The next step in a self-made career

Headshot of physiotherapist Steve Felsher.

The next step in a self-made career

Headshot of physiotherapist Steve Felsher.

As sports physiotherapist Steve Felsher approaches the achievement of his titling credential via the Australian College of Physiotherapists' new portfolio pathway, he reflects on his career to date and on what continues to drive him. Marina Williams reports.

Sport and player welfare have featured heavily throughout Steve Felsher’s life, from playing football at school in South Africa to being the lead physiotherapist for the Olympic soccer team.

Yet his introduction to what he calls ‘this amazing profession’ (attending a clinic in his home town of Johannesburg following surgery to repair an anterior cruciate ligament injury) was more straightforward than the circuitous route he took to become a physiotherapist.

‘I had ongoing issues with my knee and the clinic I was going to was a big sports practice.

'They were looking after [rugby union team] the British and Irish Lions.

'Back then, teams didn’t travel with physios and assigned clinics to look after players.

'I was a little bit taken aback seeing all these professional athletes.

'I started realising at a very young age that my dream of playing sport at a high level was going to come to an end because of my knee injury.

'I thought this looked like an amazing profession.

'It ticked a few boxes for me.’

Unfortunately, Steve’s Matriculation results meant that he missed out on a university placement.

Unperturbed, he worked for a year as a physiotherapist assistant in a hospital.

‘It helped me understand the profession better and I absolutely loved it.

'I was still driven to do physio and applied a few times but never got in and I ended up doing an exercise sports science degree.

'I did well and managed to move across to physio and an undergrad degree.

'Then I embarked on my own career.’

Steve studied physiotherapy at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand, graduating with honours in 1993.

It was at university that he began to take his career-long approach of being active within the profession and supportive of others.

He was chair and founder of the Physiotherapy Student Council and was the student representative to the Physiotherapy Association of South Africa.

After one year in private practice, ‘with a very good physio team’ and a ‘job in orthopaedics in a part-time role at a teaching hospital’, Steve opened a sports practice with a friend.

‘It was in Durban.

'It was a sports-related clinic and it was fabulous.

'We built a name for ourselves and eventually got a role with the city’s professional rugby team.

'We also worked in football (soccer), including with some of the national teams.

'I worked extensively with the Olympic football team and through the Olympic campaigns in Atlanta and Sydney, which was great.’

He spent seven years as head physiotherapist with the South African Football Association, attending two Olympics with the national soccer team.

He was also head physiotherapist for the South Africa rugby union team Natal Sharks in 1997–2001, the Natal Dolphins (state-level cricket) and the AmaZulu Football Club in the South African Premier Division football league for five seasons.

His second Olympics campaign brought him to Sydney in 2000 and he emigrated to Australia a year later.

His clinic was initially based in North Sydney but relocated in response to demand for his experience in supporting high-performance athletes and in injury management and prevention.

Steve is now the principal and director of PhysXrehab in Sydney’s Northern Beaches and head of medical and sports science at Manly United Football Club, where he oversees physiotherapy and injury reduction programs.

Injury reduction and prevention, and a special interest in adolescent sports injuries, have been central to his career.

‘I understand the realms of high performance, having travelled extensively through Europe and having worked in some amazing football clubs among some very talented, high-performance teams.

'I’ve taken away some good ideas and brought those back to the football club.’

Steve joined the APA not long after arriving in Australia and is working towards achieving the Milestone 3 titling credential through the Australian College of Physiotherapists’ portfolio titling pathway pilot.

From next year, the new Milestone 3 evidence portfolio pathway will become part of the Physiotherapy Career Pathway, replacing the current experiential pathway (the College will cease taking applications for the experiential pathway after 30 June 2023).

It will enable physiotherapists to present a range of evidence to demonstrate attainment of competence across the seven roles of the APA Competence Framework.

Steve’s work in injury reduction and prevention and with adolescent sports injuries has also led to the development of a student teaching model to support, educate and nurture less experienced physiotherapists.

‘We’ve built a strong relationship with some of the big universities in Sydney and we have student allocations in both physiotherapy and exercise sports science.

'The students get to work alongside qualified clinical physios, strength and conditioning staff and other staff who have a strong background in sports science and exercise science.’

Teaching and learning, he says, are vital parts of the patient–physiotherapist relationship.

‘If you’re not staying current and evidence-based and stretching yourself with regards to your learning—if you’re not driven to do that—then you’re not going to get the outcomes that you want for your patients.

'I love teaching.

'Teaching at an undergrad level forces me to continually test myself and make sure that I’m current and evidence-based and that I’m teaching at the right level.’

Wanting to gain a more holistic education in applying sports science to Australia’s different football codes (AFL, soccer and rugby), he chose to undertake the Master of Sports Science (Football Performance) at Victoria University.

He completed the postgraduate studies in 2019.

‘I have been in this profession for more than 30 years and wanted a postgraduate degree that wasn’t purely physio.

'I wanted tools in my toolbox that would better support me in becoming a better clinical physio, managing staff and operating a business that offered a mixed model of sports and sports exercise physiotherapy.

'Unfortunately, I learnt quickly that my master’s degree was not affiliated with the APA, which was disappointing, but it has given me what I needed in skills, education and experience, including culturally.’

Decades of clinical practice and teaching experience have brought many career highlights.

‘Getting into physio and conquering that was a personal goal of mine—not having the scores to get into university and persisting through other pathways shows you can achieve something if you really want it.

'I have my own clinic and I’ve been dealing in the real world and making it a success.

'I’ve worked in high-performance sport and been recognised for that and I’ve worked at an Olympic level.

'Professionally, this was phenomenal and a great experience, something that I’m very grateful for.

‘I completed my master’s at an older age while running two clinics and with kids and family.

'I put myself outside of my comfort zone by going back to university and studying at a high level.

'I achieved the highest grade point average in my cohort and graduated with first class honours.

'I was very proud of myself, because it was not an easy thing for me to do.

‘Building the exercise and medical science program at the football club is another highlight and it was important to include a player welfare platform.’

Barring any unforeseen surprises, Steve is on track to be awarded titling as an APA Sports and Exercise Physiotherapist via the portfolio pathway.

The College offers two tiers of membership: Member (for Titled Physiotherapists) and Fellow (for Specialists and Fellowship by Original Contribution).

The Titled Physiotherapist credential is a formal recognition of the attainment of a highly developed level of competency in a particular area of practice.

An APA member must successfully complete a rigorous process to prove they have the required level of clinical expertise and knowledge to achieve Titled Member status.

On being awarded his titling credential, Steve will become a Member of the Australian College of Physiotherapists.

He will be able to use the associated MACP postnominal to let clients know that he has highly developed skills in the area of sports and exercise physiotherapy.

‘Applying for and going through the process of the award of tiling has been interesting and insightful—I have had to reflect on my experience in Australia and South Africa while gathering evidence of my portfolio, such as proof of education and letters of support.

'I discovered that if I had had an APA-recognised postgraduate master’s qualification in sports physiotherapy the process could have been quicker, but how can you compare 30 years of clinical experience with that of a 27- or 28-year-old who has just completed an APA-recognised master’s in sports and exercise physiotherapy?

'I support gaining a specialisation and titling, but I could imagine there would be other physios who are approaching it from very different backgrounds and experience, as I have,’ says Steve.

‘I am a believer in lifelong learning and encourage my students and staff to better themselves, to dive into areas that really interest them and to look at doing postgraduate qualifications.

'The titling pathway will be challenging, but you will gain formal recognition within your profession that further acknowledges your experience and skills.’

For more information on becoming a Titled Member, click here or contact the Australian College of Physiotherapists at 

Main image: Steve Felsher is on track to earn an APA Sports and Exercise Physiotherapist title.

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