The osteopath’s view – Robert Thomas talks about his career in osteopathy
We asked ESO Clinic Tutor and Ambassador Robert Thomas what drew him to osteopathy and how his career has developed since qualifying as an osteopath.
Can you tell us a bit about you and your background
I’d always been fascinated by the human body and mind so decided to study Philosophy and Psychology at Nottingham University. I became gripped by Clinical Psychology and found myself regularly immersed in books in the medical library. Once I had finished my degree, I was considering a career in medicine when I stumbled upon Osteopathy. I spent a day at the ESO and realised that osteopathy enveloped all my interests. It offered me the full package; anatomy, physiology, neural science, neurology, pathology, biomechanics, pharmacology, psychology – a way to help people mentally and physically. I also loved the fact it was an active and skilful process that combined listening, talking and hands on treatment, all with the aim of optimising the patient’s health and well-being.
What did you enjoy about being a student at the ESO?
I distinctly remember what it was like to be a student at the ESO; the challenges, the rewards, the camaraderie, the wonder and excitement about what might be achieved with different osteopathic techniques and approaches. I remember listening out for nuggets of information and pearls of wisdom, from colleagues as well as teachers. The learning environment was rich and stimulating with students of different ages, nationalities, backgrounds and past experiences. The vast array of personalities and views on the subject fed my passion for learning, which still exists to this day and is the main reason I continue to teach at the ESO.
How long have you been teaching at the ESO?
I started teaching at the ESO soon after graduating as I had been a professional cricket coach alongside my studies and had been involved in teacher and coach education. Initially, I assisted lecturers on the undergraduate and international postgraduate courses before running my own lectures. I also started tutoring in the teaching clinic which I continue to do 22 years on. Five years after graduating, and with host of teaching experience behind me, I applied to become the Head of the ESO Clinic, a part-time role I did for 8 years. This gave me a broader insight into osteopathic education management and helped pave the way to relationships with other osteopathic schools. Enjoying variety, whilst Head of Clinic I still worked in my own practice plus two others; one in a GP surgery and another in central London.
What do you enjoy about teaching at the ESO?
What I enjoy most is being able to assist students on their journey to becoming fully qualified osteopaths and healthcare professionals. Just as we learn from our patients I learn too from my students. I like to be intellectually challenged and am enthused by stimulating discussion and debate. As clinic tutors, we are there to support our students and to encourage autonomy. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing students develop their clinical and practical skills. It’s great to witness the sense of self-satisfaction and pride in a student when their patient reports improvement or to be present in moments when the ‘penny suddenly drops’ and complex clinical scenarios suddenly make sense. Seeing students grow in confidence in their own ability will keep me teaching for a long time to come.
Teaching has enabled me to grow as a practitioner, to develop and refine my skills and to increase my knowledge and understanding of the profession. It has also allowed me many opportunities to travel. I have worked with students from 19 different osteopathic schools and colleges outside of the UK and worked with 6 UK osteopathic education institutions and still teach periodically in Japan. I am grateful for all these opportunities and experiences, all of which have shown me the breadth of osteopathy and the various interpretations in different cultures.
What do you like about being an osteopath?
This is a difficult question to answer succinctly. Firstly, it’s a privilege to be able to spend the time that we do with our patients. It allows us the opportunity to really get to know patients on many different levels. Osteopathy is not all about one technique or one approach, which is why sometimes it’s difficult to pin down exactly what it is we do and to sufficiently prove its efficacy. I enjoy meeting new patients and taking a thorough case history which reveals much about the person with the complaint, rather than just the pain or ailment that the patient seeks a consultation for. I often urge my students not to be so focussed on the patient’s pain as often musculoskeletal conditions are multi-factorial and interlinked and are rarely just local isolated problems. I love the osteopathic reasoning process which aims to understand all these possible factors, recognising that some underlying issues are more chronic and less obvious than others. We’re looking to find the root cause of the complaint with the hope that our input will be more effective and longer lasting. And then there are the various treatment options; which techniques to choose, which approach would be most beneficial? Osteopathic management and treatment aims to address many aspects of a patient’s health and well- being and it’s rewarding to deduce the most appropriate way to support and empower patients in their own recovery. I never bore of this intellectual and empathic process, which is a way of thinking that lead me into osteopathy in the first place.
What experiences has Osteopathy brought you?
Osteopathy has allowed me the flexibility to run my own business, to follow my interests, to travel and to meet a huge amount of interesting people, both patients and colleagues. I have had the pleasure of treating babies a few days old to treating an elderly gentleman who was 104. I’ve treated people from all walks of life from the homeless to royalty. I have had many memorable experiences and believe there is always something positive to be learnt from every patient encounter, whether it be a happy or sad, good or bad.
If you weren’t an Osteopath, what would you be?
If I hadn’t become an osteopath, I may have been a doctor or a barrister. Both are intellectually stimulating and challenging disciplines, and both careers can help people and, in some cases, make very positive changes in someone’s life. What people don’t realise is that a career in osteopathy doesn’t necessarily mean that you just treat patients in a clinic. My osteopathic career so far has included a variety of work as a lecturer, examiner, presenter, mentor and marketeer. I have worked as a professional reviewer of osteopathic courses, sat on various boards, committees and advisory groups. I have acted as an external consultant for quality assurance matters and assisted with fitness to practice and disciplinary hearings. More recently I’ve considered how my interest in law can be pursued and having done a series of short legal courses I have developed an interest in professional conduct. I haven’t lost that desire to keep on learning and developing.