It is a good idea to experience primary care while you are a student. However, you don’t need to do a placement with a First Contact Physiotherapist (FCP) to work towards a career in this role.
I'm still a student but I've heard a lot about First Contact Physiotherapy and it sounds interesting. I'd like to find out more, but I don't know what opportunities are available through my university or my placements. How can I tailor my learning and opportunities to discover more about FCP?
Steps you can take to learn more about FCP
FCPs focus on the holistic management of individuals, communities and populations early in the pathway. This affords huge opportunities for physiotherapists to take a preventative healthcare role alongside assessment and management. FCPs must consider wider system pathologies and public health principles beyond musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders, including frailty, multi-morbidity, mental health and increasing complexity. Therefore, it is paramount that you gain a variety of experiences as a student to enable you to draw on a vast breadth of knowledge and experience if you move towards an FCP role later in your career.
Watch our video on practice-based learning in primary care
Placements are a key learning environment and with a bit of focus and attention you can tailor your experiences while on any placement to ensure you gain skills and knowledge which are relevant to FCP. FCPs are highly focused on assessment and diagnosis and these are skills you can develop during any placement. Other key skills of FCPs include exercise prescription, explaining diagnoses and prognoses, and offering self-management advice. These are also traits you can develop in all placement environments.
A diverse range of placements as a student, and rotations as a graduate, is of huge value to physiotherapists wishing to pursue FCP later in their career.
Your placement coordinator may also be able to offer you a placement or shadowing experience in primary care. If your university offers elective placements, you could consider organising one in primary care.
When you're on placement, ask your supervisor if there are any opportunities to spend a few hours with colleagues in primary care. This is likely to be easier in some cases than others – for example, in musculoskeletal (MSK) or community placements. The patient populations, clinical environments and skills developed in MSK rotations and community rotations also easily overlap with primary care work.
More ways to find out about FCP
Reflect on your learning and collect evidence for your portfolio using an online tool such as the CSP ePortfolio. Make use of the reflective elements to ensure you can demonstrate learning rather than just activities, and read this Frontline CPD article for ideas on developing your evidence.
There are skills which are relevant to all physiotherapy specialities, so if you are interested in FCP and primary care, you should focus your placement objectives on transferable skills such as how to implement Making Every Contact Count conversations with patients about smoking cessation, weight management and exercise. You could also improve non-patient facing skills such as how to design patient information and patient communication tools or how to effectively run an audit or patient satisfaction survey.
Placement variety is the spice of life!
One FCP explains why you should do a range of placements:
As an FCP, my non-MSK placements and rotations were just as helpful as my MSK ones. In a single clinic list in primary care, I could have a patient with long-established MS, a patient with Parkinson's and a patient with COPD. As such, it is important to have an understanding of what life is like for someone living with a long-term condition. And having spent time in pulmonary rehab as a student and having had a rotation in community, for example, has helped me relate to my patients and understand how their condition impacts on their function and goals.
How to connect with FCPs
- Check our student social media feeds regularly for information about future events including an FCP or advanced practitioner. Follow @thecspstudents on Twitter and Instagram.
- Join the FCP network on the iCSP forum.
- Identify if your local FCP peer network accepts student members or could help you to link with an individual FCP to discuss your career progression.
- If you are a final-year student, use the CSP mentoring platform to find a mentor who can support your FCP development.