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Essex physiotherapy students on frontline of COVID-19

  • Date

    Tue 21 Jul 20

Sam Nelson

Around 70 Essex physiotherapy students in the final year of their degree have been working with the NHS workforce to help in the fight against COVID-19.

Since March four cohorts of students have been out on their practice placements and have faced extremely challenging clinical environments working with patients in a variety of healthcare settings including intensive care units and acute medical wards. Academic staff have been supporting students closely with individual and group Zoom meetings to offer necessary ‘de-brief’ opportunities. 

As Jackie Clarke, subject lead for physiotherapy at the University of Essex explained:
“Physiotherapists are a crucial part of the multidisciplinary team, and will be involved in this fight against COVID-19 in many ways: positioning critically ill patients, clearing secretions from their chests, improving oxygen levels, assisting with breathlessness, maintaining joint mobility of unconscious patients, and of course, building their mobility as they rehabilitate from their critical illness. 

“Although the numbers of COVID patients in hospital and intensive care have now fallen dramatically, our students are still working with patients who are recovering from COVID, and who face a long rehabilitative journey.”

Since the start of the pandemic, Health Education England has been fast-tracking final year students into the NHS workforce. At Essex, staff worked closely with individual students to make sure they had met all programme outcomes, sufficient placement hours and competencies, allowing them to opt onto a new ‘temporary register’ and join the COVID frontline before completing their degree. 

These students are now working with new employers as qualified physiotherapists, completing their outstanding academic work alongside their new jobs. 

Sam Nelson describes his time in intensive care in Ipswich as being in equal parts an incredible learning experience, a tough a challenging time and a truly inspirational experience.

“Some of the biggest memories I will take away are of it taking up to seven therapists to help a patient sit up for the first time after spending four-weeks in a medically induced coma. Spending a week working on helping a man, two years younger than myself, to walk to the door of his side room bay and back without it exhausting him for the day. On my final day, we wheeled a man down from ITU to see his daughter and granddaughter for the first time. Witnessing their reunion was something I won’t forget,“ he said.

“We are so proud of our physiotherapy students, some of whom have given up summer breaks and isolated from family members to commit fully to the national COVID effort. They have whole-heartedly and enthusiastically demonstrated the qualities and NHS values we instil in our students, and we are immensely proud of the physiotherapists they have all become,” added Jackie.