August, 2014

First Time Across the Atlantic

Many athletic therapists have had the opportunity to travel to beautiful and exotic places around the world for post-grad backpacking trips, athletic therapy-related work or for family vacations. Until this summer, I have not had the opportunity to travel to any place outside of North America. This piece is a personal account of my experiences as a first-time wide-eyed traveller. I hope this story will allow you to reminisce about your first trip and or allow you to appreciate the diversity and connectedness in the world.

ASME Conference, Brighton, United Kingdom

Initially, the purpose of my trip was to present my research at the Association for the Study of Medical Education Conference (ASME) in Brighton, United Kingdom. Many friends suggested that since I was embarking on an 8-hour trip across the Atlantic Ocean, I should take the opportunity to “see” other places other than Brighton. Hence, the planning started with a blank slate of seven days of exploring. I had opportunities to meet some friends and colleagues in Barcelona, Dublin, Brussels, Berlin, Paris, London, Cyprus, and Milan. After, hours of contemplating, I decided on visiting Barcelona, Paris, and London. Many said that three countries in seven days was a little ambitious, but that never stopped me before.

My first stop was Brighton, United Kingdom. I spent two days settling in and one day exploring. Brighton is a small coastal city with a very popular beach that Londoners and tourists frequent. Like many coastal cities, Brighton sports a boardwalk, piers, and the small stones they refer to as their “sand”. Much of the architecture is over 100 years old. Although the atmosphere in the city’s landscape is obviously Commonwealth, there is influence from India and Spain. Contrary to popular belief, the weather in the UK during my stay was wonderful: clear skies, and 30 degrees Celsius with a constant cool calm breeze from the English Channel.

This was my first time presenting my research at the ASME Conference. Most in attendance were from the UK, but there were other attendees from all over the world presenting as well. It was encouraging to see so many people from around the world that are just as dedicated and passionate as I am about the teaching and learning of future health care professionals. The term “Athletic Therapy” was foreign to most people. After describing what an athletic therapists scope of practice was, it was easy for people to recognize the importance of what we do, especially in light of the global concern regarding head injury in sports.

I had the pleasure of having dinner with three medical school directors and 2 clinical instructors from different schools in the UK. During dinner, I learned that in spite of the differences in school location and areas of specialty, the challenges of teaching and learning are not uncommon. Fortunately, the conversations around the table involving people with a diversity of backgrounds and experiences, provided novel ideas that may help each person face their own unique challenges.

Outside the conference, the most memorable times in Brighton were an international food festival in a park, getting lost in a labyrinth of walkways called the “Lanes” lined with cafes, jewellery shops, and boutiques, and piggy-backing on an unaware tour group through the East Asian influenced Pavilion.

 Gaudi and WFATT, Barcelona, Spain

After the conference, I flew to Barcelona. On the flight, I met a surgeon who was schooled in Spain and practiced in Barcelona. She was returning from a job interview at a hospital in London. She said that she wanted to work in London for 1-2 years to “get more experience”. Although she had been practicing for four years, she felt that she did not gain adequate practical experience (the term “clinical experience” is used in medical schools). In the medical school she attended in Spain, her clinical experience was purely observational. Surprisingly, she said that the first incision she ever performed was during a real surgery with no supervision. This conversation was reminiscent of the dinner conversation in Brighton at the ASME Conference.

After sharing with her my perspectives involving the benefits of clinical experience, the challenges of supervision, simulation, competency development and evaluation, and the field of athletic therapy, we discussed Barcelona. As a resident of Barcelona, she proceeded to draw me a map of Barcelona, the places to go, and the places to avoid. For a 3-day trip, she highly recommended Las Ramblas, anything Antoni Gaudi, the Picasso Museum, the beach, Barceloneta, and the areas referred to as Gothic, Born, and Eixample. She also recommended that I walk or invest 2 Euros in the bike rental system. As a travel resource, she rivalled Trip Advisor.

During my first full day in Barcelona, I rented a bike and completed a 3-hour ride with stops in Las Ramblas, the Beach, Barceloneta, several “off-the-beaten-path” neighbourhoods, and Guell Park. In the evening, I invested in a food tour that took us into the neighbourhoods of Gothic and Born. We visited markets, cathedrals, and museums. We learned about artefacts on walls of buildings and in the cobblestone, and stopped at two restaurants to learn about the different regions of Spain and the differences between pintxos and tapas. I ended the night wandering into Ziryab, an Arab-Cataluyna fusion restaurant/bar where the owner and her brother were so welcoming that we drank wine and told stories until sunrise. We shared stories of the struggles that eventually lead to triumphs in our career paths as long as we remain passionate, determined, and creative. Although their story is in the restaurant business, I saw many parallels with the path my career took.

The next day, I took my bike and rode to Casa Batillo and Sagrada Familia, the latter being one of the most famous of Gaudi’s legacies. His unparalleled architecture still remains creative, novel, cutting-edge, and mysterious.

One of my goals while in Europe was to connect with fellow ATs to get insight into their international experiences while working as an athletic therapist. Although I was not able to connect with a colleague working with Cirque, I had the privilege of meeting with the individuals from Spain involved with the World Federation in Athletic Training and Therapy (WFATT) over a typical Catalunya 10pm dinner. We chatted about their conversations with WFATT and their vision of having athletic training as a recognized profession. Their struggles with regulation mirrored what I constantly see in Canada. In spite of those struggles, they are passionate about collaborating with colleagues around the globe to face these challenges as a strong and unified collective. They shared their vision of an opportunity for CATA/CBOCAT Certification Candidates to obtain international experience during a 1-3 weeklong placement. The experience would involve 2-4 hours of lectures followed by 4-6 hours of clinical experience working with various international level sport teams. Futbol Club (FC) Barcelona sports include basketball, handball, futbol, and hockey (roller skate). Currently, FC Barcelona has a program in place for students in the University of Texas – Arlington Athletic Training program (, but the medical director of FC Barcelona envisioned a similar program for athletic therapy students from Canada. Their vision is a reminder of how strong a profession can become through global collaborations.  Our dinner ended off with an exchange of business cards and a toast to the WFATT’s vision.

Friends, Paris, France

After 3 days in Spain, I flew to Paris to meet an old friend I knew from playing basketball at U of T. He is currently a medical student in Poland studying for the United States Medical Licencing Exam (USMLE), but he was visiting his sister in Paris. Prior to medical school, he completed his Doctor of Chiropractic degree in Bournemouth, UK. Upon finishing medical school, he plans to continue his studies and complete a Doctor of Naturopathy degree as well.

The highlights of my Paris trip were the conversations we had involving patient care and how today’s medicine and patient care is unfortunately heavily influenced by profits. He confessed, “My education and experiences have exposed many things about health care that are disturbing, but have driven me to try to create a truly patient-centered model that is also feasible”. His opinions challenge profit-focused models of health care that border unethical. The conversations were frustrating at times, yet insightful and filled with emotion.

Like Barcelona, I rented a bike and got lost in the many walkways and small streets of Paris. I visited a few of the main tourist sites, but definitely appreciated the “off-the-beaten-path” restaurants and cafes and neighbourhoods my friends took me to. Although, Paris is known for its world-renowned landmarks, architecture, art, and museums, my fondest memories of Paris are definitely the conversations over boxed wine with friends in a restaurant in an alleyway until sunrise.

Fish and Chips, London, United Kingdom

The last part of the trip involved 1 night in London staying at a hostel by the Chelsea Bridge. With only one day left on my trip to spend in London, I chose to use the bike rental system similar to the systems in Barcelona and Paris, and explored the little neighbourhoods rarely seen by tour groups. I found the “Best Fish and Chips shop” in the UK that was truly the best I have had and spent several hours riding through Chelsea and Lavender Hill. I was glad to end my trip with a feast and a relaxing bike ride along a wonderfully lit River Thames.

My advice for first time travellers to Barcelona, Paris, or London: use the bike rental systems, wander and explore for the first two days, plan to see some of the landmarks, invest in conversations with residents, and appreciate the differences as well as the similarities between places, people and cultures. Bon Voyage! 

Dennis Valdez, PhD, CAT(C), ATC

Assistant Professor, Mount Royal University

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