Purpose: The democratisation of the health system was a cornerstone of post-apartheid South Africa. Primary healthcare (PHC) was adopted for increased access, broader participation, and equity in health. Hereafter, physiotherapy and other health sciences curricula, research function, and teaching staff would have to be re-oriented towards enabling implementation and sustainability of the new model. This is an important consideration for the design of clinical education programmes, a learning trajectory within professional curricula that is fundamental to the education, training, and professional socialisation of emerging healthcare personnel. This study explored how student-physiotherapists experienced clinical education practice within the model of PHC. Methods: The perspectives of students of a physiotherapy clinical education programme at a South African university were examined within a qualitative research framing. Forty-two final year student physiotherapists participated in the study. Employing narrative inquiry, data were produced through reflective journals and focus group interviews. Interviews were audio-taped and verbatim transcripts of the interviews were produced. Interview data and journal entries were analysed inductively using thematic coding and categorisation. Results: Broad themes that emerged included programme design, content, pedagogy, and assessments. Strong adherence to the medical model and under-emphasis of PHC as a guiding philosophy for curriculum development resulted in participants reporting they were under-prepared for autonomous practice within multidisciplinary teams and in contexts that were under-resourced and outside of hospital-based settings. Conclusion: To develop skilled and competent physiotherapists for a transformed model of healthcare practice in South Africa, the physiotherapy education programme needs to be grounded in principles of PHC.




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