Reflections at the end of my first year as a physio student

Having started his MSc a year ago, University of Essex student Matt Shepherd has settled into his course and taken some time to reflect on his experiences at university and on his first placement. Read on to find out his advice to students who have just started their courses.

Like most, the worries of starting a new course were heightened in a year that had brought about so many unexpected changes, not least with how university courses would run. As a pre-registration course, physiotherapy students were allowed to return to face-to-face teaching early, helping prepare us for the upcoming placements.

Matt Shepherd 1st year MSc student

However, before placements could begin the lessons had to start, and commencing an MSc course meant that my classmates had come from a wide variety of previous undergraduate degrees. Many, like myself, had come from a sports background, some had studied a science or psychology and others had come from different healthcare professions.

This variety allowed us to learn from each other, with the varying modules of the course lending themselves to different backgrounds throughout the year. For myself I often struggled with the respiratory modules, however, working alongside classmates with experience in healthcare settings allowed me to develop my knowledge in the subject. This shared knowledge continued throughout the year, with people using their strengths to help others out.

By the time we got to July 2021, we were all looking forward to our first placements. I began my journey in mental health physiotherapy, an area I hadn’t considered or learnt much about. Guided by my educator I soon understood how physiotherapists support this service. Working with older service users, much of my role was in assessing and managing patients at risk of falling, as well as leading a range of exercise classes. One of most interesting aspects of the placement was being able to sit in on ward reviews, allowing me to understand the role physiotherapy has in a multidisciplinary team. To watch how doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, social workers and psychologists discuss cases together was very insightful.   

Now reflecting on my first year, I would offer the following advice to anyone embarking on this course:

  • Utilise the range of expertise from your classmates. Everyone will have something to offer and I found it useful to share experience and knowledge. For example, I improved my note taking skills by learning from the students with prior healthcare experience, and I used my anatomy knowledge from my sports background to help a colleague revise.
  • Placements are well organised; led by your educator, but I would advise you to read up on your respective area to improve your confidence going into the first week. You’re not expected to know everything but having some basic knowledge will help you form a good foundation to improve from. Whilst it is important to do the best you can in your placements, don’t be concerned about things not going quite to plan, remember that you’re still learning, and your educators are there to help you develop.
  • Finally, we were advised to regularly record our reflections during our placement. This helps you address the areas you need to work on and ensures you make the most of your placement opportunity and the expertise of your educator. Not only does it show you how you’ve progressed, but it makes it easier when coming to write your end of placement reflections.

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