Changing placement landscapes: an alternative undergraduate student placement model

Ms Kelly Thurlow1, Mrs  Jane  Ferns

1University Of Newcastle Department Of Rural Health , Taree, Australia


Service-learning (SL) programs present an opportunity to transform the theoretical knowledge learned from university curriculum into practical workplace experiences. SL programs are designed with mutual benefit in mind: providing learning opportunities for students whilst addressing identifiable community needs in collaboration with a partner organisation.

The University Of Newcastle Department Of Rural Health, established a collaboration with a rural residential aged care facility (RACF) aimed at supporting and enhancing care for their residents. Physiotherapy students on placement in a rural area attended a RACF one day per week over a 5-week period across four student blocks. The level of experience ranged from second to fourth year undergraduate level.  The SL program was utilised to address the gap in services based on current funding models and provide learning opportunity in the real world.

In collaboration with the RACF staff, suitable clients who held capacity to increase mobility were identified. The students addressed resident mobility and strengthening with the aim to decrease falls risks, and therefore improve clients overall quality of life.

Under the current model of funding, the Aged Care Funding Instrument (ACFI) is used to provide simple pain management for individual clients. However, the ACFI funding provides for passive treatments to manage pain rather than evidence-based, active treatments.  This results in resident dependence, rather than developing independence, function and improving the quality of residents’ life.

Overall outcomes from the students was that that the SL opportunity enhanced understanding of the RACF environment, develops communication skills and understanding of patient medical records.


Kelly Thurlow graduated from the University of Sydney in 1996 with a Bachelor of Health Science (Physiotherapy). Kelly has been an advocate for Rural and Remote health for many years working in rural facilities in Far North Queensland and providing mentoring for new graduates in remote locations such as Thursday Island. She has additionally worked on large state-wide projects looking at workforce such as the HP redesign for Queensland Health as the rural and remote representative, as well as previously being on the APA Rural issues Committee
For the past 9 years Kelly has worked as a lecturer with the University Of Newcastle Department Of Rural Health located in Taree NSW. Part of her role involves clinical supervision for undergraduate students undertaking placement in the Emergency Department at Manning Rural Referral Hospital, providing over 65 student teaching weeks per year.
Her interests remain around advocacy for rural and remote health and the advanced practice models of workforce re design. She is keen to see the development and application of advanced scope roles across the physiotherapy workforce and development of formalised and Australia wide training pathways.