Online learning through Physioplus is removing barriers to accessing professional development for rehabilitation clinicians around the world.
Elaine Clement, the President of the Physiotherapy Association of St Lucia (PASL), the smallest member association of World Physiotherapy, is all too aware of the difficulties of accessing continuing education and professional development living on a small island. “It has always been difficult to access relevant continuing education in a small island, being restricted by availability, travel costs and travel time” said Elaine. Physiotherapists in St Lucia are required to take part in continuing professional development (CPD) activities each year to maintain their professional registration, but the effort required to access activities to contribute towards CPD is disproportionate to the required number of hours.
St Lucia is a small island in the Caribbean, it is only 27 miles long and 13 miles wide with a population of 180,000. Current data shows that rehabilitation services are provided by only 18 practicing physiotherapists who work in a variety of settings. There is the public health system, a few private practices and one non-governmental organisation that provides comprehensive developmental assessments, early intervention and therapeutic services to children.
One priority on Elaine’s agenda, when she became President of the Association in January 2020, was to explore ways to help members meet their CPD requirements. Although PASL was a small group of physiotherapists it was hard to reach agreement about how to provide learning opportunities or what topics to present, even starting a journal club raised barriers as it was difficult to access high-quality evidence-based and resources.
As the COVID pandemic hit in March 2020 accessing the already limited resources and learning opportunities became an even bigger problem for PASL members. Online learning tools became a necessity rather than an option which is why PASL partnered with Physioplus to remove new COVID-related barriers to accessing CPD. The shining light was that this collaboration also removed the pre-existing barriers to accessing CPD.
This enabled Elaine to fulfil her promise to the PASL members of improving access to CPD activity via the 420+ courses, full text books and journals and other features Physioplus has to offer. But for the PASL members it was more than that. “…it is more than just courses, it also makes connecting with international colleagues easier, I can chat to therapists around the world in the forum.”
As part of the evaluation of the partnership, Elaine audited PASL members access to Physioplus. Digital literacy skills and low confidence to participate in online learning meant that some members weren’t using the platform. To overcome this Elaine and the Physioplus team put on a teaching session for PASL members demonstrating how to use Physioplus for your learning and personal professional development . The Physioplus team are always available to help members if they have any challenges with using the features on the website.
“Some physiotherapists find online learning rather daunting but with assistance and encouragement are easily able to access the Physioplus courses. Physioplus staff are always happy to help, any questions are answered promptly and with a personal touch”- Suzanne, PASL member
With renewed motivation, the group have continued to use Phyisoplus even though COVID restrictions have been lifted and face to face contact is no longer discouraged. The barriers to continuing professional development that existed before COVID have been removed and Physioplus has been proven to be an invaluable tool for online learning to meet the requirements to be licensed and registered to practice in St Lucia.
“This was absolutely amazing because of the hours I work it’s difficult to find time to learn, especially if the session is in the evening after work. I loved this because it saved me travelling time and it was easy to just click a button on the computer to join“ Kim Jackson, PASL member
Online courses and resources may not take the place of face to face, traditional learning but it has definitely opened up global learning opportunities in remote countries with limited access to resources. Socio-economic factors no longer needs to be an obstacle to learning.