Listening to proceedings (from right): Elisabeth Eckerstorfer, Marilyn Moffat, Sarah Bazin, Charlotte Hager, Roland Craps and David Gorria. Picture: Helmut Wallner © Physio Austria
Listening to proceedings (from right): Elisabeth Eckerstorfer, Marilyn Moffat, Sarah Bazin, Charlotte Hager, Roland Craps and David Gorria. Picture: Helmut Wallner © Physio Austria

European education congress hears how international guidelines can make a difference

Physical therapists from around the world heard about the impact that WCPT education policies are having on the development of the profession at the European Physiotherapy Education Congress, held in Vienna, Austria, in November.

The congress, organised by Physio Austria, the Association of Austrian Physiotherapists, on behalf of WCPT's European Region, attracted 587 delegates from 48 countries. The theme was “Advancing the Professional Profile”, with a focus on continuing professional development as a means of promoting evidence based physiotherapy. Speakers examined innovative ways in which to continue professional development throughout the career.

“There were a lot of common issues between countries, so this was a chance to share solutions,” says Tracy Bury, WCPT’s Professional Policy Director, who attended the event.

Speakers from some countries talked about their struggles to raise standards in the profession, and how they had tried to work with government to improve the core curriculum of physical therapy education. 

There was information on how WCPT education policies can help in such situations at a WCPT symposium, chaired by the Confederation’s President Marilyn Moffat, and with contributions from Tracy Bury and Executive Committee members Margot Skinner and Emma Stokes. Joyce Mothabeng, WCPT Executive Committee member for Africa, was scheduled to speak, but unable to attend. The session explained how the policies had been developed, and how they could be used as a framework for building national plans.

Marilyn Moffat discussed the diversity of education across the globe, and the different pathways to becoming a physical therapist.  But whatever the route to qualification, the requirements in WCPT’s guidelines could be met. They focused on meeting competences, while recognising variations in programmes and locations.

Margot Skinner, WCPT Executive Committee member for Asia Western Pacific, examined the educational challenges in countries where the profession is emerging. But though there are differences in learning style, WCPT policies and guidelines can be contextualised to different ways of learning and different locations.  Developing learning styles that help students becoming lifelong learners is essential, she said. Data about pressing health issues and priorities in each country should be used to inform the curriculum, she said.

Emma Stokes, WCPT’s Vice President, said that although there were clear indications that international policy and guidelines made a difference in professional education, there was a need for hard evidence. WCPT is conducting a policy implementation project to gather information and better understand how its policies are being used. Global data is vital, she said, because it enables the profession to advocate for change.

WCPT policies are being widely used as a basis for development and the experiences in Africa provide good examples, Tracy Bury explained.  A minimum requirement of a four-year degree has been adopted by most African countries. The WCPT policy on continuing professional development has been widely adopted, but only legislated for in South Africa, Kenya, Zambia and Nigeria. A recommended minimum clinical education hours has been observed in all countries with a degree programme.

Tracy Bury described how the first physical therapy education programme in Rwanda had successfully followed WCPT’s policies and guidelines. The first cohort of physical therapists was produced in 2010. 

WCPT’s policies and guidelines are not just for use by WCPT’s member organisations and education programmes in those countries: they are also for those countries without a WCPT member organisation and countries aspiring to develop the profession and work towards membership. The experience in Mozambique was a good example of this: a four-year programme began in 2008 centred on the main areas of physical therapy intervention, with a focus on competences for direct access professionals and appropriate clinical education placements.  

The examples demonstrated how the framework laid down in the policies and guidelines could easily be adapted to meet local priorities. In South Africa, the curriculum was being developed following a two-day workshop of PT educators which aimed to revise the minimum standards set out by the regulator. They had found that the WCPT guidelines covered everything and only needed to be enhanced with the local context. 

The lesson, said Tracy Bury, was that WCPT policies helped member organisations and education providers develop programmes and curriculum. “However, some do not use the documents,” she said. “Others are not aware of their existence or importance. Hopefully the WCPT symposium has gone some way to addressing this and we’d encourage everyone to check our website.”

Anne Moore, Professor of Physiotherapy at the University of Brighton in the UK, gave a keynote address emphasising how important it is for physical therapists to become involved in committees and groups that shape policies in universities and other educational institutions. This is a way for them to influence education policy for the good of physical therapy, she said.

WCPT's education policies and guidelines: