Dr Paul Sanderson - my story on why Rehabilitation Matters

Dr Paul Sanderson, Senior Teaching Fellow in Sport and Exercise Science explains why learning and development is the key to transforming rehabilitation services in the UK.

My interest in rehablitation and injury began from a young age.

As a child, I was obsessed with playing and watching sports, and was lucky enough to represent my county at rugby (league and union). When I left school, I joined the Army and got involved into the sporting side of things, in particular rugby and cross-country skiing. It was through this that I saw a lot of very able people suffer serious injuries, causing setbacks on a professional, physical and mental level.

I believe those early experiences shaped my career and instilled my passion for rehabilitation.

When I moved to the Royal Army Physical Training Corps – broadly speaking the strength and conditioning coaches and subject matter experts in the Army – I decided to reduce my competitive sport due to the risk of serious injury and the impact it could have on my career ambitions.

After seeing so many of my peers’ careers and lives affected by injury, I wanted to help, so I decided to apply to the Joint Services School of Exercise Rehabilitation Instructors and was inspired by some incredible colleagues who, like me, were passionate about helping people who were injured get back to fitness and function.

I learned about the importance of a patient-centric approach to rehabilitation and focused on upskilling myself so I could develop and, in turn, improve the experiences of those going through clinical rehabilitation. I completed my exercise rehabilitation qualifications then worked at Headley Court, the former home of the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre before it moved to the new state-of-the-art facility at the Stanford Hall Rehabilitation Estate (just a few hundred metres away from where the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) is currently being built).

Working at Headley Court, I learned from the best. It’s well documented that defence medicine achieves better ‘return to work’ rates than the NHS for those who experience serious injury. But what is it that the military do in rehab that makes it so effective?

Yes, they have top of the range equipment and the best trained professionals, but even more important is the culture. By this I mean the patient-centric focus, the relentless desire to improve, constantly questioning what is right, what we can learn from best practice, how we can develop research and innovation.

Being a Senior Teaching Fellow at Loughborough University – one of the NRC’s lead university partners alongside the University of Nottingham – I’m lucky to have been exposed to all the fantastic work the NRC is doing in the research and academic space as it prepares to treat patients by early 2025.  I’m incredibly encouraged that the NRC – like defence medicine – has a strong ethos for holistic rehabilitation informed by the best and most current research, pushing the boundaries with innovation.

My career has taught me that continuous learning and development is crucial to achieving better outcomes. I didn’t take the traditional route in academia – doing my undergraduate degree at the age of 35 and completing a PhD at 47. I’m now the Programme Leader of Loughborough University’s new rehabilitation-focused master's degrees and very excited about how the programme can feed into the NRC.

Loughborough University specialises in sporting, research and academic excellence, so I wanted to bring these aspects together to elevate the practical and theoretical knowledge of exercise rehabilitation professionals to improve rehabilitation outcomes linked to surgery, injury and musculoskeletal disorders.

I am very excited about the programme as I have observed the benefits of exercise rehabilitation and how the use of exercise can be a 'force for good', helping to restore function, reduce the impact of disease and improve quality of life.

Our students will benefit from access to the NRC once it opens , learning from the best and helping to improve our rehabilitation care and return to work rates. I know from experience how important that is and I’m confident some of our students will one day be the UK’s leaders of rehabilitation medicine at the NRC.