The Demanding Pressures On Physiotherapy Student Learning And Life

Being a student these days is a tough gig. I’m not sure I can put my finger on exactly why although I recall it not being that easy when I trained back in the 90’s. It feels different now though with the already difficult course being made more challenging for one reason or another.

There are now over 60 universities offering physiotherapy degree courses now, some offering more than one route of qualification – whether that be BSc, MSc or apprenticeship options. The ‘What Uni’ website reports that there are 69 universities offer 116 courses in the UK with numbers of graduates easily reaching the thousands. The style of university learning is very different from that at school or college. The focus alters to require the learner to independently explore the subject rather than it be ‘taught’. Lectures provide a platform for subjects and material to be delivered to students but often such sessions offer only an introduction of the topic and not everything that the syllabus requires the learner to know in order to meet learning outcomes.

Reading around a topic is a challenging academic skill – knowing what is relevant or not can mean it is difficult for a student to know where to start looking for extra material. Time spent studying can be considered finite resource, especially when numerous units are being delivered at the same time, management of that time and clear direction of study strategies become important to employ.

However, the pressure of self study, management of study time and study strategies don’t necessarily take learning styles or needs into consideration. It’s well accepted that we all have differing approaches, styles and preferences to learning. Whilst these styles of learning can be grouped or categorised it remains that every individual has their own unique style.

Importantly within physiotherapy the academic writing and learning side of the qualification is not the only aspect to focus on and the success of a student in these areas doesn’t always reflect their effectiveness or success as practicing physiotherapists. Good news for those who learn better by doing is that placements and eventually first professional roles offer ample opportunities to expand and consolidate learning.

Being a physiotherapy student typically involves a mix of ‘classroom’ learning and hands-on clinical experience. Coursework typically includes anatomy, biomechanics and rehabilitation techniques. Students also learn how to conduct patient assessments, create treatment plans, and apply various therapeutic interventions alongside developing clinical reasoning skills.

Clinical experience is an important part of physiotherapy training, and students typically complete a number of supervised clinical placements in various settings such as hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities. This allows students to apply what they’ve learned in theory to the real-world and gain hands-on experience under the supervision of registered and experienced physiotherapists.

The training usually takes 3 years to complete from a University. Physiotherapy masters degrees require a previous degree to have been achieved (in a subject related to physio) and take 2 years to complete.

Becoming a physiotherapist may require hard work, time, and dedication, but it can also be a very rewarding and fulfilling career. Physiotherapists have an important role in helping people to restore, maintain, and improve their physical function, activity, and participation in life.

Despite many hours being spent studying whilst at University, the majority of learning occurs once qualified, where the knowledge gained during training and placements is applied on a frequent and regular basis. It remains important to continue to reflect on learning to consolidate and improve practical and clinical reasoning skills. Beyond qualification the need to read and appraise literature and research remains an important aspect of learning. Whilst writing assignments and preparing for exams at university, literature reviews make up a large part of the work. By approaching literature reviews as ‘skill’ development for your career it can make the process more meaningful. Everything you read has the potential to offer some degree of valued insight into an aspect of physiotherapy or health care, so if in doubt read then read a little more. You might not feel it totally relevant at this time, but knowledge across disciplines and health care in general makes for robust clinical reasoning as experience develops.

There can be a variety of challenges that physiotherapy students may face during their studying. Some of these may include:

  1. Heavy coursework load: Physiotherapy programs involve a significant amount of coursework and students may find it challenging to balance their studies with other responsibilities.
  2. Clinical placement: Some students may find it challenging to adapt to the fast-paced and challenging environment of clinical placements. They may also find it difficult to apply the knowledge they have learned in the lecture room or from the text book to real-world patients.
  3. Understanding complex concepts: Some students may find certain concepts such as anatomy, functional anatomy and biomechanics difficult to understand.
  4. Time management: Physiotherapy students have to balance many tasks such as lectures, placements, assignments, projects, exam preparation and self-study. Finding the time to complete everything can be a difficult.
  5. Stress and Burnout: The academic and clinical demands can put a lot of pressure on the students, leading to stress and burnout.
  6. Financial burden: Physiotherapy education can be quite expensive and students may struggle to afford all they need to.

It’s important to note that these are common challenges and not every student will face all of them, but there will be support provided through academic support, clinical supervisors or a tutors that can help you to overcome these challenges.

If you are a student, keep going – the fruits of your study efforts are rewarding. With a shortage of physiotherapists in the UK there will always be a working role for you alongside the job satisfaction that is always on offer when assisting people with healthcare issues and maximising quality of life in which ever physiotherapy area you are working in.

For those needing a little more reassurance with their studies, affordable private learning support is available through 1:1 sessions. I keep my hourly rates as low as possible and tailor sessions to your exact needs, relating it to your current studies. Get in touch if you want to find out more – no strings attached! Contact me at