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The Australian physiotherapy profession continues to be in high demand, as evidenced by the growth in new university physiotherapy programs, an aging population, and the reputation of the physiotherapists to provide excellent healthcare to a range of patient needs.

The ever-changing global pressures and context continue to significantly impact the education sector and physiotherapy programs preparing work-ready graduates. Graduates are expected to have gained clinical experience through a diverse range of placements across the patient lifecycle that enable them to be safe and effective healthcare practitioners.

Clinical placements for physiotherapy students face a number of barriers – COVID-19 disruptions, limited placements in metropolitan areas, and supervision challenges in rural and remote settings.

So how does the Council’s Accreditation Standard respond to these challenges that education providers face in providing their students with sufficient clinical education to be work-ready?

The accreditation standard is outcomes focussed and as such does not prescribe a particular model to be followed. This gives our university partners the flexibility to innovate and develop rich and contemporary clinical experiences and adapt to a changing environment.

Some examples of innovations include the use of high-fidelity simulations, participation in a telehealth service, remote supervision of regional or overseas placements, internships, and project-based learning. When determining if a clinical education program meets the accreditation standard the education provider must demonstrate how:

  • the model provides experience across acute, rehabilitation, and community practice in a range of environments and settings across the lifespan
  • the student is supported and assessed
  • training and support is provided to the clinical educators
  • quality assurance process, including the collection of feedback from the students and educators, are used to continuously improve the program
  • the model is supported by relevant stakeholders i.e. industry advisory groups

Over the last 18 months during the COVID pandemic, the healthcare sector, including physiotherapy service delivery, has needed to innovate. Likewise, Australian education providers have continued to develop new and innovative approaches to providing physiotherapy students with clinical placements that meet the Accreditation standard and provide high-quality, competent physiotherapists.

The Australian Physiotherapy Council actively encourages education providers to innovate their education and clinical placement models, and welcomes providers to speak with our Accreditation team to ensure these models meet the Australian standards of accreditation.

In the coming weeks, we will share several contemporary journal articles highlighting research that proposes innovations in clinical placements.

Here are some research articles on physiotherapy students’ clinical placements:

Exploring strategies used by physiotherapy private practices in hosting student clinical placements by Roma Forbes, Alana Dinsdale, Sandra G.Brauer, Ruth Dunwoodie, Stephen Birch. Read article here.

The Council is pleased to share research on physiotherapy students’ clinical placements by Dr Roma Forbes. Dr Roma Forbes is a teaching focused lecturer in physiotherapy at The University of Queensland, and a titled musculoskeletal physiotherapist in private practice. Her research focuses on clinical education capacity, particularly in private practice settings and exploring strategies to incorporate health professional students into service delivery. Dr Forbes also works with the Council as an accreditation panel assessor.

In this research study, private practice settings were explored as a valuable source of student placements to produce work-ready graduates, while minimising disruption to staff, clients and service delivery in the private practice.

Delivering introductory physiotherapy clinical placements incorporating simulated learning experiences in rural settings by Dr Catherine Johnston. Read article here.

This research considers how traditional health care placements and simulated learning in rural settings could provide undergraduate physiotherapy students vital clinical experience in diverse settings.

Dr Catherine Johnston is the Program Convenor and Clinical Education Manager for the Physiotherapy Program at the University of Newcastle. Catherine has a PhD, MAppSc (Cardiopulmonary Physiotherapy) and BAppSc (Physiotherapy) from The University of Sydney. Catherine is the Clinical Education Manager for the physiotherapy program and teaches into the physiotherapy program, predominantly in cardiopulmonary physiotherapy. Catherine's research interests include all aspects of clinical education in physiotherapy (student learning on clinical placement, student under performance on clinical placement, student and clinical educator support) and cardiopulmonary physiotherapy (particularly pulmonary rehabilitation).

Working remotely: Innovative allied health placements in response to COVID-19 by Claire Salter, Rebecca Kate Oates, Charmaine Swanson, Lisa Bourke, University of Melbourne. Read article here.

Under innovations in clinical education for physiotherapy students in Australia, the Council is pleased to share about the Going Rural Health initiative run by The University of Melbourne Department of Rural Health (UDRH).

Through funding from the Australian Government Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training program, the programs have been developed to support students enrolled in a nationally recognised nursing, allied health or other health science undergraduate or postgraduate degree at any Australian University. Going Rural Health has teams located in Shepparton, Wangaratta and Ballarat within Victoria.

The authors of this article, community placement coordinators, specifically focus on the development of community based service learning placements, which are aimed to address community needs and provide mutual benefit to the organisation, community and student.

Read page 591 of the journal article which specifically discusses telehealth and physiotherapy placement.

If you are from an Australian university considering innovative models of clinical placement, please get in touch with our Accreditation team to discuss how it would meet the Accreditation Standards.

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