to focus and direct my own education and learning reading and studying as much as I can get my hands on, which is easier said than done.
You may be thinking that my decision not to go back into education is foolish, based on a few bad experiences, in one university, with a few shitty tutors, back in the bad old days. But there have been many other unfortunate interactions with academics and the academic system over the years reinforcing my beliefs that most of academia is a vipers nest of personal egos and a minefield of politics that makes Stalinist Russia look like a kindergarten.
No qualifications ≠ No career
There is no doubt more and more physios are working towards or have MSc’s and PhD’s, and this is great for the profession. I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for anyone who wants to continue along the academic path and get these formal qualifications!
But this isn’t for everyone, and as mentioned it isnt for me. However, many will say that without more qualifications your career as a physio is very limited. Well luckily for me it hasn’t had any significant detrimental effect on my career, but I do seem to be an exception. It does seem that these days the only way a physio can progress their career is by getting formal post-graduation qualifications.
Consequently, I now see more and more physios undertaking formal post-graduate diplomas, MSc, even PhDs not because they want to, but because they have to. Many physios are now collecting qualifications rather than collecting knowledge and experience.
It is admirable and understandable that many physios are keen to progress their careers, and I don’t blame anyone for wanting to do this, but a physios career progression should not just be solely based on academic qualifications. Qualifications are not the only way to demonstrate knowledge, and knowledge does NOT only come from formal qualifications.
In fact, formal education can at times restrict and limit free thinking, teaching students to just rehearse and recite what others have said, like mindless drones. All formal qualifications often demonstrate is how good someone is at remembering information, writing essays, and sitting exams.
What most formal qualifications don’t demonstrate is how good someone is at developing relationships, communicating, being punctual or trustworthy, or more importantly how effective they are with patients. It is these skills that seem to get overlooked by many employers who only seem to look for formal qualifications in job applications these days.
More than a PhD
I am not suggesting for one minute that we go back to the bad old days of when a physio was promoted due to the number of years in service they had. What I am suggesting is that more physio career pathways should not be limited to only those with formal post-grad qualifications. Instead, physios should be able to get promoted and advanced post on their skills, knowledge, attitudes but more importantly, their results.
Many employers both in private and public sectors I feel have instigated an elitist academic career progression culture by insisting nearly all posts beyond basic grades have or are ‘working towards’ an MSc or PhD, even for roles that clearly don’t need them.
Of course, the work and research done in MSc and PhDs programs are important for our profession, but it should also be remembered that there are many physios out there who are involved in clinical research, doing it in their own time, using their own money, and who are not seeking any qualifications or promotions. These are the real heroes of our profession, these are the candidate’s employers are ignoring with their qualification snobbery.
So in summary of course qualifications are important, but so are a lot of other things. Just because someone doesn’t have loads of post-grad qualifications or a gazillion letters after their name, or Dr as their title, it doesn’t mean they know less, work less, or are worthless
In fact, they may be more capable, more personable, and more suitable for that promotion than many of those qualification snobs!
As always thanks for reading