Thoughts of a Physio Student in 2020

We were fortunate enough to be able to accommodate a physiotherapy student who was looking for more hands-on practice during a tumultuous 2020 year. The student is a 3rd year student from Otago University. I have asked for him to do an opinion piece of his 2020 year. The following thoughts are his own, and are a true reflection of one of the many struggles that may not be as apparent during the 2020 pandemic. – Gabriel

For all who are currently studying a health science related course like physiotherapy who require hands on experience, you would
most definitely agree that 2020 has been the toughest year to pass our university papers. We’ve all suffered through the endless waves
of zoom ‘tutorials’, bombardment of Covid updates in our emails and absence of meeting our classmates in person.

The zoom tutorials in all brutal honesty, I found were plain dreadful.

Personally, 2020 has hit me with more than a fair share of hardships and disappointments. Under the semester 1 lockdown, the School of Physiotherapy at Otago University moved all tutorials online. This was just one of the many setbacks. The zoom tutorials in all brutal honesty, I found were plain dreadful. If it wasn’t due to faulty connection or the odd zoom malfunction preventing logging into the meeting, zoom to me felt like an ineffective education tool. Unlike live practice sessions, zoom lessons were 10% introductions/farewells, 90% the tutor verbalising concepts that were not explainable without demonstrations, and 0% hands-on experience. Another major frustration was that the lessons took up ridiculous amounts of time. They also completely distracted us from the projects that were due but yet took longer to finish as libraries were shut. Probably the best highlight was when classmates’ or tutors’ pets decided to introduce themselves and become class famous on video meetings! Even the university’s Facebook page posted updates of their famous campus cat, Rosie!

In spite of all these difficulties, I can still say that there were highlights during this year. I do not think that I’ll ever take practice labs for granted again because they were such rare opportunities to make up for the losses in semester 1. In addition, it was such a relief when the university libraries reopened during level 1. The move towards paper-free online reading material was really hurting my poor eyes which were begging to have a break from the computer! The 5% grade boost on all our internals was also a major act of mercy given our already broken state. I was fortunate enough that this year, I have had the opportunity to tag along with the Physio-Logic team. You know that this year’s online education tools have been tragically ineffective at preparing you, when comparing to what the team were able to show me in just the first two days in their clinic!  They have given much more actual clinical practice revision than both semesters combined. The Physio-Logic team are a friendly and experienced group who have shown me many useful techniques that have not yet been covered in the university curriculum. One useful hands-on technique that I will definitely remember and apply in clinical practice is trigger point release. Other skills shown to me were simple tasks like soft tissue massage techniques, a skill that we barely covered in class. Overall, it was great spending time with the team, learning about their university experiences and how they overcame their obstacles to becoming physiotherapists. I am truly grateful for this experience and all the vital opportunities to improve my clinical skills at Physio-Logic.

I think it is still important to remember that we are lucky

Overall although 2020 has been a dreadful struggle for us physiotherapy students, I think it is still important to remember that we are lucky that at least we can function relatively freely and opening, as well as having some live practice sessions thanks to our government’s swift lockdown responses. I hope that 2021 will be a year that makes up for all our losses from this year. Although the lockdowns were sprung upon us, I deeply wish that any University staff member/educator that may be reading this blog can creatively master up an alternative way of educating hands on students for any future lockdowns. A possible recommendation would be to have discussed the theory and concepts content during level 3 and 4, while having as much practice as we can when we open up at levels 1 and 2. I am hoping for less lockdowns and that all students can find a way to educate themselves and have successful careers with what seems like a major disruption during our tertiary education period.