Meet housemates and classmates Izzy and Mairi. Due to COVID-19 they are undertaking their placement with a twist, an in-house virtual physiotherapy placement. Read more to find out how they are getting on and what the placement involves.
A virtual physiotherapy placement?!
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we had no idea that it would impact us for so long. A year on, we never imagined as physiotherapy students we would be doing a 7 week online virtual physiotherapy placement in our student flat in Aberdeen. When the idea was proposed to us, we were uncertain to how it would pan out, and it certainly has been a very unique experience.
Following our clinical placements in second year, our learning switched to online as lockdown approached. It was a sudden change from interacting so closely with our peers and lecturers every day, to group calls from all over the world. Zoom calls, Microsoft Teams and Blackboard Collaborate which we had not used before became part of our everyday lives. Six months down the line, this has not changed.
Starting our virtual physiotherapy placement
We are both fortunate to live under the same roof, and work together on this placement. It is nice that we are not alone in this experience, and are working virtually alongside classmates, lecturers and other allied health professional students.
Our placement is made up of several components including exercise classes, digital health promotion, a befriending project and working with a care home to provide home exercise programmes.
Taking exercise classes virtually on Zoom has been a very different experience. We have led elderly and orthopaedic exercise classes before at the university. But this was in groups of 7-8 of our peers with each of us taking on one section of the class. So it was a daunting thought for us to be leading them individually. Living in the same flat, we decided it would benefit us to lead the classes together. Our classes so far have been a success; however, they did not come without complications. Zoom itself can be confusing normally, so trying to explain to 8 senior participants who are unfamiliar with the platform has proved a difficult task and eats into our exercise class time. Hopefully by the end of the 7 weeks this process will be smoother.
We have had to think outside the box as our participants do not have access to equipment. Tins of food have become a substitute for weights, and our TV has become a permanent stop clock. Despite these initial problems, the classes flow well and it is nice to see the participants back enjoying themselves, albeit through a new platform. As you can see, taking the exercise class from our student flat has a slightly different background to a normal class.
We are part of a new befriending project, which involves working along side an occupational therapy student with one participant in the community. With the pandemic, we have been limited with what we can do with our participants. We undertook digital champion training to acquire knowledge and skills for using IPADs with our participants, with the hope they would be used, and we could encourage online communication and reduce social isolation. Every Friday we come together with all the volunteers to discuss progress and share ideas around resources available. It gives us all a chance to express concerns and be open with one another, which has been helpful in dealing with any anxieties around the project.
Throughout our placement we are working together, along side the RGU marketing team to produce creative content to be posted online. As a group we decided to target students working from home who are in a similar position to us, as there has been a shift in providing health and wellbeing digitally. After meeting with the marketing team, we decided we would cover 4 topics including mental health, physical activity, and ergonomics as these are all relevant to working from home and the pandemic. As we live together, we have plans to create home exercise videos to keep students active as we know first-hand how difficult it can be to motivate yourself. We will also be working on informative videos around importance of exercise and improving mental health.
Working virtually to create digital content has been challenging in some ways. For us we have found that collaborating through a teams call to produce content, is harder than face to face group work. It seems simple but getting everyone to agree on the design and content can be tough and very time consuming. With other aspects of placement, it can be hard to work round everyone’s timetables. However, as a group, the discussions have brought us closer together, and it is refreshing to hear and see each of our peers ideas and creativity.
We have linked up with a care home to provide patients with tailored home exercise plans. However, instead of seeing patients face to face, it requires us to have in depth discussions with the nursing staff via teams to gain insight into the patients abilities. This is a learning process we are all going through together, and has allowed us to become more comfortable with using this platform in a professional manner. It has also helped us to improve problem solving skills, as we have had to adapt how we prescribe exercises in different formats including videos and teaching the staff to help assist patients to carry our their exercises. Although it is good experience, we cannot fully assess the patients physically and this has made it challenging to understand their levels of function and know what exercises are suitable. Missing out on clinical hours is definitely one disadvantage of the virtual placement. However, as health care is moving more digitally, this experience will hopefully benefit us in the future.
Overall challenges of the virtual physiotherapy placement
Living in a flat of six girls means we need to be constantly aware of noise levels and confidentiality of patients. However, everyone in our flat has been very helpful and conscious of this making it easier for us. It can be difficult to keep a placement and life balance, as well as keeping our day structured. Working from desks in our bedrooms can make it easy to get distracted. However, doing a virtual placement allows for more flexibility, as long as we meet the required hours. At the same time as working in a comfortable environment, we can take ourselves out for a walk and some fresh air when required, which we have found helps to split up our day and regain focus.
Overall, our virtual physiotherapy placement experience has been very different to what we have experienced on clinical placements. Despite the differences we are able to take a lot from it and it has equipped us with skills that we can put into future practice.
Izzy Gillespie and Mairi Stewart, Masters of Physiotherapy Year 3 at RGU