Role-emerging placements in physiotherapy

Kate Stancombe shares her experience of a different kind of placement for physio students

Developing more practice-based placements for physiotherapy students is a priority, given the increase in the number of student places on physiotherapy programmes across the UK to meet workforce demand. 

A role-emerging placement (REP) is where there is no existing therapist or established role for that profession. They offer potentially rich learning experiences while preparing students for a changing healthcare work environment, and could lead to new understandings of professional capabilities and possibly the creation of jobs. Despite being used widely in occupational therapy training, REPs are currently not used as a practice-based learning opportunity by most UK physiotherapy programmes. 

 In 2018, we ran our first physiotherapy REP with a local care home liaison team (part of Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust) who currently have no physiotherapy provision. Two students were selected based on their expressions of interest, prior experience and performance. They had regular meetings and practice observations from either an academic or the physiotherapist from the neighbouring team (joint long-arm supervisors) in order to meet HCPC standards and enable the placement learning outcomes to be assessed effectively. 

The REP allowed the students to develop their self-directed learning, autonomous working and professional identity. One student commented: ‘this placement allowed us to think outside the box and has greatly improved our confidence in a work-based environment as this is the most similar experience to a real-life work experience that we will be able to obtain from a placement’. 

The students co-learning skills and peer support also appeared invaluable to their learning experience. As well as working with individual service users, the students delivered valuable activities such as swimming and gardening groups, staff training sessions and producing information booklets. 

The REP was evaluated positively by the students, care home staff and managers through completion of a questionnaire. It is due to be repeated later this year and we plan to review methods of evaluation to include patient outcomes where possible. 

REPs are not suitable for all students or learning outcomes but, using a selection process, careful preparation and a flexible approach, they could help to support the expanding role of therapies in an ever-changing, evolving work environment.

  • Kate Stancombe is Senior Lecturer at the University of the West of England, Bristol


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