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#STEMStories: Kim, Lecturer, South Africa

Name: Kim Buchholtz
Role/Occupation: Lecturer in Physiotherapy, University of Cape Town
Country: South Africa

Kim Buchholtz is a lecturer in physiotherapy; her career is an interesting combination of work in physiotherapy and education. She currently teaches the Undergraduate BSc Physiotherapy and MSc Exercise and Sports Physiotherapy courses and also supervises students in their undergraduate research and Masters degrees.

Although Buchholtz was always interested in physiotherapy or sports science, she wasn’t sure what to study and so after high school, she spent a gap year in the United Kingdom (UK) working at a school. She knew it would be difficult to get into the program, but took a chance and applied and got in to study her BSc Physiotherapy from 2002 to 2005 at the University of Cape Town (UCT). She was convinced that she had made the right decision in her third year of study when clinical rotations through hospitals and clinics began. She has loved working with patients ever since.

Buchholtz’s vast career spans community service for a year at the Airforce Base at Langebaanweg, three years at a private sports and orthopaedic practice in Vredehoek, she started of her own practice,  Kim Buchholtz Physiotherapy, she completed a post graduate certificate in Orthopaedic Manipulative Therapy and then completed an MPhil in Sports Physiotherapy at UCT by coursework and dissertation. She has also worked with IPL cricket players in while they were in Cape Town, as well as a number of South African figure skaters. She has also been the head physiotherapist for the Australian Blind Cricket team for three World Cup tournaments, held in Cape Town (2014), India (2017) and the United Arab Emirates (2018). She recently started her PhD, which focuses on the investigation of injury and factors affecting mountain bikers, and sold her practice at the beginning of this year to allow myself a bit more time for the research, whilst also working her part-time job at UCT.

One of the things that Buchholtz enjoys about being a physiotherapist is “working with patients and watching them make progress and improve their quality of life as they heal from injury.” Although she no longer does clinical work, she gets “a huge amount of fulfilment in seeing young adults grow to love physiotherapy and learn... to train competent, well balanced physiotherapists who will go out into South Africa and improve the lives of people around them.”

Buchholtz feels that despite physiotherapy being a female dominated field, sometimes female physiotherapists are still seen merely as massage therapists or carers, but believes “as more women move into research in this field, our credibility is improving.” Although she is not sure if “female researchers are taken as seriously as the male researchers just yet” and as heard of some females being treated badly at conferences in spite of being guest and keynote speakers.

Her advice to young women aspiring to enter the field of physiotherapy is “to take opportunities as they present themselves” regardless if they pay well as they give great exposure. It is most important “to build a network… Sometimes this means attending courses or conferences and introducing yourself to leaders in your field… The more people that you know globally in your field, the more opportunities will present themselves.”

With regards to her opinion of physiotherapy in Africa, she feels that funding is always a problem unfortunately, and particularly in the area of sports and exercise medicine which is still seen as an ‘elite’ field.”  But she also believes that this will change with time as “an understanding of the true benefit in using physical activity for disease prevention and management will open doors for funding.”  Buchholtz believes “that physiotherapy is really well placed to improve the quality of life of our population, not just in treating injuries, but in offering physical activity programmes to improve overall health.”

Read more about Geeky Girl, Kim Buchholtz’s vast diverse career spanning over 12 years in the insightful interview below.  

  1. Describe what your work entails.

I am a lecturer in physiotherapy. Currently I teach on the Undergraduate BSc Physiotherapy and MSc Exercise and Sports Physiotherapy courses. I also supervise students in their undergraduate research (as part of the undergraduate Physiotherapy degree) and Masters degrees. My job is currently a combination of work in physio, but also education, which has been really interesting.

  1. Describe your STEM journey.

I studied my BSc Physiotherapy from 2002 to 2005 at UCT. I had taken a year off after school and spent my gap year in the UK working at a school. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study, although Physio or Sports Science had always been in the back of my mind. I knew it would be difficult to get in, so I decided to apply and to see what happened. I only really knew that I had made the right decision by the time I was in 3rd year and we started our clinical rotations through the hospitals and in the clinics. I have loved working with patients ever since. After graduating, I completed my community service year at the Airforce Base at Langebaanweg, and then moved back to Cape Town. I worked in a private sports and orthopaedic practice in Vredehoek for almost 3 years, before starting my own practice (Kim Buchholtz Physiotherapy) in September of 2009. I completed a post graduate certificate in Orthopaedic Manipulative Therapy in 2009, and then completed an MPhil in Sports Physiotherapy at UCT by coursework and dissertation in 2013. I started my PhD investigating Injury and factors affecting in Mountain bikers at the beginning of 2017, and hope to complete it in 2020. I have been extremely lucky to work with IPL cricket players in 2009 while they were in Cape Town, as well as a number of South African figure skaters. I have been the Head physio for the Australian Blind Cricket team for 3 World Cup tournaments, held in Cape Town (2014), India (2017) and the United Arab Emirates (2018). This year I am working part-time in my job at UCT while focussing on my own research and PhD and trying to grow my academic profile in the research world. I sold my practice at the beginning of this year to allow myself a bit more time for the research.

  1. What excites you about your job? What motivates you to get out of bed every morning?

I have always really enjoyed working with patients and watching them make progress and improve their quality of life as they heal from injury. While I miss my patients from the practice now that I am no longer doing clinical work, I get a huge amount of fulfilment in seeing young adults grow to love physio and learn. I really hope that I am helping to train competent, well balanced physios who will go out into South Africa and improve the lives of people around them. I feel that physio is really well placed to improve the quality of life of our population, not just in treating injuries, but in offering physical activity programmes to improve overall health.

  1. How would you describe your experience as a woman in the STEM space?

Physiotherapy is a female dominated field, so it’s far more unusual to have men around. As a result sometimes we are still seen as massage therapists or carers, but as more women move in research in this field, our credibility is improving. I am not sure that the female researchers are taken as seriously as the male researchers just yet, and I have heard more than one report of females being treated badly at conferences in spite of being guest and keynote speakers. There is a very positive and public move away from ‘manels’ at conferences and recently I have noticed a call to boycott conferences that are made up of all white, all male speakers and experts. I think this is a really positive move in the right direction.

  1. What advice would you give to young women aspiring to enter the STEM field?

You need to take opportunities as they present themselves. Sometimes in the early days of your career you may take jobs or roles that don’t pay what you feel you deserve, but they give you great exposure and allow you to make contacts. The most important career move you can make is to build a network. Sometimes this means attending courses or conferences and introducing yourself to leaders in your field, which is incredibly daunting. The more people that you know globally in your field, the more opportunities will present themselves. I recently noticed an advert on twitter looking for research assistants for a study run from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. It is in telerehabilitation which is a fascinating concept that we can potentially use in South Africa to provide services to outlying areas. I am now working with the team in Australia on this study which has opened up a number of opportunities and different working relationships overseas.

  1. As a STEM woman in Africa, how do you foresee the growth and progress of STEM on the continent? Is Africa a “land of opportunity”?

In Health Sciences particularly, we are perfectly positioned to improve health and quality of life of the general population. Funding is always a problem unfortunately, and particularly in the area of sports and exercise medicine which is still seen as an ‘elite’ field. I’m sure that over time an understanding of the true benefit in using physical activity for disease prevention and management will open doors for funding in my area of interest

  1. Have there been any milestone moments or eureka moments in your career?

In my 3rd year of working, I was feeling a bit bored and wasn’t sure if physio was the right career for me. I was considering doing a business management course part-time with a potential move into that area. My boss at the time suggested I do the OMT course which is an advance practice course to hone your treatment and assessment skills. During the course it completely changed my outlook… I realised that I knew more than I thought I did, but also that there was so much more to learn. It really inspired me to study further and to keep up to date with the current evidence based practice. Without having completed that course, I may have left physio and would definitely not have followed the academic pathway that I find myself in now. Last year I had a minor argument with a tenant who was renting from me in my previous practice, as well as having a minor health scare (that had the potential to become major). Those were really the catalysts to me analysing what I was trying to achieve and where I wanted to go. After that I decided to try and reduce some of the stress and workload so that I was able to be more focus and less drained.

  1. How do you maintain a work-life balance?

It has been very difficult in the past, especially as you are trying to build your name and reputation in the early career years. My career growth has definitely negatively impacted on my social life and my health. After 12 years of working almost non-stop, I have significantly reduced my workload this year in order to catch my breath a bit. I have definitely missed out on social activities and overseas travel as it is very difficult to leave a practice for a few weeks, but in the long run I am happy to be where I am now at 35 years old.

  1. Who is your role model? Who inspires you?

We are really lucky in physio to have many great researchers, both male and female: Gwendolene Jull, Alison Grimaldi, Mark Laslett, Peter O’ Sullivan, Karim Kahn… the list goes on and on. They have also made themselves very available to the public on twitter and are happy to debate and discuss different components of their work.

Locally we have amazing physios like Dr Janine Gray, Helene Simpson, Michelle Swart, Megan Dutton, Chris Allan, all working in Sports and Exercise Physio and I admire and appreciate them. They are also great colleagues, willing to discuss anything, and extremely knowledgeable.

I have an amazing mentor, friend, colleague and supervisor who has been with me for most of my physio journey. Dr Theresa Burgess joined UCT as a lecturer in my final years and has supervised me through my undergraduate, Masters and now PhD research. I am very lucky to be able to work in the department with her as well. She has always guided me in my career and been exceptionally supportive of any decision I make. I suspect that my career would have been very different if I had not had her guidance and friendship.

  1. Where can more information or insight into your work be found?

Information on the physio courses can be found on the university websites. For UCT the URL is: http://www.dhrs.uct.ac.za/dhrs/divisions/physiotherapy/about

For physiotherapy is general, the website of the South African Society of Physiotherapy is: https://saphysio.co.za/

Twitter: @kimbphysio

Kim Buchholtz interviewed by Dhruti Dheda

Dhruti Dheda is a Chemical Engineer with a strong interest in media and communication. She is the editor of the Engineers without Borders South Africa Newsletter and the Community Manager – South Africa and Regional Outreach for Geeky Girl Reality. If you wish to collaborate or network, contact her at dhruti@geekyreality.com or find her on twitter @dhrutidd