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Discovering Meaningful Work as a Health Professional with the Ikigai Framework

Last updated: December 2023.

In a recent episode of The Physio Foundations Podcast with Dr. Luke Perraton, I had the privilege of discussing a topic that's close to my heart: how the Ikigai model can revolutionise career paths for healthcare professionals.

In my role as Program Director role Torrens University I’ve witnessed the difference it makes when students and early-career professionals align their careers with personal passions and societal needs. Those who harness this alignment early on truly stand out in remarkable ways.

This episode isn't just about sharing experiences; it’s about offering practical tools and insights for health professionals at every stage – from students just starting out to seasoned practitioners looking to reinvigorate their careers. We provide actionable advice and real-world examples of how understanding and applying the principles of Ikigai can lead to more fulfilling and sustainable careers in the health sector. From navigating imposter syndrome to enhancing your online presence for career growth, this podcast is a resource for anyone in the health profession looking to make a meaningful impact in their work.

We discuss how the Ikigai model, a framework for finding balance and purpose, can be a powerful guide for any young professional. It’s about more than just job satisfaction; it’s about carving a career path that resonates with what you love, what you’re good at, and what the world needs.

Join us in this conversation to explore actionable steps and strategies to shape a more fulfilling career in health. Whether you’re rethinking your career direction or looking to deepen your professional journey, this podcast has something valuable for you.


#Reblog from the Physio Foundations team, originally posted here.

In this episode of the Physio Foundations podcast, host Luke Perraton and guest Tim Trevail explore the concept of finding purpose in healthcare professions. Tim, the program Director at Torrens University in Melbourne, Australia, a tendinopathy researcher and rehabilitation specialist, shares his insights on the Ikigai model, which involves balancing what the world needs, what one is good at, what one loves, and what one can be paid for. The conversation emphasizes the importance of aligning personal passions with professional skills and societal needs to prevent career dissatisfaction and attrition. They discuss practical applications of this model, the value of online presence for career development, and how to navigate imposter syndrome and self-doubt. The episode concludes with encouragement for healthcare professionals to engage in self-reflection to find joy and purpose in their careers, thereby ensuring longevity and satisfaction in their chosen fields.

In the first part of the discussion, Tim discusses his multifaceted career, which includes his role at Torrens University, his clinical practice, and his ongoing PhD research in tendon pain, physical activity, and load management. A significant portion of the conversation is dedicated to the concept of "Ikigai," a Japanese term referring to finding a purpose or reason for being, particularly in the context of career choices and professional fulfilment. Tim emphasizes the importance of finding a balance between one’s professional interests and personal passions, using his own specialization in treating jiu-jitsu athletes as an example. He also addresses the high attrition rates in the physiotherapy profession and suggests that a lack of alignment between personal passions and professional roles could contribute to this trend.

In the next part of the discussion, Tim elaborates on the concept of "Ikigai" and its relevance to finding one's purpose in the health profession. Ikigai is presented as having four pillars:

  1. What the World Needs: This involves considering how one's actions can benefit society or fulfill a larger purpose. For instance, addressing the societal need for effective pain management and rehabilitation.

  2. What You Are Good At (Vocation): This pillar focuses on the inherent skills that make a good practitioner, such as interpersonal and technical skills, which are fundamental to the profession.

  3. What You Love (Passion): This is about identifying what genuinely excites and motivates an individual, whether directly related to rehabilitation or an unrelated interest.

  4. What You Can Be Paid For (Profession): It emphasizes the practical aspect of ensuring that one’s skills and passions can provide a stable livelihood.

Venn diagram to help find your Ikigai, or reason for being
Ikigai venn diagram

Tim discusses the importance of finding the intersection between these elements to create a fulfilling and sustainable career. He emphasizes that focusing on only one aspect can lead to an unbalanced and potentially unfulfilling career. He also shares his personal journey, noting how this process helped him rediscover his passion for clinical practice.

In the next part of the discussion, Tim further elaborates on the practical application of the Ikigai model, emphasizing proactive self-reflection at various stages of a health professional’s career. He encourages individuals to consider their career trajectory and set long-term goals based on self-reflection before reaching a crisis point. This proactive approach aims to reduce the risk of career dissatisfaction and attrition. The conversation then shifts to a practical walkthrough of Tim's personal application of the Ikigai model:

  • What the World Needs: Tim identifies a societal need for high-value care in sports-related injuries and musculoskeletal pain, citing the importance of keeping people active to improve their quality of life.

  • What You Are Good At: He discusses his strengths in interpersonal skills and problem-solving, particularly in helping people understand their pain and injuries and in promoting physical activity.

  • What You Love (Passion): Tim talks about his love for martial arts, specifically Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and how this personal passion has influenced his professional focus.

  • What You Can Be Paid For: The practical aspect for Tim is his specialization in musculoskeletal pain and rehabilitation for jiu-jitsu practitioners, recognizing that there is a market for specialized care in this area.

Tim's journey through the Ikigai model showcases how aligning personal interests and passions with professional skills and societal needs can lead to a fulfilling and sustainable career. He concludes by discussing the importance of turning this reflective process into actionable steps to make one's envisioned career path a reality.

This part of the conversation concludes with an emphasis on the evolution of one’s career and the importance of time in finding and refining one's Ikigai. They encourage new graduates and students to be patient and open to developing their career paths, integrating passion with skills, societal needs, and practical considerations.

Specialisation: How soon is too soon?

In the next part of the discussion, Luke and Tim discuss the timing and approach to specialization in a health professional’s career, particularly for students and new graduates.

Tim shares his perspective on the value of a broad clinical background before specializing. Drawing from his experience working in rugby union for twelve years, he explains how this diverse exposure enriched his clinical skills and knowledge, which he later applied in his specialized area of jiu-jitsu rehabilitation. He emphasizes the power of specialization in creating stronger clinical outcomes due to shared passions and language with clients.

The conversation then shifts to the idea of planning for specialization. Tim advocates for setting a long-term vision, such as a five-year goal, to gradually work towards specialization. He stresses the importance of gaining a wide range of experiences in the early stages of one's career before narrowing down to a specific area. This approach, he argues, ensures longevity and satisfaction in the profession.

Tim also redefines the concept of being a specialist. He argues that it's not just about formal qualifications but also about positioning oneself as a knowledgeable and passionate practitioner in a specific area. He describes how he established his reputation as a rehabilitation specialist by actively sharing evidence-informed information online and engaging with a community that was underserved. Tim encourages professionals to define their own narrative as specialists by utilizing social media and other platforms to disseminate knowledge and connect with their target audience.

Overall, this part of the conversation highlights the importance of thoughtful career planning, the value of a broad foundation in the early stages, and the empowerment of defining one's own path to specialization.

Developing online presence and authenticity

In the next part of the discussion, Luke and Tim discuss the role of the internet and social media in shaping the careers of health professionals, particularly for students and new graduates.

Discussion Points:

  1. Navigating Online Information: Luke notes the abundance of both reliable and unreliable information on the internet, emphasizing the importance of being an educated consumer of information.

  2. Imposter Syndrome: Tim addresses the common feeling of imposter syndrome among professionals, especially those new to their field. He encourages embracing discomfort and taking risks in putting oneself out there, as the potential benefits outweigh the fears.

  3. Online Presence and Authenticity: Tim discusses the impact of authenticity in online engagement. He suggests that genuine, well-intentioned content generally receives positive responses, while abrasive approaches tend to attract more conflict.

  4. Transition from Consumer to Producer: The conversation shifts to the transition from consuming online content to producing it. Tim argues that in today’s world, it's difficult to be recognized as an expert without some form of online presence. He encourages professionals to start producing content, tailored to their comfort level and expertise.

  5. Content Creation Tips: For those hesitant to create content, Tim recommends starting with answering common patient questions or sharing insights in a format that suits them, such as infographics or written posts, rather than feeling compelled to create videos or be on camera.

  6. Role of Social Media in Career Development: Tim highlights the significance of social media in establishing oneself as an expert and building a professional network. Tim encourages new professionals to actively engage in content creation as part of their career development.

This part of the podcast underscores the importance of an online presence in the modern healthcare landscape, offering practical advice for new graduates and students on how to effectively use digital platforms to enhance their professional growth and find their niche.

Applying the Ikigai model to Physio Foundations

In the next part of the discussion, Luke and Tim delve into the practical application of the Ikigai model to Luke's career and the Physio Foundations podcast, discussing the interplay between professional passion and practicality.

Key Points Discussed:

  1. Identifying World Needs: Luke talks about the need for foundational knowledge and skills in physiotherapy, which he perceives as often overlooked in favor of more advanced or niche topics. He believes the podcast addresses this need by focusing on these fundamental aspects.

  2. Personal Strengths: Luke identifies his interpersonal skills, particularly his ability to talk and listen, as key strengths. He also mentions his postgraduate clinical training and broad range of knowledge, which enable him to converse on various topics and connect different threads.

  3. Passion for Education and Mentoring: Luke expresses his love for teaching and mentoring, particularly in helping students and professionals develop their skills. He finds great satisfaction in educational roles and in guiding others through their PhD journeys.

  4. Aligning with Paid Work: Luke reflects on how his academic role allows him to integrate his interests and skills into a paid position. He notes that activities he previously did voluntarily, like journal article reviewing and clinical professional development, are now part of his compensated academic work.

  5. Self-Reflection for Career Alignment: Tim points out that self-reflection using the Ikigai model can serve three purposes: proactive career planning, reassessment during periods of doubt, and reaffirmation that one is on the right path. He suggests that this process can help reignite passion or confirm one's current career trajectory.

  6. The Role of the Physio Foundations Podcast: The discussion highlights how the podcast aligns with Luke's skills, interests, and professional goals, serving as a platform for education and engagement within the physiotherapy community.

This segment of the podcast illustrates the practical application of the Ikigai concept in real-life scenarios, showcasing how individuals can align their careers with their passions, skills, and the needs of their field. It also underscores the importance of self-reflection in ensuring career satisfaction and effectiveness.

In the final segment of the podcast, Luke and Tim wrap up their discussion with reflections on the importance of aligning personal passions with professional work, and the impact this alignment can have on reducing attrition rates in healthcare professions.

Key Takeaways:

  • Affirmation and Course Correction: Luke emphasizes the value of the Ikigai exercise not only for those seeking a career change but also for affirming the current path and finding joy and purpose in their work.

  • Thought Leadership Beyond Qualifications: The conversation acknowledges that becoming a thought leader in a field isn't confined to academic qualifications or research publications alone. It involves actively engaging with the community, sharing knowledge, and being a source of reliable information.

  • Tim’s Personal Branding Journey: Tim shares his experience of building his brand, Black Belt Rehab, through social media, particularly Instagram. He emphasizes that while it may seem effortless, it involves continuous effort and facing personal challenges, like overcoming the fear of being in front of the camera.

  • Value of Reflection in Practice: Tim highlights how his reflection and rebranding led to a more focused clinical practice, allowing him to specialize in areas he is passionate about, like offering specialist services for jiu-jitsu athletes.

  • Impact of Online Presence: The discussion underscores the impact of having an online presence in building a career and establishing expertise in a specific area. Tim's example illustrates how social media can be effectively used to connect with a target audience and provide value.

  • Encouragement for Long-Term Career Engagement: The episode concludes with Luke and Tim encouraging healthcare professionals, especially students and new graduates, to engage in self-reflection exercises like Ikigai. They emphasize the importance of finding joy and purpose in their careers to ensure longevity and satisfaction in their chosen fields.

In summary, this episode provides healthcare professionals with a method of identifying the broader purpose within their careers, and highlights the importance of aligning personal passions with professional skills and societal needs.

Thanks Tim for a great conversation.

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