Creating, sharing and valuing our communities

Sam Tiley is a final year student at the Welsh Institute of Chiropractic, University of South Wales and a soon-to-be graduate. As a student about to enter the chiropractic profession, Sam shares his views on the importance of inter-university networks, creating mentorship opportunities for students and life after university.

It’s fair to say that the 2020-2021 student cohort has faced a steep learning curve, yet the challenges of the past academic year have left that cohort more adaptive, more prepared and more confident than ever.

As a member of the Student Commission at the International Federation of Sports Chiropractic (FICS) and of the BCA Student and New Graduate Committee, Sam Tiley works closely with both students and chiropractors from the UK and around the world and this has allowed him to identify the development of a strong community as crucial for the growth of the profession. Understanding the needs of students and helping those joining the profession are very important aspects of our work here at the BCA and having the opportunity to talk to Sam, finding out more about his journey to becoming a practising chiropractor, is invaluable for us.

As an active member of the chiropractic student community at the University of South Wales, what have been your observations of the student life this academic year?

Because we are such a small community here at WIOC, we have always been very close and, over the years, have formed a strong support network which has really helped us all as we have progressed. This is why the fact that we haven’t really been able to interact a lot this year has hit people more than they could have ever imagined. However, I think that a lot of people have achieved positive self-development and self-reflection from the experience; growing new skills we would not have ordinarily been able to develop without the challenges that the pandemic presented us with. It has also made us really value our community much more. I think that, throughout these challenging times, students have really understood the importance of community and support networks for their development.

A major element of the feedback that the BCA received from the members of the Student and New Graduate Committee is the importance of inter-university networks for the students. How connected are those chiropractic courses currently?

Throughout my education I haven’t been exposed to many opportunities to connect with other universities. In my first year WIOC hosted a varsity weekend with AECC University College students visiting us in Wales. This weekend has always been spoken about amongst the student community here because everyone had an amazing time, not only playing sports and socialising, but also meeting the people that we are going to be working with in the future.

I would like to be able to help students utilise the opportunities that are available to them to the fullest. We have such amazing students, such amazing educators and incredible institutions across the country and I think that what we really needed was a way to join all these elements together. This new Committee, set up by the BCA, will allow students to connect; something we have been seeking for some time. The Committee will help us link all the opportunities for students together because, through it, we can speak to each other and create a network between the different institutions and the profession. By doing this, I hope that we can take the chiropractic education in this country to the next level and really thrive from the amazing connections that we have the chance to create and develop.

Why is maintaining a good connection between the chiropractic students important for the development of both students and the profession?

We all ask the same questions; for example about graduation, registration with the General Chiropractic Council (GCC), the different forms of working (such as employed, self-employed and being a clinic owner). Building a robust inter-university network will not only make us better and closer as a community but also normalise all the doubts, uncertainties and worries that students have and make the transition from being a student to a practising chiropractor that much easier.

We all have different opinions and experiences from one another and have taken a variety of paths into the profession and will take different directions through it. Being able to share our differences and learn from them is a key aspect of our development as this builds our knowledge of the wider chiropractic world. As students we are really interested and excited to enter the profession; we want to hear from as many people as possible. Through the Student and New Graduates Committee we can set up a network and really utilise the opportunity to learn from others that this provides.

Mentorship opportunities were another key area that the Student and New Graduate Committee received feedback on. What can the chiropractic community do to create more of these opportunities?

I was very lucky last year to win a scholarship with FICS and my favourite part of this experience was that I became part of the FICS Student Commission. One of the main Commission projects I was fortunate to have the chance to get involved with, was the creation and development of the FICS mentoring programme.

The programme pairs mentors, who have achieved their ISCS qualifications or are working towards that, with students who are looking to get more experience or more exposure in the world of sports chiropractic. We have been really surprised and overwhelmed by the responses we have received from both chiropractors and students from around the world. We had people come forward from Australia, South Africa, America and a lot from the UK, which I was very happy about. I am also lucky enough to be one of the mentees in the programme. My mentor, Dr Brian Nook from America, has been amazing and somebody I would have never spoken to if it wasn’t for the mentorship programme. The programme has been all about facilitating the conversation between professional chiropractors and students. Questionnaires were sent to both groups in order to understand their interests and expertise which then allowed them to be matched more accurately and so created a strong grounding for their monthly meetings. It hasn’t been an easy task to create these mentorship relationships but this model is something that we can and should work towards as a profession.

Why are mentorship opportunities so important and valued by students?

We are students, but are professionals as well and we really want to speak to people who can give us an insight into different parts of the profession to help us better our understanding and also create a strong professional network from the very start of our careers. We are a very small profession, especially in this country and having a strong network will help us to maximise our potential.

You are graduating this year. How is your job search going and what is your advice for those students who are currently looking for jobs?

I was really lucky in that I managed to secure a job with a clinic here in Wales earlier in the year. The job search was a bit different to normal, just like many other aspects of our lives recently. This year, WIOC students graduate in August whereas, in normal circumstances, we would have graduated in June. Due to the change in term dates I would say that students felt as though they needed to compete for jobs with those students that were graduating earlier than us and that we had to make our decisions more quickly, which put a bit of pressure on everyone. One thing that I have learnt since I found my job, however, is that there are an unbelievable number of clinics looking for Associates and, even at this point of the year, we are still receiving emails from clinics advertising available positions. So, my advice to students is to never feel pressured to decide fast because there are so many opportunities out there and you should not worry about not being able to find a job.

Another aspect of difference, compared to previous years, was the fact that we could not go to the clinics we were applying to. I personally had several video calls and spoke with different people at the clinic because I couldn’t go to view it in person. By the time I signed the contract though I felt confident because I took my time and gathered a good level of background understanding, something that every student should do. My advice is to take your time and make sure that you really understand who you are signing with. Even though it might be a bit of a challenge, do not go in blind and seek all the available support and information to build trust with the people that you are going to work with.

The BCA would like to take the opportunity to congratulate everyone who is completing their undergraduate career this year; we are proud to welcome all of you to the chiropractic profession. Creating a strong community is the basis of a fulfilling and rewarding career but also of strong professional development. Learning from the more experienced chiropractors is something that students and new graduates feel very strongly about and an area that, as Sam Tiley brilliantly put it, “we, as a profession, could be very good at”.