Student education: whose role is it anyway?

Providing opportunities for physios of the future to learn through experience

Student education: whose role is it anyway?

It’s easy to assume it’s someone else’s responsibility. A more collaborative approach, considering the needs of all parties, could be the key to more effective provision of placement opportunities.

The challenges for increasing placement provision have been cited many times, with clinicians’ time and capacity with ever-increasing caseloads being the most common. Space in departments is another regularly cited barrier. But dare we suggest another could be an apathy in some parts of the profession that ‘it’s not really their job anyway.’ If it’s not your job the question has to be ‘whose?’ Your colleague’s? The physiotherapist in the bigger hospital down the road? The private practitioner on the corner? Whose? To ensure we seize the opportunities available to our profession now, it surely has to be all of our responsibility. And if we fail to realise this, we risk the future of our profession. 

The current health agenda in all UK countries is around enhancing preventative and rehabilitative services and building and strengthening integrated local primary and community systems to deliver this. For our profession we are therefore in exciting times. After all, we are experts in rehabilitation, are taking on and demonstrating our impact and effectiveness in musculoskeletal first contact physiotherapy and other advance practice roles. We empower people with long-term conditions to self-manage and optimise their quality of life and in doing so, reduce the ever growing burden of social care costs. New roles and settings have emerged and will continue to do so as the knowledge and skills we have as physiotherapists become more and more recognised. 


All good news? Absolutely. But in order to achieve this we must all take on the responsibility of growing our profession and that means increasing the numbers of training places for entry into physiotherapy. With that comes the challenge of being able to provide additional quality practice education places. 

The CSP has done much work to ensure sufficient practice placement capacity for students [see our guidance and our resources on the Virtual Learning Environment].  We acknowledge there are challenges, some that are more systemic than those mentioned above. To ensure we can offer enough placements it is imperative that we use all available settings although we do recognise placement costs are a barrier in many geographical locations. The lack of financial support for students on placement means that accommodation costs and travel can be hugely problematic. The CSP continues to lobby to at least bring physiotherapy funding to a similar level to that given to nursing contemporaries. 


The benefits to taking students are numerous: staying up to date with practice, engaging in continuing professional development and increasing opportunities for career progression being but a few.  Moreover, providing placement opportunities increases the prospects of recruiting new graduates to your service. Experiences on placement are highly valued and appear, anecdotally, to influence student career choices.

A more collaborative approach between higher education institutions (HEIs) and service providers has to be taken. HEIs must work with practice educators to support them to develop their skills in facilitating learning and ensure a quality learning experience is achieved. Not all good clinicians are good educators and so closer collaboration is needed to achieve this desired output. For example, regular training to upskill all grades of staff to enable a team approach to student education, training on student mental health issues and seeking out and therefore addressing clinical educators’ needs. Work also must be done to make sure that the timing of placements suits both the providers and the HEIs. For example, some placements go unused as they are not offered at the right time in the timetable. Working together to plan the delivery and timetables could help overcome such a barrier. 


There is no doubt there is a shortage in the physiotherapy workforce.  We understand that there are many challenges in meeting placement demand but our time is now and failing to do so will only be to our own detriment and will we risk being marginalised as a profession. Change has to start with you. Can you rise to the challenge of either taking a student for the first time or offering additional weeks? Can you generate the discussion in your department and challenge the colleague who is too busy, too specialised or perhaps just too demotivated to take a student? Practice education has to be all of our business and that includes you.

The CSP’s Professional Advice Service gives advice and support to members on complex and specialist enquiries about physiotherapy practice, including professional practice issues, standards, values and behaviours, international working, service design and commissioning, and policy in practice. 

Find out more from the CSP's Professional advice team.  

  • Alex Hough and Sara Conroy are professional advisers at the CSP


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