Are you a qualification snob?

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.

IQ drop!

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




  1. thanks Adam – enjoyed your blogpost. I too have bad memories of physio training – ironically those experiences have led me back into education (but that’s another story). Your point about employers’ focus on the qualification > qualities of practice/practitioner led me to ask whether you’d come across the CSP’s Physiotherapy Framework (available via CSP website at The framework is designed to help individuals unpack their practice & describe the level they’re working at (framework describes practice at 6 levels – from NVQ2 to Doctorate). It is potentially a useful tool for showcasing what a ‘good clinical, critical thinking hard working physio’ can do (whether or not they’ve the piece of paper to show that they’ve completed a formal programme of learning/assessment) & for developing an evidenced argument to challenge the sorts of situations you describe. WIth best wishes – Gwyn

    • Thanks Gwyn
      I was sort of aware of these tools and the CSP website, but thanks for reminding me and others about them, a very useful resource for job candidates when filling out the application forms
      Kind regards

  2. I know you wrote this a while ago but I’ve only just stumbled upon it and for me, I’m so relieved that someone else feels this way. I qualified in 1995 but struggled through the course feeling rather looked down on by the lecturers because I didn’t quite fit into what they expected of a physiotherapy student (bit lazy, failed an exam, liked to party etc). Nevertheless, I embarked on my career vowing to do my best. I completed all the necessary courses that Juniors at the time did, I studied, I stayed behind after to work to practice techniques and eventually I completed the 13 month long MACP course securing 50 masters points and a senior one post after fours years of working.
    Then I had several babies and worked part-time up until 2 years ago. During that time, I worked as an ESP and this is when I experienced the qualification snobbery. I’m a good physio and I do my best for my patients but I know there are better physio’s with more knowledge and experience than me. Yet, I don’t have a lot of time to study, read articles, go on tons of courses and I definitely do not think I could complete a Masters (although I would really like to) at the minute. My children take priority. That snobbery came from some of my colleagues both male and female and even though I don’t like saying this, probably more from the men.
    I always felt a sense that I wasn’t good enough or I didn’t know enough because I didn’t spend my evenings reading the latest MACP Journal. In-service training used to send me into a panic in case I was asked a question and wouldn’t know the answers.
    I don’t work at the moment due to relocation of my family but one day (soon), I’ll go back, probably part-time, probably into a pay band much lower than where I finished and I’ve no doubt that despite the experience/knowledge I do have, the snobbery will still exist.
    Sorry for my rant and life story but your article struck a cord!

    • Hi Catherine
      Thanks for your comments/rant, really honest and interesting perspective and I’m sure you’re not alone. The damn MACP have a lot to answer for in my opinion with regards to this issue in MSK physio.
      I too started my MACP training and got so far down the MSc pathway before I just had to stop due to the feeling I was just doing what I was told rather than actually thinking or learning anything.
      Thanks again

  3. Hi Adam,
    Know I am joining this party late and it’s not the first time I’ve read this post but I felt compelled to comment.
    I recently attended a conference and, as someone who enjoys networking, I decided to open discussion with one of the speaker only to be met with comments like ‘well if you want to be a really good clinician’ in the advocation of MSc study. I felt quite upset and disheartened by this.
    Not only had I plucked up the courage to try and generate discussion with a leader in our field but I felt I had contributed significantly to the conference with my questions making the cut to be asked to keynote speakers etc.
    I left on somewhat of a low. Feeling unimportant and embarrassed to have even tried.
    I am at a point in my career (eight years qualified) where I am looking for the next ‘step’ shall we say and would love to be involved in some research or professional advocacy. But also at a point in my life where funds aren’t always so readily available for higher education.
    Cheers for the post!

    • Ignore the academic knobheads and snobs and keep questioning and hungry for answers and see where it takes you.
      Not all academics are idiots or egotistical pillocks, just many!
      Best of luck

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