Exploring the development of collaboration amongst undergraduate physiotherapy students at the University of the Western Cape
Background: Healthcare workers are the human face of health systems, serving to connect knowledge and service delivery to improve patient care. The development of core competencies in the education of health professionals is fundamental for health improvement. Interprofessional collaboration amongst healthcare workers has been linked to improved patient outcomes as no single professional can address all healthcare issues. Aim: The aim of this research was to determine how UWC undergraduate physiotherapy students were being prepared for collaborative work as part of their professional development. Educational experiences of the third- and final-year physiotherapy cohort, physiotherapy educators’ perspectives on the development of competency for collaboration and a review of physiotherapy module outlines were explored. Research Method: A descriptive qualitative research design utilizing focus groups, semi-structured interviews and document analysis was employed. A pedagogical framework was used for instrument development and data analysis. The pedagogical framework was adapted from the CanMEDS physician competency framework, the core competency framework by the Medical and Dental Board of the Health Professions Council of South Africa and the Essential Competency Profile for physiotherapists in Canada. Research was conducted at the Department of Physiotherapy at the University of the Western Cape. Purposive sampling was undertaken with the sample population having consisted of six third- and six final-year physiotherapy students for the focus group discussions and seven lecturers formed the sample for the semi-structured interviews as well as sixteen physiotherapy module outlines. Data was collected and focus group discussion and interviews were transcribed verbatim. An inductive content analysis of the transcribed data was conducted and compared to the Pedagogical framework. Content analyses of module outlines were conducted drawing on Biggs work on constructive alignment and compared to the Pedagogical framework. Ethical clearance was received from the Senate Research Committee of the University of the Western Cape. Results: Participants showed a keen knowledge on the importance of collaboration in the teaching and clinical environment. It had relevance for personal development and learning as well as for interprofessional collaboration. Interprofessional education and group work were thought to be instrumental in collaborative learning but a lack of congruency of learning activities could be a barrier to learning. The clinical environment was highlighted as beneficial to developing collaboration through interprofessional observation and interaction but high patient loads and a lack of understanding of the roles and responsibilities of all healthcare professionals were identified as barriers. To a lesser degree, communication, conflict management and confidence were identifiable skills physiotherapy students should have to be effective collaborators. Conclusion: Students are well-positioned to participate within interprofessional team but have inadequately developed collaborative competencies. These include interprofessional role understanding and skills in conflict management, confidence and communication. Constructive alignment of curriculum by aligning learning outcomes and learning activities to develop collaboration including interprofessional learning activities would better prepare students for interprofessional collaboration.