Supporting physiotherapy student education through a global health pandemic

Ms Chanelle Louwen1, Ms Kassie Shardlow1

1Queensland Health, Logan Hospital, Australia

Background: The COVID-19 pandemic continues to present many challenges.  Changes to service delivery have impacted the ability of physiotherapy services to offer clinical placements.  Universities have adapted the mode and method of course delivery; responded to reduced clinical placement opportunities in some sectors; and adapted and managed the challenges associated with social distancing requirements and travel restrictions.

Aim: Outline the impact of COVID-19 on physiotherapy student placements within the Queensland Public Health Service (QPHS), describing how health services and universities have responded and turned adversity into success.

Intervention: Regular data reporting, targeted communication and advocacy strategies were developed to facilitate collaborative discussion, information dissemination and responsive action both within and between QPHS and universities.  Queensland Physiotherapy Placement Collaborative (QPPC) meetings were supported by weekly “COVID Check-ins” facilitating the timely exchange of information during the evolving crisis.  Check-ins were replicated within the QPHS, with QPHS leaders engaging with physiotherapy clinical educators and service managers to provide accurate and timely information; support decision making processes and advocate for the safe provision of clinical placements.

Outcome: Despite many challenges, the pandemic has highlighted some of the significant strengths of the QPPC and the physiotherapy profession.  Targeted strategies that were implemented facilitated collaborative problem solving and innovative solutions – resulting in minimal loss of physiotherapy placements within QPHS.  This collegial and multi-faceted approach has been praised by stakeholders, both within and external to the QPPC, as being pivotal in lessening the impact of COVID-19 on QPHS physiotherapy placement offers and utilisation.

Acknowledgements: The authors would like to thank members of the QPPC, Directors of Physiotherapy Services Queensland, and QPHS physiotherapists for their ongoing dedication to the education and training of physiotherapy students in Queensland.


Chanelle Louwen is an Advanced Physiotherapist at Queensland Health, a state-wide role in which she provides leadership, coordination and strategic planning of physiotherapy clinical placement activity across the Queensland Public Health Sector (QPHS). Chanelle has worked within physiotherapy clinical education for the past 8 years, working collaboratively with industry partners, clinical educators and students alike; as well as being a sessional lecturer for a number of university physiotherapy programs. Chanelle has a passion for quality clinical education with post graduate qualifications in Health Professional Education, Healthcare Leadership and is currently completing her PhD investigating “Physiotherapy student preferred behaviour styles, clinical learning environment expectations and teaching satisfaction, to enhance clinical placement readiness, outcomes and success within the profession”.

As Queensland’s Physiotherapy Clinical Education & Training Program Manager, Kassie Shardlow provides strategic planning and professional leadership of state-wide clinical education and training initiatives for the Queensland Health Physiotherapy workforce and students.  She’s passionate about the provision of high-quality education that supports the delivery of safe and effective health care.   Kassie has extensive experience in the clinical education and training of physiotherapy students and staff in a variety of clinical areas of physiotherapy.

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