Student education: shaping physio practice-based learning & you

Gwyn Owen, CSP professional adviser, says expanding the scope and capacity of practice-based learning is vital to meeting service need.

Student education shaping the future

Physiotherapy is in demand. And that demand will continue to grow as we produce evidence to show that the physiotherapy workforce is an effective solution that can meet changing patient, population and service needs – across a variety of sectors and settings.

To expand the workforce, qualifying physiotherapy education has to grow too. The profession’s success in showing that physiotherapy works is reflected in rising student numbers and in the number of qualifying programmes and routes available for people to enter the profession (‘Physio education is flourishing’, Frontline, 8 August). 

Practice-based learning (PrBL) is a vital component of qualifying physiotherapy education. As CSP members, we all have a responsibility to support the development of the next generation of physiotherapists. Physiotherapy students require 1,000 hours of PrBL to graduate so growing the workforce creates an additional demand for placements. And in the context of changing design and delivery of physiotherapy, growth isn’t just about volume of placements, it’s also about the scope of what’s on offer.  

A national campaign

Shaping Physio – Practice-based Learning & You is a CSP national campaign underpinned by a set of key messages that assert the society’s position on PrBL and challenge some of the  myths associated with it – read key messages about PrBL. These messages are designed to stimulate critical conversations that help members promote quality PrBL in their practice settings. That could be through changing how existing PrBL opportunities are designed and delivered, or by developing new placements in the growing number of settings where physiotherapy is practised.

The campaign has been working to raise the profile of PrBL by supporting members to share examples of practice – in Frontline, at network events, and through a series of webinars hosted by the CSP’s learning and development team. The Shaping Physio campaign has a dedicated wall on Twitter – #prblcsp – that provides a space for sharing information and ideas about PrBL. It’s also producing a digital footprint of campaign activity.  

Campaign outcomes

Data about the impact of campaign activity comes from a variety of sources – including the CSP’s quality assurance and enhancement processes here, PrBL event feedback and conversations with members. These data show that PrBL capacity is keeping pace with current demand – in a context of increasing student numbers. This suggests a growing awareness of the importance of PrBL for the ongoing development of the physiotherapy workforce and service delivery. It’s also evidence of how members are taking professional responsibility for PrBL and working together to maintain and develop placement capacity.

Shifts in the location and design of services are creating opportunities to review and expand the scope of placements available. Universities are reporting that students have opportunities to experience physiotherapy practice in hospital, and a growing range of primary care and community-based services provided by the NHS. They are also seeing an increase in placements offered in services delivered by independent, private and third sectors. 

Members have shared examples of how service redesign has provided opportunities to enable students to work along the whole length of a care pathway; and, in some cases, to experience the reality of shift work or seven-day working.

It has been exciting to see a growing number of placements offering inter-professional learning experiences – either by learning/practising with students from other disciplines, or through inter-professional models of supervision. These models of practice are vital to ensure that the future physiotherapy workforce has the capacity and confidence needed to meet the demand for integrated care.  

The campaign is also uncovering examples of programme teams working with physiotherapy services to put people and processes in place to strengthen coordination of placements. The collective investment of time and energy goes a long way to making best use of placement capacity in a locality. Coordination also makes sure that teams/services can continue to contribute to and benefit from quality PrBL without becoming overwhelmed.  

But some teams and services are reporting that they have unused placement capacity. This can be for a variety of reasons including perceptions about the relevance of PrBL in particular settings and timing of placement availability. The campaign will be working with members to explore and develop solutions to some of these issues in the coming months. 

What’s happening next?  

It’s great to see an increasing number of members, services and service users benefiting from PrBL, but we can’t rest on our laurels. Entry routes into physiotherapy are expanding, so we need to ensure that capacity for quality PrBL is sustainable and that it fits the needs of different models of qualifying education, including degree-level apprenticeships. Campaign activity will continue – working with members to showcase the impact and value of PrBL for ensuring sustainability of the physiotherapy workforce and its ability to deliver quality care.  

Work is also under way to explore a common placement assessment form. This strand has emerged in response to conversations with members about the value of a single form.

We’ll also be working with members to promote PrBL in primary and community care settings, while exploring and addressing factors that potentially limit the development of PrBL in the independent, private and voluntary sectors. 

What can I do? 

  • Visit the CSP’s Practice-based Learning webpage.
  • Use the resources to think how you will contribute to the Shaping Physio campaign. There are lots of different ways to get involved, from using the campaign’s myth-busting messages to kick-start conversations about PrBL in your workplace to organising an event to showcase examples of PrBL from your locality and beyond.  If you decide to change your approach to PrBL or want help to set up a new placement, get in touch with the placement team at your local university. They will be happy to support you.
  • Post a tweet to the #prblcsp wall to let @thecsp know what you’re doing to support the campaign.

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