Bermuda Program Internship Leads to Career in Local Healthcare

Stephen Lightbourne, a physiotherapist in the Outpatient Physiotherapy Department at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, spent the summer of 2011 working as an intern in the BIOS Bermuda Program with research specialist Rachel Parsons. He credits the experience with teaching him how to work in a laboratory setting and involve himself in research, which he continues to do in his current practice as a physiotherapist.

The BIOS Bermuda Program has been a cornerstone of the Institute’s local educational programming for more than 40 years. Since 1976, this unique program has given Bermudian students aged 18 and older the opportunity to gain valuable experience by working alongside BIOS faculty and scientific staff in hands-on internships that cover a range of topics in the marine and atmospheric sciences. Bermuda Program students have the opportunity to work in both field and laboratory settings, learning skills such as data analysis, communication, and problem solving that are crucial for success in a variety of careers.

In 2009, Stephen Lightbourne, then 19, was enrolled in his first year of the associate of science degree program at Bermuda College, located in the next parish over from his home in Cedar Hill, Warwick. One of his classmates told him about the Bermuda Program and Lightbourne thought it sounded like a great opportunity, particularly since he was considering a lab-based career in the natural sciences. The paid fellowship, which included a stipend plus laboratory expenses, especially appealed to him as a way to learn science.

After completing his degree, Lightbourne spent June through September of 2011 working as a Bermuda Program intern for BIOS research specialist and microbial ecologist Rachel Parsons, herself an alumna of the program. Immediately after completing his internship, he traveled to the U.K. to attend St. George’s, University of London where, in 2015, he obtained his bachelor of science (honors) in physiotherapy. In 2019, he obtained his master of science in advanced manipulative physiotherapy from the University of Birmingham, also in the U.K.

Today, Lightbourne, now 30, works as a physiotherapist in the Outpatient Physiotherapy Department at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, where he helps patients restore function and movement after injury or illness. Recently he discussed how his experience as a Bermuda Program intern shaped his decision to enter the healthcare profession.

Lightbourne chose to pursue a career in physiotherapy because it allows him to combine his love for science and have a direct impact on people. In this field, he’s had the opportunity to work in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, intensive care units, and even providing first aid for athletes in high-impact sports such as rugby and football.

What made you want to apply to the Bermuda Program? What were you hoping to gain from the experience?
At the time I was very interested in a career in research. I have always loved biology and had career discussions with the lab technician in my bio-chem class, as well as one of my classmates, Jecar Chapman, who had already been involved with the Bermuda Program. They both encouraged me to apply.

I wanted to learn how to work in a laboratory setting, run tests, and analyze samples. During my summer tenure I learned these skills and much more. 

Can you share details of the research project that you worked on during the Bermuda Program? What was the experience like for you?
My project was part of a larger longitudinal study that spanned several summers investigating the effects of sewage pollution in the coastal waters and sediments of Bermuda. I looked at bacteriodes, which are the most abundant fecal bacteria in the human gut. Because they are specific to humans, they can be used as an indicator for the presence of human waste. My study investigated inshore areas that are subject to high boat traffic and measured the presence or absence of bacteriodes. I found that sewage contamination was more prevalent when water temperatures were warmer and boat traffic was higher, such as immediately after the Cup Match holiday in late July. Traveling around the island and collecting seawater and sand in the name of science was definitely one of the most enjoyable parts of that summer!

Back in the lab, I worked with an intern from Canada based at BIOS who was piloting a new method of extracting DNA from sediment. I also had the chance to help with ongoing microbial oceanography research and used a high-powered microscope to count microscopic plankton that provide the foundation of our marine ecosystem.

By the end of the summer, I learned how important our local research is to the world. We are a small island, but we are blessed with a tremendously talented group of scientists who are conducting high-quality research with global implications. Being part of this research made a lasting impact on me. It continues to influence my career as I involve myself in research to support my practice as a physiotherapist.

Why did you choose your major(s) in university? What opportunities has this opened up for you professionally?
I chose physiotherapy because it allows me to combine my love for science and have a direct impact on people. Physiotherapy also has a very wide scope, which means that I can work within a variety of healthcare settings. I’ve had the opportunity to work in many different hospitals and provide a range of care, including respiratory care in the community and in intensive care units; helping people learn how to move and function again after acute strokes; and even completed sideline (pitch-side) first aid training for high-impact sports such as rugby and football. It is a career with endless opportunities to help on the frontlines of healthcare.

What does your current position with the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital entail?
I currently work in the Outpatient Physiotherapy Department. Our main role is the rehabilitation of patients post-surgery, including both planned (such as knee replacements) and trauma (such as broken bones) surgeries. We also offer group therapy for people living with low back pain, and one-on-one therapy for common issues such as shoulder and knee pain. I am also involved with ongoing research in connection with the University of Birmingham, with a paper soon to be published investigating the curvature of the midback with aging. In addition, I am in the process of looking for a local supervisor as I hope to start local research and perhaps work towards a doctoral degree.

Do you have any advice for students interested in following a similar career path?
Many governments and healthcare systems around the world are realizing the huge impact that rehabilitation and “prehabilitation” can have on the health of a country. We have seen this issue take center stage here in Bermuda. Physiotherapy as a profession is well-suited to address the needs of the public and help shift the reactive mind-set toward more of a preventative approach to healthcare. Although effective community change will take a multidisciplinary approach, physiotherapists are leaders in the field of rehabilitation and are positioned to provide our community with the education and guidance needed to make healthy life decisions and to develop healthier living habits.