Professional Profile: Olwen Grindley

In the first of a new series of in-depth interviews with UCO alumni and other figureheads within the profession we chat to Olwen Grindley about her shared passion for osteopathy and dance, her career path to date and some of the lessons she has learnt along the way.

Olwen, I know you’ve got a background in dance and continue to dance regularly. How did you first encounter osteopathy?

Well, my osteopath had treated me before I went away to Germany for my professional dance training. I did my training, then worked abroad for a while before coming home, and then had to find loads of other jobs to keep the roof over my head. One of which was working on reception in my osteopath’s practice. When I was dancing, I never had quite enough income, I always had to have other jobs to make ends meet.


So, you started off working in a practice, but not as an osteopath?

At the time I was looking for an alternative means of having a steady income because dance was not giving it to me. I didn't want to switch jobs. I didn't want to change careers or to go back to the beginning and start again. I didn't want to start something new from scratch. But as I got older, I wanted to be able to plan my life, and you can't do that when you work in the arts, because you're always waiting for the next contract. As soon as you plan to do anything like book a holiday, you get a phone call or an email with the best contract of the year you can't turn down for exactly those dates! So, I either had money or time but never the two in the same moment. And I wanted that.

One day I was working on reception in the practice, which was owned by a couple called Pam and Teran. One day, Pam came out of treating a child and said to Teran “I just found something I’ve never seen before". They started to have a conversation, all interested and excited, asking each other questions, and I'm sitting there listening to this and I'm thinking, “these two have been osteopaths for over 30 years. These two have been married to one another for over 30 years. And these two are still excited and interested by and seeing new things after over 30 years in the business!”

I thought to myself… “Hmm maybe there is something in this osteopathy lark....”


And did you at this point feel that there were any parallels between osteopathy and dance that stood out to you?

Teran would always say to me, osteopathy, it's all about the pelvis. My dance training, the training I did was the Limón Technique, and it was all about the pelvis. You know, in dancing, if you knew where your pelvis was, you could be upside down, you could be spinning, you could fly across the room, drop to the floor, everything was possible if you knew what was going on, where your pelvis was in relation to the floor. And then I come to Teran and his osteopathy. He used to say that in the body, everything stacks on or hangs off the pelvis. It is the foundation, the key to everything. If this is right, everything literally just falls into place. So that's kind of where it all happened. It was as if the two worlds came together if you like, literally because I just happened to be there on that Thursday, when Pam and Teran had that conversation that I overheard. And it was the day I applied to one college, the BSO, or UCO now, and they were foolish enough to take me on!

I haven't looked back and it's been absolutely amazing. Now I say regularly I love both my jobs. You know, one doesn't give me the financial security, the other one does, so one facilitates the other, but both are necessary. And both are amazing. And, you know, they inform one another quite a lot.


You seem as though you’ve found your own perfect personal balance for job satisfaction?

I’ve achieved two of my life goals through osteopathy. There were two things I wanted to done of them was always to have enough money not to worry about money or think about money, and the other was job satisfaction.

I’m not long qualified, but I’ve already achieved job satisfaction from day one.

I'm at that point now where I can put money away. I can spend money on things. There's a cello over in the corner behind me that I was able to pay for without having to save up for ages. So, you know, again, osteopathy has put me in a position where I can afford to continue to be a dancer, as well as do other things I wish to do.


I imagine the flexibility of being able to schedule when you see patients is important in facilitating your ability to work on other projects.

Exactly. I can protect time for dance but still work. I’m not losing a whole week’s income when I’m dancing, although I do still earn when I’m dancing of course!


What were your first jobs as a qualified osteopath like?

I ended up working for lady in Staffordshire called Helen White. I really, really loved working with her and for her and living in the town of Leek in Staffordshire, near the Peak District, and going for walks on my days off. Helen was a bit unusual at the time, because she offered an employed position. I got a fixed fee each day I worked, so I would call it my “turn-up money”. And then I got a fixed amount per patient I saw on top of that.


What were the benefits of being an employee at a clinic rather than being self-employed?

I remember, the huge thing for me was that I had never been employed in my life before, right? Or very, very rarely had any experience with being employed and the benefits of it.

So, I remember coming down sick one day, it was it was the end of a working day. The next day I was off, but the following was absolutely chock full. I rang my boss and I said to her, I'm really sick. She told me to rest and get well soon. I put down the phone and that was that. Twelve patients were re-organised. And not one of them was called by me. I did not have the stress of dealing with that because there was a reception team. I didn’t have to feel bad explaining to people that they would have to wait while I was down for a few days with flu.

I will forever appreciate that. Especially now as I'm back being self-employed again. Yes. It's the little things that add up and eat into your day. That was one of the days when I was supremely appreciative of the fact that I was an employee, that I got sick pay and all the other benefits of being employed.


So, you moved from Ireland to the UK to study at the UCO, then worked in Staffordshire. Has osteopathy taken you anywhere unexpected?

I mean, I went as far north in Scotland as you can go. Pretty much right up to John O’Groats. It was an amazing adventure. I went and interviewed for a job up there. And I was very tempted. Yeah, for me, it was a little bit of a risk because it was my first job, and it really wasn’t easy to get anywhere from there.

But the journey? Wow. Eight hours travelling. So, I flew to Glasgow, I got a train to Inverness. I got another four-hour train further north to Thurso – and my smile just got wider and wider. I just kept thinking: “this place is amazing…so stunning”.

In the end I decided against it. I thought what if things go pear-shaped? Where's my support? How do I help myself?

I'm still in touch with her because I think one day maybe I'll go back as a locum. It was just a bit of a risk being my first job, in case it went a bit pear-shaped.


You’ve already touched on this, but I wanted to ask you what you find to be the most rewarding part of being an osteopath?

So many things to talk about! I talk about this with patients too – some are really interested and ask this question.

So, for me with my background, dance is a very different entity – you get a satisfaction from it that is very intangible.

One of the big things about osteopathy is the tangible results that you get.

You know? You get an immediate response when you get people right and they know straight away if they feel better just putting their shoes on, as opposed to taking them off. They can do it without moaning and groaning and feeling like they're 500 years old and broken.


Are there any patient interactions that have really stuck with you?

I always think of this one man. He was a young man. He had pain and had had it for a while. And it was a simple mechanical T. Spine/rib/facet issue. Kind of a lockup thing. And all I did was I, you know, to use the classic line, I cracked him up… an adjustment to his T. Spine, and he stood up off the plinth with tears in his eyes. And he said, “Can I give you a hug? Thank you so much.” Because I'd made his pain go away. And you know, he didn't know what it was. He didn't know how to make it go away himself. I took it away with literally one click! It’s that kind of immediate response. So amazing. It's so rewarding. It's so tangible.

There was another woman who called me “Wonder Woman” when she had to shift the mirrors in her car all up a bit higher because she was able to sit up straight.

And another who said to me “I have my personality back” when she was able to come off her pain medication.

It’s such an amazing privilege to be able to do this for people.


What advice would you give to an osteopath just starting their career?

Well, it’s so easy to focus on the bad moments. To take home the one who complains, the one who isn’t better. Somewhere along the line I decided I was going to make a list. I think somebody might have even said it to me: “make a list of all the good interactions. Make a list of all your successes.” Because on those days, when you're sitting there going, I'm rubbish, I can do nothing. I can't do this, what am I doing? That's when you need your little folder full of the good ones. And you pull that out and you talk yourself through it, you read that file full of people. And you remind yourself of all the ones you got right, of all the ones you got better, instead of beating yourself up with the one you didn't.


Along the same lines, is there any advice you’d give to people who are thinking of applying to study osteopathy but aren’t sure if it’s for them?

I always say to people, you know, if you like working with people, and you like being what I call a body sleuth; if you’re interested in asking questions – always why: why does it hurt? Why does it hurt here? Why does it hurt here now, why today, and not last week, and why only this side?

If you’re interested in asking the questions, then that's a good starting point.

If you like working with people and making a difference in their lives, that's another good thing, if you like listening to people, not just talking, but listening to people, and getting them to tell you their story and figuring people out. Because when you figure that person out that's how you find your way into helping that person. Because every person is different. If you want a job where you feel you are making a difference in people’s lives, then osteopathy is for you.

And if you can tick those boxes, what’s next?

It’s hard work when you're a mature student, but it's so worth it at the end of the day, because of what I've told you about the job satisfaction levels. I would say to prospective students an important life lesson is:  if you can’t find job satisfaction anywhere in your job, you're in the wrong job.

If you think you're interested, go and shadow somebody. Go into a practice and watch what they do and be with them and talk to them. Talk to them on their coffee breaks and ask them why they do what they do. What concerns do I have about this profession? What do I think about the profession? Ask the questions, because you might find you're completely off the mark.

Fantastic advice – and for people who don't necessarily have access to an osteopath to chat to, we hope that they can benefit from hearing about osteopathy from someone who is so passionate about their job.

Can you tell that I love what I do?


Finally, the elephant in the practice room – the pandemic. We’ve seen practitioners around the world respond to the challenges of COVID-19 in diverse and resourceful ways. Are there any moments or challenges overcome that you feel proud of particularly?

Of course, just getting back to work and back into clinic after the initial lockdown over here in Ireland. Getting to the point where it felt safe to open and have patients and all be as protected as we could be. Now, the Osteopathic Council of Ireland, which I was on the board for at the time, was brilliant and instrumental in preparing and distributing a package for returning to practice.

It was so comprehensive – there were guidelines about clinic hygiene, waiver forms and PPE. There was even a link to an online course with a certificate to display in your practice. It was a huge help to not be wracked with guilt thinking, “Should I be doing this?”, because it wasn’t the case, and we were shown how to keep everyone as safe as possible.


Thank you so much for taking the time to have a chat Olwen, it’s been great talking to you.


*After graduating from the UCO in 2015, Olwen spent two years working as an Associate at Leek Osteopathic Health Centre. She has since returned to her home town of Dublin, where she is an Associate with Merrion Square Osteopaths and also runs her own monthly clinic focused on helping dancers and actors. She continues to dance professionally herself regularly.

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