Physio Spotlight: Geoff Schneider
The physiotherapy profession wouldn’t be what it has become without innovative people continually pushing boundaries every day. This particular aspect of physiotherapy inspires Board Chair of the Alberta Association of Physiotherapy, Geoff Schneider, in his own work. He’s observed such innovation appearing in many crucial ways, throughout many different corners of the profession.
Often change in physiotherapy is driven by resolving problems for patients that don’t have clear solutions. “As much as we’d love to think that we know everything under the sun, we definitely don’t,” Geoff explains about approaching clinical work with an open mind and willingness to learn. The “complex patients” Geoff sees help put his work into context, and “really drive the questions”. This is where he can take these questions forward to then “drive the research” to find answers and give his patients the best care possible.
Beyond unique clinical experiences with individual patients, students and new physiotherapists also drive innovation. Those new to the profession come to their work with a fresh perspective and natural curiosity. “They are a bright group willing to learn, but they are also confident too, to ask really smart, critical questions that challenge us professors”. The way new practitioners coming into the profession have been learning to apply their knowledge means physiotherapy is constantly evolving. “They're learning how to apply evidence into practice even more so than compared to 15, 20, 25 years ago. Even in the past 5 to 10 years, you see a big shift.” An important way Geoff sees this happening is in the way new physios are unafraid of asking why things are done a certain way. “The students ask some great questions that [keep us] on our toes. Just because we’ve practiced this one technique for so many years, it doesn’t mean it’s right.” Students challenging the status quo means they can address ways to improve the practice and keep the profession growing organically.
Geoff knows first-hand what these new physiotherapists are going through, having been through it himself. To him, that confidence students have to ask questions comes down to having excellent mentors encouraging them along the way. “I had some clinical mentors … a number of Alberta physios and nation-wide physios. When they taught courses … it was so wonderful [to see] such applicable and topical practices”. Their wealth of information excited him to expand his own studies, with his doctorate science degree at Andrews University in the United States and eventually, with his PhD at the University of Calgary. Now, he’s able to do the same for his own students. His advice for them is to continue building on that confidence they’ve gained. “You know what you’re doing, you’ve got the tools. Keep communicating with your patients, communicate with the healthcare practitioners around you, and ask questions.”
The way the pandemic has directly impacted physiotherapists’ work has also played a significant role in innovation. With so many swift, unpredictable changes happening on a regular basis and virtual work making connections more difficult, physios started communicating with one another with far more intention on a nation-wide level. “Physios got together and got each other through the pandemic, from those that struggled to keep their doors open to those that don’t have access to information.” Uncovering these accessibility limitations opened up opportunities for those that did have access to important information to share with those that didn’t. “Being an adjunct professor at University of Calgary, we had access to medical experts that presented weekly and room discussions on COVID … and [were] able to share that message across the country. It was phenomenal how information was spread.” The pandemic itself has brought the physiotherapy community together across the country to better understand and manage the new issues their patients face (like long COVID and the fatigue that comes with it).
In all aspects of physiotherapy, “the learning never stops”. Even after more than 20 years as a physiotherapist, Geoff still learns something new from the physio community, patients, and students alike all the time. “That’s one of the things I love about the profession.” His admiration for those with the strength to bring about innovative change is all the more clear in his final words of advice for anyone working toward becoming a physiotherapist: “be confident and be proud of what you do. Keep pushing the limits and keep moving the profession forward.”
Geoff Schneider has been practicing for over 20 years in a busy Calgary clinic and has a passion for incorporating research into everyday clinical practice. Geoff specializes in musculoskeletal physiotherapy and spends most of his days with patients focusing on the management of complex spinal conditions, whiplash-associated disorders, working with high-performance athletes, and providing second opinion consultations.