The changing landscape of physiotherapy student clinical placements: An exploration of geographical distribution and student outcomes across settings.

Dr Catherine Johnston1, Mr Clint Newstead2, Dr Luke Wakely3

1Discipline of Physiotherapy, School Of Health Sciences, The University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia, 2Discipline of Physiotherapy, School of Community Health, Charles Sturt University, Orange, Australia, 3University of Newcastle Department of Rural Health, Tamworth, Australia


Background: As numbers of physiotherapy students in Australia increase, there may be a greater reliance on rural healthcare facilities to provide clinical education experiences. It is unknown as to whether a shift in placement distribution away from a historically metropolitan dominated pattern has occurred in recent years and whether placement outcomes are equivalent. This study aimed to describe the geographical distribution of physiotherapy clinical placements and to investigate the relationship between geographical setting and placement assessment outcomes. Methods: A retrospective cohort design was used. Study year, type, geographical location and grade were recorded for all block clinical placements undertaken by physiotherapy students at The University of Newcastle between 2003 and 2014. Geographical locations were further classified using the Modified Monash Model (MMM). Results: Data from 3964 placements were included. From 2003 to 2014 the proportion of clinical placements undertaken in metropolitan areas (MMM1) decreased from 78% to 59% and increased in rural areas (MMM3-6) from 22% to 40%. There were significant differences in grades between placements classified as MMM1 and all other categories, with lower median marks in MMM1. Conclusion: The change in distribution of placements may reflect increasing student numbers, more regional physiotherapy programs and greater efforts to enable students to undertake rural placements, for example, by University Departments of Rural Health. The resultant shift in geographical distribution of placements may have a positive effect on the rural workforce. Further research is required to determine the specific training and support needs of students and clinical educators in rural settings.


Luke Wakely is a Lecturer in Physiotherapy at the University of Newcastle Department of Rural Health (UONDRH). He recently completed his PhD examining the experience of parenting a premature infant in a rural area. Luke co-ordinates the physiotherapy program at the UONDRH. He also has a masters in paediatric physiotherapy and works clinically as a paediatric physiotherapist. He is passionate about rural health equity especially for children.