BACKGROUND: Limitations in physiotherapy curricula have been reported. Work-based experiences, especially during compulsory community service,
could inform curricula.
OBJECTIVE: To develop a model of community service physiotherapy to guide curriculum reform.
METHODS: In this appreciative inquiry, trained physiotherapy students conducted tele-interviews with newly graduated physiotherapists. Twelve
recently graduated community-service physiotherapists – heterogeneous in gender, mother tongue, university attended and work setting – were
purposively recruited. Two coders applied Tesch’s coding technique to the transcripts; one did paper-based work and the other used AtlasTi software.
Consensus was reached and a member check done.
RESULTS: Four themes identified were: (i) the essence of community physiotherapy; (ii) the collaborative nature of community physiotherapy; (iii)
prerequisites for a positive practice environment; and (iv) community physiotherapy as a gateway to personal growth and professional development.
Physiotherapists consult clients from varied cultural backgrounds, ages and health and disease profiles. Health education is a key intervention, but
clients emphasised therapeutic touch. Team work enhances services, especially within a context of poverty, and prevents isolation. New graduates
have to deal with inefficient management, lack of transport, inadequate equipment and needs resilience. They want discipline-specific supervision.
CONCLUSION: Community physiotherapy makes specific demands, especially for novice therapists. Service-learning in authentic diverse contexts
would foster professional development and cultural competence. Clinical competency should remain the backbone of the curriculum, complemented
by competency in health education. Different ways of reflection would facilitate lifelong learning and growth in attributes such as resilience, which is
necessary for dealing with sub-optimal practice environments.