Sometimes all it takes is one conversation and you can find yourself doing something you never thought you could. This is what happened to Physiotherapist Andrea Sturm after she got in touch with Rachael Lowe. This is Andrea’s reflection about her involvement with the Ethics Course on Physioplus and what exciting avenues she is exploring because of it. This is her story.
When I joined the Physiopedia/Red Cross International MOOC on Cerebral Palsy as a participant in April 2017 I never would have dreamed of what could arise out of that decision. Immediately I was addicted to this learning opportunity. Meant to be a 6-week course with 4 hours workload each week I did it within 4 weeks. I simply could not stop learning, discussing and reading. Not that I would have had a bore-out at this time – I was studying education sciences in a master program extra-occupationally, running a small private practice with focus on neuro and pediatrics, seeing patients every day, and having a long distance-relationship with my partner spending hours on the train at the weekends. A well working internet on the train made the journeys at least fruitful for my studies.
Once I was ‘infected’ I wanted to know more about Physiopedia. I stumbled over a notice that their first online training ever has been an ethics course. They stated Physiopedia would like do an update on it. I had a look at the topics and thought: ‘Well, I could offer some help.’ I have been teaching professional ethics at the University of Vienna to PT-Students, was invited as a speaker at the ethics session of the European Academy of Childhood Disability in 2014 in Vienna and am writing on ethics and transcultural competence for German PT Journals. So I wrote to Rachael Lowe. In my mind my planned contribution looked like one or two physiopedia pages and some good advice.
What I received back, was the whole learning architect package with the templates and the explanation of the requirements for creating a Physiopedia Plus online course. I remember myself staring at her Email, thinking ‘Oh! She must have got me wrong.’
Sleeping one night over it I became more confident that I could maybe be the right person nevertheless. Studying education sciences, having experienced many ethical issues for over a decade as a practicing physio and owning a master degree in interreligious theology this was perhaps just the next logical step to give back to the profession what being a physio and working with patients has given to me over the times.
I decided to join this exciting journey (not exactly knowing to what I really was agreeing to). While researching for the possible course contents, reading tons of papers and articles, reviewing useful videos and getting in contact with potential interview-partners one evening I sat in front of my work-desk. It was after having already prepared the first 2 sections of the planned 4 courses. Don’t ask me why but suddenly it was crystal-clear to me that if I would run a worldwide ethics course I MUST do research on these issues as well. Unconsciously the cornerstone for the later decision to do a doctorate was layed.
When I did my first interview with a topic specialist I was so incredibly nervous that I barely could sleep. Got up early in the morning and did an 1-hour run along the river to calm down myself somehow. I am Austrian and therefore not English by my mother tongue so I was really afraid to mess it up. Thank goodness my dialogue partner was Tracy Bury, policy director of the World Confederation for Physical Therapy (WCPT). But before knowing her as the kind, professional and supporting person she actually is this fact seemed even more intimidating to me.
During our talk when we spoke about how the Ethical Principles of WCPT developed, and about cultural differences and future challenges in professional ethics I thought by myself: ‘Wow, this is so super interesting!’ I realized that the most dedicated of the participants in these ethics courses could be probably me. The courses are online since May and I am guiding them in the discussion boards. So the enthusiastic participants of the courses do put me right but still I am not sure who is learning the most from whom. It is such a gift to discuss and learn from and with people from all over the world.
Another expert interview when preparing the courses I did with Dr. Ian Edwards from the University of South Australia. I read one of his papers in which an ethical reasoning framework for physical therapists he developed was introduced. It was clear that I needed to have him for a talk. An Email later he kindly agreed and we arranged an appointment for recording our interview. Again I had to exercise before.
We discussed his sophisticated concept of the Ethical Reasoning Bridge and deconstructed an ethical dilemma of my daily practice in our talk, analyzed under the lens of the ER-Bridge. In passing he spoke about some previous research they did in Australia regarding ethical issues of physical therapists. I started to listen attentively.
When getting in touch after the interview to review the video I could not resist to ask him, if perhaps we could do the research they did in Australia also on an international level. I confessed that doing research on ethics was in the back of my head since the beginning of the work on the online-ethics courses, but I would not be experienced enough to make the best use of this gold-mine of research-options. He wrote back, he would think about it.
A few weeks later, close to Christmas, his colleague at the University of South Australia, Dr. Caroline Fryer, him and me did an online-meeting to discuss options to collaborate. In January 2018 we started our project, weekly discussing possible research methods or hypothesis, reading again tons of papers. The templates of the ethics courses were just finished, so I had an arising vacuum to fill.
By the end of March the first draft of the study was finished. We decided to do an anonymous, worldwide online-survey on ‘The Type and Frequency of Ethical Situations in Physical Therapy internationally’. Firstly we thought about combining in the survey our common research project with my PhD study because the demographics question part and the audience would be identical. But the survey would have become a little on the long side. In the end I created an independent online-survey on ‘Views of Physical Therapists on Factors in Ethical Decision Making internationally.’
In April we did pilot studies under PT-colleagues in Australia and Europe. For my own I could include also some colleague from Asia. We received a lot of valuable feedback and discussed some more important points. In May 2018 – the Ethics Online Courses were accredited by the Federal State Board of Physical Therapy in the US and went online via Physiopedia – we did our fine-tuning and were applying for ethics approval in Austria and Australia. Meanwhile I was learning with participants from all over the world about their ethical experiences in our discussion forums.
Now – 16 months later after my first contact with Rachael Lowe from Physiopedia – I landed up creating an international ethics online course for physical therapists, being involved in a research collaboration on a worldwide project, doing two surveys on Ethical Situations in Physical Therapy and Factors in Ethical Decision Making and am enrolled in a PhD program in education sciences. No idea where the next steps will lead me to. I still need to exercise a lot for staying fit to #justkeepmoving – and prepared for what the next challenge might be.
Being part of the Physiopedia team made my life super exciting. Things happened I could not even think about before. I would be more than happy to meet you in one of our ethics courses. Or if you decide to join one or both of the international online surveys on ethics. And who knows?! Maybe these decisions will create a complete new page in the story of your life too!
PS: Most of my patients have no idea what I am doing in my ‘spare time’. They think I am climbing mountains. Somehow they are not wrong.