Innovative student placements

CSP professional adviser Jennifer Straker highlights some examples of the growing innovation in physiotherapy placement delivery

Workforce Development June 2024
Innovative student placements

Since 2020, we have seen some amazing innovation in how practice-based learning is delivered. Our talented practice educators and university staff have risen to the challenge of increasing placement capacity across the UK. 

We have seen an increase in people using 2:1 model, long-arm supervision, and offering placements across the four pillars of practice. More universities are supporting placements by offering simulation and looking at ways to help deliver some placements themselves. 

As the profession grows, the demand for placements is ever increasing. How can we continue to innovate to ensure we not only meet the rise in demand, but also provide the quality necessary to ensure we have a well-skilled next generation of physiotherapists graduating? 

The innovation in placement delivery has not only provided unique opportunities for students and enriched their learning experiences, but there have also been positives for the teams and individuals delivering these alternative placements.  

Research-focused placements

Clinical academic physiotherapists at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London have collaborated with National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) to deliver placements focusing on the research pillar. 

This is a mixed model placement with students spending four days a week split between the clinical academics and the NIHR, with a 2:2 model of supervision and one day a week gaining clinical experience. 

The placement demonstrated to students the importance of research, and how research fits into clinical practice, alongside how research is vital at all levels of practice. The students evaluated the placement highly, but they were not the only people to benefit from the placement. 

‘In terms of benefits to clinical academics I would say that the placement offered practical help with aspects of the research project, such as screening participants and database/questionnaire development alongside benefits such as a fresh pair of eyes on your work, and practice at explaining the project. It also gave a chance to look at clinical practice from the student’s perspective,’ says Gemma Stanford, a clinical academic at Royal Brompton Hospital.  

‘Whilst traditionally we have seen the majority of placements taking place in a clinical setting under the education of a band 6 physiotherapist, staff at all levels can be involved with practice-based learning and can see their own work benefit from supporting student placement, no matter what role they are in.’

Longitudinal placements

In response to placement demands during the Covid-19 pandemic, the University of Nottingham developed innovative longitudinal placements that are now business as usual. 

The model sees physiotherapy students work alongside their sports rehab students to deliver assessment and treatment to the university’s sports teams. The students are trained in basic pitch-side first aid and work as first aiders on match days. They then, under supervision, use their skills to triage sports players from their team and inform the best course of treatment for any injury. 

This approach uses a 4:1 model of practice education with two physio students and two sports rehab students supporting each team.  

The longitudinal placement that runs the length of the academic year sees students learn from each other, understand the roles of each other as well as develop their autonomy with MSK. Students keep a log of reflections to show their progress over the year. This placement model is going from strength to strength and highlights the benefits of not only peer support on placements, but of multi professional learning too. 

Sinead Lodge, clinic lead physiotherapist at the Sports Injury Clinic at the University of Nottingham, says this placement model has benefited their recruitment and they have gained some enthusiastic and skilled new graduates as part of their team.  

‘The placement offers physiotherapy and sport rehabilitation students the opportunity to work together and become embedded in the inter-disciplinary teams that help to support our athlete teams. 

‘The athletes, coaches and other support staff welcome them to training, strength and conditioning sessions, and MDT meetings. And they take an active part in clinic triage. The placements have become an integral part of University of Nottingham’s sport and BUCS (British Universities & Colleges Sport) success.’

Students have gained many transferable skills by undertaking placements across the four pillars of practice and mixed models of practice-based learning are becoming more widespread, where a student will have a placement that incorporates skills and learning across more than one pillar of practice. 

FCP placements

In recent years we have seen the development of – and an increase in – the first contact practitioner (FCP) role. Connect Health worked with the University of Sunderland to deliver a placement in primary care in South Tyneside and they have shown how practice-based learning can happen within the FCP role.  

Laura McColl, FCP team lead, said: ‘The placement provided an excellent opportunity for the student to experience physiotherapy in primary care.   

In addition to assessing, diagnosing and managing patients in a first contact environment he had the opportunity to shadow a wide variety of primary care roles including advanced nurse practitioners, first contact podiatrists, social prescribers, pharmacists, GPs and practice nurses.  

‘The student had the opportunity to work on all four pillars of practice completing FCP online learning, attending education sessions, completing a service audit and presenting placement feedback to the university.  

‘We have a very supportive FCP team, and several members of the team were involved in the delivery of the placement, which worked well. At times the placement was challenging, but it proved to be very successful, and the clinical ‘hands-on’ element worked better than expected. We are looking forward to taking students in FCP in the future.

Laura added: ‘These alternative placements not only highlight how creative our practice educators are and how dedicated staff are to deliver wonderful opportunities to the next generation of physios, but also the widespread benefits that have been experienced as a result. 

‘Educating our future workforce is everybody’s responsibility, so how can you deliver placements in your service?’  

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