Are you a qualification snob?

I was reminded of a well known quote when I attended a conference recently, it goes like this… “If you’re the smartest person in the room, find another room”. Now I think this saying is rather arrogant, as how do you know you’re the ‘smartest’ in any room, unless you are a complete narcissistic tosspot! But I get the sentiment in that we should be constantly seeking to learn more from others where ever possible.

However, I was reminded of this saying for the opposite reason at this conference, because at times I felt like the least smartest person in the room. But thats not surprising as this conference did have some of the worlds leading researchers, clinicians, scientists, and experts in their fields present.

And despite my own self inflicted feelings of stupidity I still thoroughly enjoyed the conference and learnt a lot. However, my experience was tarnished by a few conversations I had with some of the very smart and immensely qualified delegates and something I have being encountering more and more recently.

Qualification snobbery!

What do I mean by this? Well its the pompous, arrogant, and self imposed belief that some academics have that formal qualifications are the only measure of an individuals intelligence, skill, and knowledge. A qualification snob believes that if you have little or no formal qualifications you are somehow less intelligent, less relevant and your thoughts, views, and opinions are worth less.

For example, at this conference I was in conversation during a coffee break with a well known physio academic who suddenely appeared to think my IQ level dropped through the floor when they realised I was ‘only’ a clinical physio, who wasn’t associated with a university, who wasn’t working towards an MSc or PhD, and who wasn’t a widely published author. They even started to speak a little slower and louder as if they suddenly thought I was hard of hearing, that was until they made their feeble excuses and left hastily.

This attitude pisses me off immensely…

Now I am the first to admit that I am no academic, nor will I ever be! I love my clinical work and will never give it up, most likely unless a big lottery win rolls in. When it comes to academia I will admit I only just ‘survived’ my Bachelors degree, finding the whole experience arcahic, restrictive, and highly hypocritical. I also found the whole academical system a vipers nest of lecturers personal ego’s, and a mine field of politics.

For example, although critical thinking was occasionally taught, it wasn’t really encouraged or allowed. Students where often frowned upon and labelled as trouble makers if they asked too many awkward questions, or dared discuss any research or evidence that challenged what was being taught.

I remember being chastised in one of my MSK practicals by a tutor when I questioned the accuracy and reliability of pelvic motion palpation techniques and how accurate it really was to feel stiffness in spines. I was firmly told that I had to trust her experience, and that if I carried on asking questions I would be asked to leave the session!

This was a fairly common theme throughout my under graduate training, the more I questioned the relevance or reliability of what I was being taught, the more trouble I seem to get into and the more I got labelled as a trouble maker by some of the tutors and the faculty.

That’s not to say all my time at university was all bad, I had some great times and met some great people, but due to the many negative experiences I had, I’ve never had a desire to go back… Ever!

If it wasn’t for the support and encouragement of one of my tutors, who still acts as a mentor for me today, I would have quickly stuck two fingers up to the world of physiotherapy and told it where it could stick them, with its bull shit motion palpation tests and other crap… I am still tempted to do this most days!

It was these experiences which have meant I have never had a desire or inclination to go back into formal education. Instead I have choosen to focus and direct my own post graduate learning. I like to read all the research I can get my hands on, which is easier said than done, and critically review and appraise it myself. However, I am aware this can lead me prone to my own biases and distort my views and opinions.

So I have regular discussions with some trusted peers, mentors, and colleagues of mine who I respect for their honesty, integrity and simplicity in this profession of the exact opposite. They keep me grounded, thinking alternatively and open to other views and opinions… occasionally!

Now, you maybe thinking that my decision not to go back into academia is foolish, based on some bad experiences, in one university, with a few bad tutors, back in the bad old days of guruism, before true evidence based practice really got established.

And I am well aware that things have moved on a lot since then, and I don’t tar all university’s or tutors with the same brush. I now know many tutors in many universities who are excellent teachers and critical thinkers. But I’m afraid the experience has left a very ‘bad taste’ in my mouth, and now with other work and life commitments taking up my time and money, any thoughts of returning to academia are highly unlikely.

But is a physio with no formal post grad qualifications disadvantaged?

There are more and more physios working towards, or have MSc’s and PhD’s, and I do think this is great for the profession. I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for anyone who has or wants to continue along the academic path and get these formal qualifications! Kudos to you guys!

But this path isn’t for everyone, it certainly isn’t for me! But does this hinder me or anyone else in their career, or make for a poorer physio than one with post grad qualifications?

Well it does seem that nowadays the only way to progress your career is with post graduation qualifications, with most jobs insisting applicants have MSc’s or are working towards them. I also see and hear a lot of physios undertaking these post graduate qualifications just for this reason, career progression, not for a desire to truely learn or advance their knowledge.

Now it is admirable that many are keen to progress their careers, and I dont blame anyone for wanting to do an MSc for this reason, but this is, in my opinion not a true reason for wanting to do further qualifications. Clinical career progression should be based on clinical markers of progress, not academic ones. I am not saying that further qualifications should not help career progression, and I am not suggesting for one minute that we go back to the bad old days where career progression was done more on time in service rather than skills or knowledge.

What I am suggesting however is that careers and jobs should not be only limited to only those with formal post grad qualifications.

Education doesn’t just come from schooling

Many employers today, both in the private and public sectors have in my opinion instigated a culture of formal qualification elitism and unfairness by insisting nearly all jobs beyond basic grades have, or are ‘working towards’ an MSc, even roles that clearly don’t warrant or need them.

Some would argue that a physio with or working towards an MSc/PhD is going to be a better candidate and therefore be more suitable for a job than one who hasn’t got these qualifications. I argue that this could be the exact opposite, as Mark Twain famously said…

Qualifications are not the only way to demonstrate learning. Learning does NOT just come from formal education. In fact formal education can limit free thinking, formal education can only teach you to recite and reherse what others have told you to learn, like a mindless drone.

Formal qualifications in my opinion demonstrate how good someone is at writing essays and sitting exams, what they don’t demonstrate is how good someome is at critical thinking, problem solving, and most importantly how they are with patients. It is these important skills that seem to get overlooked by employeers with their qualification bias when they automatically rule out candidates simply beacuse they dont have an MSc.

Where is the common sense in this?

When did being a good, honest, hard working, reliable, knowledgeable physio only be measured and assessed with formal qualifications?

Of course a physio who has, or is working towards, an MSc/PhD will have skills in clinical reasoning, critical thinking and working under pressure, but so do many other physios in their every day to day practice.

Of course doing an MSc/PhD involves designing, implementing and undertaking research. But it should also be remembered that there are many physios out there who are involved in clinical research, in their own time, using their own money, and who are not seeking any qualification, or lists of publications, rather they just have a question that they want answered. These are the real hero’s of our profession, these are the candidates employeers are missing out with their qualification bias.

The digital age and the access it gives to information nowadays is astronomical meaning universities and formal academia are not the only way to learn. Social media and the internet have opened up a wealth of opportunties for people to seek out research, journals, blogs, experts views and opinions. In fact I would go as far to say those who don’t use these other sources and only rely on formal education are more limited and more restricted in their learning and knowledge due to the narrowness of their exposure to others views and opinions.

So in summary I understand that it is easy for employers to quickly screen for suitable candidates just by looking for post graduate qualifications on a CV rather than reading the full thing. But doing so is a mistake. Many excellent potential candidates can be, and are being over looked and penalised from jobs and career progression just because they don’t want to do formal post grad qualifications.

Of course qualifications are important, but so are a lot of other things, experience, a desire to self learn, passion for excellence, these things can not be measured with an exam or test. Just because someone doesn’t have a gazzilion letters behind their name doesn’t mean they know less, or are less suited to, or less capable for a role than someone who does, in fact they may be more suitable and capable than you think!

And as at the start I will leave you with a little saying…

If you are a qualification snob, you are a knob!

As always thanks for reading

Adam

7 thoughts on “Are you a qualification snob?

  1. thanks Adam – enjoyed your blogpost. I too have bad memories of physio training – ironically those experiences have led me back into education (but that’s another story). Your point about employers’ focus on the qualification > qualities of practice/practitioner led me to ask whether you’d come across the CSP’s Physiotherapy Framework (available via CSP website at http://www.csp.org.uk/professional-union/careers-development/career-development/professional-frameworks). The framework is designed to help individuals unpack their practice & describe the level they’re working at (framework describes practice at 6 levels – from NVQ2 to Doctorate). It is potentially a useful tool for showcasing what a ‘good clinical, critical thinking hard working physio’ can do (whether or not they’ve the piece of paper to show that they’ve completed a formal programme of learning/assessment) & for developing an evidenced argument to challenge the sorts of situations you describe. WIth best wishes – Gwyn

    • Thanks Gwyn

      I was sort of aware of these tools and the CSP website, but thanks for reminding me and others about them, a very useful resource for job candidates when filling out the application forms

      Kind regards

      Adam

  2. I know you wrote this a while ago but I’ve only just stumbled upon it and for me, I’m so relieved that someone else feels this way. I qualified in 1995 but struggled through the course feeling rather looked down on by the lecturers because I didn’t quite fit into what they expected of a physiotherapy student (bit lazy, failed an exam, liked to party etc). Nevertheless, I embarked on my career vowing to do my best. I completed all the necessary courses that Juniors at the time did, I studied, I stayed behind after to work to practice techniques and eventually I completed the 13 month long MACP course securing 50 masters points and a senior one post after fours years of working.
    Then I had several babies and worked part-time up until 2 years ago. During that time, I worked as an ESP and this is when I experienced the qualification snobbery. I’m a good physio and I do my best for my patients but I know there are better physio’s with more knowledge and experience than me. Yet, I don’t have a lot of time to study, read articles, go on tons of courses and I definitely do not think I could complete a Masters (although I would really like to) at the minute. My children take priority. That snobbery came from some of my colleagues both male and female and even though I don’t like saying this, probably more from the men.
    I always felt a sense that I wasn’t good enough or I didn’t know enough because I didn’t spend my evenings reading the latest MACP Journal. In-service training used to send me into a panic in case I was asked a question and wouldn’t know the answers.
    I don’t work at the moment due to relocation of my family but one day (soon), I’ll go back, probably part-time, probably into a pay band much lower than where I finished and I’ve no doubt that despite the experience/knowledge I do have, the snobbery will still exist.
    Sorry for my rant and life story but your article struck a cord!

    • Hi Catherine

      Thanks for your comments/rant, really honest and interesting perspective and I’m sure you’re not alone. The damn MACP have a lot to answer for in my opinion with regards to this issue in MSK physio.

      I too started my MACP training and got so far down the MSc pathway before I just had to stop due to the feeling I was just doing what I was told rather than actually thinking or learning anything.

      Thanks again

      Adam

  3. Hi Adam,

    Know I am joining this party late and it’s not the first time I’ve read this post but I felt compelled to comment.

    I recently attended a conference and, as someone who enjoys networking, I decided to open discussion with one of the speaker only to be met with comments like ‘well if you want to be a really good clinician’ in the advocation of MSc study. I felt quite upset and disheartened by this.
    Not only had I plucked up the courage to try and generate discussion with a leader in our field but I felt I had contributed significantly to the conference with my questions making the cut to be asked to keynote speakers etc.
    I left on somewhat of a low. Feeling unimportant and embarrassed to have even tried.

    I am at a point in my career (eight years qualified) where I am looking for the next ‘step’ shall we say and would love to be involved in some research or professional advocacy. But also at a point in my life where funds aren’t always so readily available for higher education.

    Cheers for the post!

    • Ignore the academic knobheads and snobs and keep questioning and hungry for answers and see where it takes you.

      Not all academics are idiots or egotistical pillocks, just many!

      Best of luck

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