NINE TO FIVE

Name Jane O'Connor, 43 Occupation Registered osteopath Salary pounds 28,000 Address Leamington Spa
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Indy Lifestyle Online
A few too many skeletons in the family closet, were there?

Ha ha. Actually my aunt worked as a receptionist for Stephen Ward (the osteopath at the centre of the Profumo affair). He successfully treated my mother's shoulder problem so I've known about osteopathy all my life.

So how does one become an osteopath?

I trained for four years at the British School of Osteopathy in London. Apart from learning about osteopathic diagnosis and techniques, the training is similar to a doctor's - except we don't study pharmacology or surgery. It was pretty intense. While all my friends on other courses were off grape picking, we were busy studying - we got three weeks holiday in the summer and a week at Christmas.

How appalling! I hope you had a long rest after graduating.

Actually I went to run a charity clinic in Birmingham. It was established with money from Harry Payne, the biscuit magnate, in 1965. He left a legacy to provide an osteopath service for the local working-class population. It was a trial by fire. Initially there was only me and a receptionist. I was seeing between 60 and 90 patients a week, working until 8pm. I wouldn't do that now. But the clinic is still running and I'm one of the trustees.

With hours like that, I'm not surprised you moved on.

I set up my own practice 17 years ago. Initially there was just me but as my list grew I took on an assistant and now there are three other osteopaths working here. I spend one day a week working in a GP practice. Relationships with GPs have changed completely since I started. When I first qualified I once had to hide in a broom cupboard when the doctor visited because if he'd known I was there he might not have sent the patient to hospital. Now we get referrals all the time.

So are your patients mostly old?

Not at all - there's a complete range. My youngest patient was four days old and I treat a woman who will be 99 in February. Young children get referred with glue ear, colic and sleep problems - there is a range of things which,if picked up and corrected in childhood, can prevent hip problems and backache later on.

Do you have favourites?

I especially enjoy working with elderly people. The ones who come here want to remain mobile and independent as long as possible - dressing or bathing themselves, doing the sort of things the rest of us take for granted like tying up shoelaces and cooking meals. We see patients with sports injuries and workers with backaches. I've even treated guide dogs.

All that manipulation must get a bit stressful.

Not really. Sometimes the job can be difficult, like when you think you've found something wrong with a patient and you have to find a way of getting them to go to their GP without raising their anxiety. Then you get days when you see a series of huge rugby players, all over 6ft and 16st, and I'm only 5ft3in and 81/2 st ... but I'm not so much stressed as shattered.

Do you live near work?

In a flat above the practice, actually, with my three Labradors. Two years ago my partner Theo died suddenly. He had a brain haemorrhage and collapsed in the street. He was only 48. I kept on working; I didn't know what else to do and it kept me sane. When you've got patients you can't leave them in the lurch.

PETER CROSS

General Osteopathic Council (tel: 0171 357 6655).

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