FIONA Stewart never thought she’d run her own business. The physiotherapist had been treating patients with pelvic floor dysfunction and continence issues for 30 years in the NHS when she decided it was time for a change.

But since setting up in private practice in 2012 her business has thrived, growing steadily as the problem has become more widely recognised and discussed, and more women seek help rather than suffering in silence.

The 59-year-old now works from two sites in Glasgow, one in the west end of the city and one in the south side, and offers a specialist service to patients.

“Most physios in private practice deal with muscular-skeletal problems such as back and neck pain but I only deal with pelvic floor patients,” she explains. “My job in the NHS had become very bureaucratic, with far less time for patient contact.

“The face-to-face time with patients was always what I enjoyed most about the job and I knew there weren’t many physios like me operating in the private sector.

"Pelvic floor dysfunction can be very debilitating for those who from suffer it, and it doesn’t only affect women who have had children. One in three women will have a related issue at some point in their lives.”

Ms Stewart, who lives in the south side of the city, says the thing she enjoys most about her job hasn’t changed over the years: helping women get better.

“Most people come to me because the NHS waiting lists for this specialist physiotherapy are long," she explains. "Also, the issues around mesh implants that have been highlighted in the news for the last few years have made many women wary of surgery.

“But what’s positive is that the success rate for improvement through physiotherapy is reasonably high.

“That’s the main reason I enjoy working in this area of the profession - often things can be sorted out simply and quickly. By the time they see me, many women have spent money on unnecessary machines and contraptions.

“Helping my patients live fuller lives again gives me great satisfaction. It’s my job to show them how to do things differently, get the message across that they have the power to help themselves.”

Ms Stewart, who has two sons and a daughter and has just become a grandmother for the first time, says being her own boss has helped her strike a better work-life balance. And, like most businesspeople, she has learned a host of new skills.

“The marketing and promotion element of running a business was new to me,” she smiles. “And at first, after so many years in the NHS, it also felt alien and a bit uncomfortable to accept money from people. But I find being self-employed helps keep you motivated, too.

“I enjoy the flexibility of self-employment, having a bit more control over my time.”

While making the transition into private practice, Ms Stewart tapped into the free services and expertise available through Business Gateway and the Scottish Women in Business network. And she is keen to encourage others in the healthcare profession to consider going out on their own.

“If you are feeling dissatisfied, give some serious thought to whether you could run something yourself,” she advises. “Obviously, not everyone will be able to afford to do this, as it takes time to build up your business and even now after five years the income every month still ebbs and flows.

“I also think it would have been very difficult to go out on my own if I hadn’t have had so many years of experience at my back – that turned out to be more important than I thought in many different ways.

“But there are some great sources of support out there to help with contacts, networks and training opportunities – utilise as much as you can as you set up and become established.

“Developing self-confidence is important, too. Don’t be afraid to get out there and talk to people.”

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