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In perspective - education is the global key

Though physical therapists’ education is not uniform, Tracy Bury argues that setting internationally-accepted standards is still possible.

All physios know,in whatever country they work, that education is at the core of our professional reputation and achievement.

But how do we reconcile that with the fact that, globally, our education is quite diverse?

Any physiotherapist who has looked for work abroad knows that just because you are qualified to practise in one country, doesn’t mean you are qualified to do so in another.

In the UK, the requirement is a physiotherapy degree (three- or four-year for undergraduates) offered by a British university.

It’s not necessarily the same elsewhere.

While most European countries have similar requirements, some, such as  Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Serbia, have a three- or four-year diploma.

Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States are among the countries that, like the UK, have three to four-year degree courses (in the US it leads to a doctor of physical therapy qualification), but there are significant variations.

In Asia, for example, Indonesia and Malaysia have diplomas, whereas South Korea and Taiwan have four-year degrees.

In South America, Chile and Venezuela have three- to four-year diplomas, whereas Uruguay has a five-year degree, and in Africa, there is a diploma in Kenya, a four-year degree in Ghana and a four-year degree plus one-year internship in Nigeria.

These variations are not simply random.

This is because the profession practises according to the specific circumstances of that country, and the educational system and regulatory systems evolve in a national environment.

It is unrealistic to say that the means of qualification of any one country should apply everywhere.

What we can do, however, is ensure that there are educational standards for all systems of qualification to aspire to and work towards, wherever they are in the world.

That is exactly what the World Confederation for Physical Therapy (WCPT) has done.

In 2007, for the first time, we issued a new set of guidelines designed to help assure the quality of physical therapy education worldwide.

They expressed general expectations about standards for the award of qualifications at a given level and articulated attributes and capabilities that those possessing such qualifications should be able to demonstrate.

These guidelines, which are consistent with standards in the UK, have been updated and added to (www.wcpt.org/education).

They are in constant demand.

As a result of their widespread use, there has been growing adherence to an internationally accepted standard, and we hope that this process will accelerate.

The result will be a profession with more global coherence and authority.

The goal of achieving common standards and expectations in education all around the world is achievable. We can have international coherence while allowing diversity.

Tracy Bury is director of professional policy, WCPT


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