The 2017 bursary recipients pictured with WCPT Chief Executive Jonathon Kruger and WCPT President Emma Stokes in Cape Town

Congress bursary recipients reflect on the experience of a lifetime

Physical therapists who were awarded bursaries to attend the WCPT Congress in Cape Town have been celebrating the difference the event has made to their professional lives, and to patient care.

This year’s WCPT Congress welcomed more than 2,000 physical therapists to Cape Town, but for 18 delegates in particular the event was a career-changing opportunity that continues to resonate and translate into improved patient care.

WCPT and the South African Society of Physiotherapy (SASP) ran a joint fundraising initiative to give the ‘Gift of Congress’, enabling 13 physical therapists from WCPT’s low-income member organisations to attend the congress. A further grant supported two local physiotherapy students and three SASP members to attend. None of them would have been able to attend without a bursary.

"WCPT is delighted by just how impactful the bursaries have been for the recipients and the changes for them personally and professionally," says WCPT Director of Professional Policy Tracy Bury.

"These will bring rewards not just for them but also for the wider profession and patients – the gift of congress really is the gift that goes on giving."

Hailu Seifu Tsegaye, president of the Ethiopian Physiotherapists’ Association, focused on learning about physical therapy services and education, reporting back to his colleagues at the Federal Ministry of Health.

“I got the chance to meet with highly-qualified physical therapists who can help me to develop my career by acting as distant mentors,” he says.

“I was also able to learn about standards, registration and quality control mechanisms from physiotherapists in other countries. This allows me to make knowledgeable contributions and improves the quality of service.”

Nishchal Ratna Shakya, a musculoskeletal physiotherapist from Nepal’s only physiotherapy school, was able to contribute as a panelist for a discussion session on the humanitarian response to natural disasters.

“Actively participating in the discussion session, with eminent people from different parts of world, made me really feel proud of my profession,” he says. “Attending sessions on ethics, advocacy and leadership have also had a very good impact on me, as I can see a lot of similar challenges and opportunities in the context of low-resource and high-income countries. This will directly affect the way I work.

“One delegate was so impressed with the education and work going on in Nepal that he contacted me, and is in the process of applying for a Fulbright scholarship to work here with the education system and research development.”

Dr Corlia Brandt, a sport, neuro-musculoskeletal and women’s health physiotherapist from South Africa, summarised her experience: “It was an emotional, once-in-a-lifetime professional experience. I was humbled by all the best in physiotherapy, standing in awe at how physiotherapists from all over the world just gelled. It was so uplifting, to learn more and become so much better than you are.”

She added: “From a clinical perspective, I was fortunate enough to present a State of the Art presentation with some of the best clinicians in my field. Attending the congress opened my mind regarding research, clinical and educational issues. But what I cherish the most is the opportunity to interact with some of the best clinicians on a personal level.”

“The WCPT Congress was truly one of the most inspirational experiences of my career,” says Anja Otto, who works with physically and mentally disabled children in Cape Town. “The insights, the connections and the knowledge I gained are things I will carry with me forever.”

For two lucky students, the bursary to attend the congress provided an important and formative experience which will directly inform future educational and professional choices. Lizaan Scheepers, a third year physiotherapy student at the University of Stellenbosch, says it was a dream come true.

“My dream became a reality when I received the email congratulating me on receiving the bursary,” she says. “It’s something that I will treasure for the rest of my life. In no other place would I have been able to receive all the amazing new findings and be exposed to different insights from people all over the world.

“I made many detailed notes and highlighted all the clinical relevant points to share with my fellow students. As I develop as a therapist and grow in my understanding, many more wonderful things that I heard and learnt will become clear to me and aid my development as a physiotherapist. Being part of the physiotherapy family is such a big privilege. I’m looking forward to what I will be able to contribute to our amazing field.”

Bashir Bello, lecturer at Bayero University in Nigeria, says it was the best experience of his professional journey so far.

“The congress gave me the opportunity to learn a whole lot of new knowledge and skills, which would have been impossible if I was not there,” he says. “The event has changed my life totally. It has transformed me personally and professionally.”

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