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The COVID-19 pandemic has had a far-reaching impact on many people, including the Australian physiotherapy profession, who treat patients in diverse clinical settings from aged care facilities, private practice and even COVID-19 wards and intensive care units in our hospitals.

The Australian Physiotherapy Council’s primary role is to ensure the quality of physiotherapists in Australia and to ensure public safety. Despite the pandemic, we remain committed to this and will not compromise that benchmark in any way. The Council continues to work within the Council’s legal obligations to uphold the standard of approved physiotherapy assessments on behalf of Ahpra and the Physiotherapy Board of Australia.

Government directed lockdowns have also disrupted the Council facilitated assessment journeys for some overseas trained physiotherapists wanting to be registered and practice in Australia. Throughout the pandemic and as Melbourne has gone in and out of Government directed lockdowns, the face-to-face clinical assessments have been suspended several times.

In this challenging and dynamic context, the Council has been deeply committed to finding solutions to the lockdown challenges and supporting overseas trained physiotherapists to demonstrate how their competency meets the Australian Physiotherapy practice thresholds required for general registration as an Australian physiotherapist.

Over the last six months the Council’s Board of Directors, Assessment Committee and Assessment Team have been investigating and searching worldwide for a suitable model for remote clinical assessment, to overcome the challenges presented by the pandemic.

However, we could not find a suitable remote model that could be immediately applied to our assessment process. It is also notable that most remote models involved Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) assessments which are not used in physiotherapy summative assessments in Australia.

Today, we are pleased to announce that the Council has commenced a research project to explore and validate a new remote model of clinical assessment. The aim is that this assessment would be remotely accessible by candidates anywhere in the world. This is an ambitious project, and a remote clinical summative assessment has not been developed in physiotherapy anywhere in the world to date.

Mr Anton Barnett-Harris, CEO of the Council, has reiterated that above all, the Council’s legislated responsibility is to ensure that overseas qualified physiotherapists meet the competencies described by the Physiotherapy practice thresholds. This means that the future model will be backed by a scientifically rigorous research study to ensure that a new remote model is as robust, reliable and efficient as the current simulation-based clinical assessment.

The Council’s Remote Clinical Assessment Research Project has been approved by Flinders University Human Ethics Research Committee and will be conducted in partnership with La Trobe University.

Prominent physiotherapy academic Professor Lucy Chipchase, currently at Flinders University and one of the Council’s Directors, is leading the Remote Clinical Assessment Research Project. “This project is ambitious, and we are investigating a number of innovative approaches to determining the clinical judgement of overseas qualified candidates and their suitability to work in the Australian health sector. We have involved a number of academics and researchers to bring the best thinking to this robust study,” said Professor Chipchase.

The Remote Clinical Assessment Research Project is a long-term project and there will be no changes to the current assessment process for several years to come. Mr Barnett-Harris has encouraged existing candidates to prepare for the borders to reopen by being fully vaccinated to avoid further delays to their assessments, as the Council addresses the backlog of assessments caused by the restrictions.

Candidates are urged to thoroughly prepare for each assessment stage by familiarising themselves with the information and resources provided by the Council. This will provide candidates with the best opportunity to successfully complete the requirements for an interim certification or general registration with the Physiotherapy Board of Australia and fulfil the candidates’ desire to join the esteemed Australian physiotherapy profession.

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