Corona aktuell: a physiotherapist gives the forgotten system-relevant elements a voice

Anne is a physiotherapist – and works at the forefront of the Corona crisis. Here she tells us what it is like to belong to the "forgotten system-relevant" ones.

"I've been working as a physiotherapist for 32 years. Not a single day has been boring. During the three-year training I was fascinated by the anatomy of the human body, physiology and, above all, pathology. I wanted to know: what happens to patients after a spinal disc -OP? How should a woman be treated after a mastectomy? How can I get rid of the spasticity of a stroke patient? What can I do with the many office people with neck tension, headache, teeth grinding and tinnitus? What about injuries after car accidents? What in urinary incontinence? How can motor development disorders in children be caught up? That means, as a physiotherapist, I can work in all of these different medical specialties, such as orthopedics and trauma surgery, gynecology, dentistry, neurology and pediatrics, rehabilitation or prevention. Yes, exactly .

We physiotherapists: we are very close – and systemically relevant

Anyway, we are physiotherapists up close on people. We touch people. We'll help you get back on your feet.

What I have to bring with me in this job, however, is strong physical (and psychological) resilience, good motor skills, endurance, general education, patience, great empathy, strong reliability and a very great openness towards people of all skin colors, nationalities and social origins.

What the corona crisis means for my practice

For 20 years I have been running a successful practice in Hamburg with 10 employees. What very few knew: Physiotherapists are systemically relevant! We were allowed to and are allowed to work. We were and are open all the time. But how do we protect ourselves? We are exposed to an extremely high risk of infection.

Initially, there weren't enough FFP2 masks. I ordered 1000 high-quality FFP2 masks from a friend who lives in China at the beginning of April 2020. Cost: € 2363. There was also a customs fee of around € 400. It was important to me to protect my team from the start. We developed a hygiene concept for our practice. We work time-shifted. After registering, every patient is immediately taken to an individual room for his or her treatment. Every therapist wears an FFP2 mask. Each patient wears a mask. After the treatment, it goes without saying that the treatment tables are disinfected, aired and hand washed. Patients bring their own towels. We also disinfect door handles and other surfaces on a regular basis.

The costs of disinfection have increased immensely. Between 5-9 liters of hand disinfection are used per month. In addition, there is surface disinfectant solution, disposable gloves, disposable paper, towels, spray bottles, plexiglass panes, hand cream for skin care and gowns that are worn by seriously ill home visit patients.

Financial crisis in the 1st, revision in the 2nd lockdown

The lockdown and uncertainty among the population were there. In March 2020 we had 50% fewer patients overnight. We had short-time work from March to the end of May. The employees had to cope with that with a not exactly high salary. We had to somehow make public that we and our practices and therapy centers were open – that we physiotherapists were and are systemically relevant.

I applied for the Corona emergency aid and got it. I would like to take this opportunity to express how grateful I am to have received this support. At the same time, our association, Physio-Germany, did a lot for us. Without these donations and emergency aid, many practices would not have survived, as we are not known for being able to build up large reserves.

Our practices have been full again since June 2020. Overfilled. In our practices we have a lead time of 3 – 4 weeks and a waiting list for appointments. The demand for home visits has remained. For the first time, children's practices are receiving prescriptions with diagnoses such as: mental imbalance. Psychosomatic disorders in 5-8 year olds. Child therapists need to have long conversations with parents, communicate with doctors and other medical disciplines. This time is not paid for. Therapists reach their limits. Many of us physiotherapists also treat patients on weekends.

I could hire new physiotherapists. But there are none.

I could now hire new therapists during this time. But: there are too few. We have a massive shortage of skilled workers. Physiotherapists are more in demand than ever. But the earning potential is subterranean in relation to the demanding education. Up until two years ago, students still had to finance their training themselves in the form of a monthly tuition fee of around € 400.00. Since January 2019, a training allowance has been introduced in 14 out of 16 federal states. State schools are free of tuition fees.

A career starter earns around € 2100 gross after his state examination, with a 38.5-40 hour week. After various further training courses in manual therapy, with a strict final examination and again thousands of euros in training costs, a physiotherapist earns € 2500.00 gross. Physiotherapists finance the courses themselves.

Now in the second Corona Lockdown we are not suffering financially. The practices are very full and we are grateful that we are allowed to work as systemically relevant drug providers and that we are an important link in medical care. Dear young therapists! The training is exhausting and demanding but it is worth it! We need you!

We see 16-20 people a day – professionally

But: we are taking a risk. A physiotherapist treats around 16-20 patients on a normal full 8-hour working day. That's 16-20 different people he has to get involved with, get close to and guide.

What if one of my employees becomes infected? And infects others? Or does a patient drag the virus into the practice? Loss of reputation? Home office is not part of our job.

In that sense, I am not afraid for my own health. I stick to the AHA rules and just keep working. But of course you have the thought in the back of your mind: “I hope nobody got it somewhere.” Hopefully we will be vaccinated soon.

We feel forgotten when it comes to prioritizing vaccinations

We work just as close to the patient as nursing services and doctors and were not even mentioned in the media until the new vaccination ordinance (as of February 8, 2021). In the vaccination centers we are currently even turned away.

It is incomprehensible to us. We enjoy a good social reputation for our profession with people who need us. But our lobby is very weak.

Finally I would like to say

The job as a physiotherapist: there is something idealistic about in and the desire to help people. The medical mosaic is so big that you probably never stop learning. No day is boring. You just have to take your knowledge and your hands with you and be open to want to work with people of all origins. The practice of the job often makes one satisfied. Of course, it is not just the monetary recognition that is decisive, but also the positive feedback and gratitude that a physiotherapist receives. We still have to keep fighting: for more appropriate salaries and to avoid leaving a gap due to a shortage of skilled workers. Because we are systemically relevant. "