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Virginia Commonwealth University Provides an Inspirational Travelling Scholarship for Megan Williams

Society Member Megan Williams was the winner of the 2017 Bruce Hobbs Travelling Scholarship to Virginia Commonwealth University Sports Medicine Clinic, USA. Megan, who is the Lead Therapist at Fit Again Sports Therapy in Cambridge and a Lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire, was the first Member to undertake this newly created opportunity. We spoke to Megan about her time in Virginia.

What inspired you to apply for the VCU Travelling Scholarship?

The VCU Scholarship really captured me as it is combined the treatment of collegiate athletes alongside work in a busy clinic setting. These are both avenues I currently work in within the UK; I am passionate about always developing my practice and so this seemed the perfect opportunity!

What was your reaction when you found out you had been selected?

It was a very exciting email to receive and one that I'm extremely grateful for! Around the same time, I also found out I'd been appointed as a Lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire, which was where Bruce Hobbs had worked. This made the experience even more special and I really hope I did him proud.

Can you set the scene and tell us a little about the VCU Sports Medicine Clinic

It is a fantastic place! The set-up works so well as it encompasses a multi-disciplinary team of Physical Therapists, Athletic Trainers and Orthopaedic Surgeons all under one roof. The sports medicine care they can therefore provide is exemplary as there's such a great level of communication between the staff team. Combine this with outstanding facilities and you are certainly on to a winning formula.

Tell us a little about the people working there.

They were some of the most welcoming people I've ever had the opportunity to meet. It was great to spend a lot of time with Physical Therapists, Dr Bob Izzo and Liz Brown, both in the clinic and at matches. Dr Loughran and Dr Cheatham are the Orthopaedic surgeons - two fantastic physicians. For the on-field injury management, it was brilliant to spend some time with the team of Athletic Trainers. I must specifically mention George Borden too as it was an absolute pleasure to meet with him and his partner, Sandie. The Society is lucky to have George as part of their Executive Committee.  

Can you tell us about how your week was spent and the activities you got involved in.

Two hours after landing in Richmond, Liz and I attended a soccer match... before I retired to bed for the night! On the Sunday, we went to a volleyball game; an amazing atmosphere to experience. During the week, Bob picked me up at 7.30am each morning so we arrived at the clinic in time for patients from 8am. Bob and Liz always had very busy schedules. On the Tuesday, I shadowed Dr Loughran in clinic. It was really interesting to see the examination and assessment performed by an Orthopaedic Surgeon and he ensured I was involved in discussing conservative management strategies with the patients. The next day, I went into the Operating Room with him, which I loved!

It was amazing! I saw three surgeries (biceps tenodesis and rotator cuff repair; lateral menisectomy; ACL reconstruction and medial meniscus repair). I was in awe of Dr Loughran's work, especially the moment when the semitendinosus and gracilis tendons were cut and prepared to create the graft for the ACL.

Friday evening was time for Basketball. The crowd, the live band and the win made it a special event to witness. I've spent a season with a National League Division One basketball team before which I really enjoyed and so to experience it the American way was amazing.  More sport was packed into the weekend with the Virginia State vs Virginia Union American football game on the Saturday and a women's soccer tournament on the Sunday. Luckily, the incidence rate of injuries during the matches I attended was fairly low although there was a suspected PCL rupture during the American football, unfortunately.

Is the clinic just for students or the public as well? What were the main types of injuries you saw?

The clinic provides all the sports medicine treatment and rehabilitation for the VCU athletes as well as the general community. As with all clinic settings, the variety of injuries was therefore very varied. The most common types I saw were ACL reconstructions and rotator cuff repairs.

Did you notice any similarities or differences between approaches to clinic life as compared to the UK?

Their ethos and love for their work was definitely comparable to mine. The clinic set-up itself was much more open plan than what I'm used to in the UK but it made it a really friendly, sociable environment to be in. The majority of treatment methods were similar although I've never seen a plunger being used to mobilise the patella before! In the UK, I tend to treat a lot of overuse conditions especially in long distance runners and triathletes whereas a large amount of the cases were more acute/post-operative at VCU.

It sounds like you were kept very busy  – did you have any downtime?

After work on some of the days, I was taken out for dinner which was lovely and it meant I got to see some of the surrounding areas. I can also recommend the ice cream, cideries, pumpkin beer and Southern style brunch!

What do you think was the biggest challenge you faced while there?

Trying to remember to refrain from saying the word 'pitchside' as they didn't know what I was talking about!

What have you gained from your visit to VCU?

It's easy to fall into a routine when working and stop developing as a therapist. Of course this is something I wish to never do and so meeting and collaborating with like minded therapists was fantastic and gave me inspiration to research different avenues after hearing their clinical reasoning for treatments. The trip confirmed how much I love being a Sports Therapist. I was excited to come back to work, share my new found knowledge and start treating my athletes again.

Is there anything you have learnt that you’ve been able to use in your clinic in the UK?

Yes, absolutely. Exercise rehabilitation is always a huge interest for me with this having been the focus for my MPhil research so to see some fresh ideas from excellent therapists was always welcomed and now feature in my practice. My time in the Operating Room gave me an even greater insight to be able to assist my patients before and after they go through such procedures as I can now relate to their experience. The management of concussion is a key topic at the moment and so to compare their management to ours was interesting; I saw them using some vestibular therapy exercises with great effect.

If you had your time again would you do anything differently?

The scholarship was incredible and so unique to be able to offer such a vast amount of activities with the multi-disciplinary team. There was so much to fit into the time but perhaps I could have been with the Athletic Trainers for longer before the games started to see their pre-match treatments and strapping. Maybe I can use this as an excuse to make another trip over there!

Give 3 reasons, if possible, as to why you think members should apply for this Travelling Scholarship.

I'd recommend it to everyone a) to benefit from the exceptional experience of seeing the intertwined work of the Physical Therapists, Athletic Trainers and Orthopaedic Surgeons, with all clinicians having the same goal of ensuring the athletes can be at the top of their game b) to witness some outstanding facilities and be totally encased within the VCU community c) and most importantly, to develop as a Sports Therapist by sharing ideas and learning alternative skills to ensure we can constantly drive the profession forwards as led by the Society of Sports Therapists..

What was your highlight?

Can I say all of it? From the people I met, to seeing the facilities, to the brilliant athletes, it really was the best experience I could have hoped for. I would like to say a huge thank you to the Society of Sports Therapists and all the staff at VCU for making this possible. A thank you also goes to Michael Messer who was an instrumental part of developing the programme for me before he moved to Duke University. I did see him on my first day which was great albeit brief!

Thank you all for making this experience possible.

Professor Graham N. Smith who was instrumental in setting up the Travelling Scholarship said:

‘The Society of Sports Therapists has had a long relationship with Virginia Commonwealth University and it was really good to have the opportunity to arrange for one of our members to spend time with friends and colleagues and benefit from their knowledge and expertise. We hope that this is the first of many.  I would like to congratulate Megan on being such a great ambassador and thank everyone at Virginia Commonwealth University Sports Medicine Clinic, especially Michael, Bob, Liz and Dr Loughran, for helping us to put this exciting collaboration in place.'

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