Introduction: Education of physiotherapists still fails to meet the health and social needs of society. One instrument to steer change in health sciences education is a re-designed curriculum. The overall intent of this study was to develop standards of competencies, teaching and learning strategies, and assessment, for an undergraduate community physiotherapy curriculum in South Africa.
The grounding for this research was pragmatism. The Six-step model for curriculum development and the Clinical Prevention and Population Health Curriculum framework guided the research process and main analysis. Methods : A sequential mixed method design was used. First, a two-phase parallel situation analysis was conducted which included a qualitative document analysis of community physiotherapy curricula of the eight physiotherapy university departments in South Africa and a review of health policy documents. The experience of 12 purposively selected physiotherapists who had completed a compulsory community service year was qualitatively explored through interviews within an appreciative inquiry stance. In phase 2, input was gained from physiotherapists, from all ecological levels, on the community physiotherapy curriculum through a Delphi study. Three rounds were used. Round 1 explored the roles of physiotherapy in community health, round 2 quantified consensus in overarching competency domains, and round 3 gathered learning and teaching, and assessment, strategies to gain these competencies. Results : All eight universities had gaps in their community physiotherapy curriculum and were variedly aligned with South African health policies and health profile. Graduates need to be able to provide physiotherapy over the lifespan, to conditions mirroring the quadruple burden of disease, in settings varying from hospitals to homes of clients, with emphasis on health education and promotion within an interprofessional team. They must be prepared for suboptimal practice environments and to utilise the compulsory community service year as a gateway in professional development. Graduates need resilience to cope during the year and awareness about the importance of identifying a mentor in the frequent absence of a profession-specific supervisor. Community physiotherapy needs three core knowledge and skill sets; i.e. clinical physiotherapy, population health and community development. Consensus of 70%+ was gained on competency criteria in the domains of the following professional roles: clinician, professional, communicator and collaborator, scholar, health promoter, public health practitioner, community developer (change agent), and manager/leader. Service-learning was identified as a strategy to develop these roles supported by learning and assessment portfolios. Reflection in different formats – essays, presentations, case analysis, projects such as community wellness programmes, diaries - is a core activity to facilitate learning. A range of complementary strategies were suggested that included direct observation, role-play, and journal clubs. Core to assessment for professional competencies is for the students to be able to give evidence of their own learning (e.g. in a portfolio or oral examination) and to get frequent formative feedback. Conclusion : The physiotherapy profession is important for improving the health status of the South African population. Physiotherapy students should be educated to take on relevant professional roles through the application of appropriate educational standards. The study recommends that the curriculum standards be implemented and evaluated and that the application of complex theory in the further development and implementation of the curriculum be investigated. Lastly, future research in the generic professional domains, such as public health and community development, should be interprofessional in nature.