Our physio students continue vital role on COVID-19 frontline

  • Date

    Tue 19 Jan 21

Students Gareth Golber and Zoe Wager in PPE gear

Our physiotherapy students have been praised once again for the continued commitment they have shown to their studies and profession during the COVID-19 pandemic.

About 60 students are currently on placement, working in frontline physiotherapy services across the region, where they are facing extremely challenging environments. Many have been placed on intensive care units (ICU) to assist the frontline clinicians, caring for critically ill patients, often isolating themselves from their household whilst they do so for six weeks at a time.

Meanwhile, whilst most university students are studying online, the Government and Council of Deans of Health have given permission for physiotherapy and other healthcare students to continue with face-to-face teaching to enable them to progress through their vocational degree programmes.

This has meant, with the necessary risk assessments in place, about 120 Essex BSc and MSc physiotherapy students, from our School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences (SRES), are still coming to campus for essential face-to-face practical skills learning, in full PPE. Along with their eight lecturers, the students are undergoing weekly testing, and continuing to learn under very difficult circumstances.

The students currently on placement are working across the East of England – from Peterborough to Southend – in acute NHS Trusts, community NHS Trusts, private providers, charities and social enterprise healthcare organisations. All physiotherapy students do six placements during their studies and cannot complete their degrees or qualify without this essential practical experience.

Their work will involve assisting with the prone positioning of the sickest COVID-19 patients, but also managing their oxygen requirements, maintaining joint mobility, rehabilitating those who are recovering and regaining function. They will also be assisting to manage breathlessness and fatigue for those patients suffering from the newly classified ‘long COVID’.

Jackie Clarke, Subject Lead for Physiotherapy at Essex, said: “None of us could have imagined back in March 2020 that we would still be in the grip of this pandemic in January 2021. We are once again facing dramatic rises in infection rates across the country, worse than in the first phase, and with our clinical colleagues working on the frontline now at the point of exhaustion.

“Our physiotherapy students have shown commitment to their studies and profession yet again and will be continuing with their face-to-face practical teaching on campus this term, as well as working out on the frontline whilst the rest of the University is on lockdown.

“We are especially proud of our 60 students who are now back out on placement, working in frontline physiotherapy services across the region to keep services running and provide desperately needed ‘pairs of hands’ to our clinical colleagues.

“We should all be so proud of the adaptability, professionalism and fighting spirit shown by our physiotherapy students and staff and wish to thank them for their continued efforts at this most challenging time of the pandemic to date.”

One of our students currently on placement in south Essex, 3rd year Zoe Wager (pictured above with fellow student Gareth Golberg), praised all the nursing staff, doctors and consultants she has been working with.

“They’re so patient and are teaching us so much during such a difficult time. They are looking out for us and making sure we’re okay.

“It’s intense and full on but a really unique learning opportunity. I’m also glad I can help out and hopefully relieve a bit of pressure from staff.”

Denise Deering, a MSc (pre-registration) physiotherapy 2nd year student working with COVID-19 respiratory patients in Cambridgeshire, said: "The main thing I have learned from training during this pandemic is that the role of the physiotherapist is constantly changing and it's necessary to be flexible to meet the ever-changing demands of the role.

“I am grateful to be able to continue my learning and carry out my placements and I feel I can only benefit and develop my clinical skills and knowledge through learning during these unusual times.”

Head of SRES, Professor Ian Maynard, added: “I am proud of both our students and staff (for their ongoing preparation and support of the students). it is very impressive to see how they have gone the extra mile for their profession and the NHS as a whole. It has taken a great deal of commitment and courage to do what they are doing and they are a credit to both our School and the University of Essex.”