Until quite recently, up to 90 per cent of local graduates with a degree in physiotherapy found work with the Hospital Authority (HA). Now, following a change of focus in the health-care sector from acute to community care, physiotherapy graduates can consider many more employment options outside the hospital system. This change allows them to expand their role in health promotion and injury prevention in a community setting. For example, physiotherapists are increasingly to be found running programmes in geriatric centres and monitoring the proper muscular and skeletal development of children in schools.
Professor Alice Jones, programme leader (physiotherapy), in the department of rehabilitation sciences at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) confirms that graduates in the discipline now enjoy a range of career opportunities. "The programme aims to produce qualified professionals who provide physiotherapy services designed to promote the health of the client, as well as to meet the health-care needs of society," she says. "We aim to expose students, as early as their first year of study, to all aspects of the work that physiotherapists perform," she adds.
The course requires students to complete a minimum of 1,000 hours of clinical practice in different settings, including hospitals, community centres and private clinics. The university also arranges overseas placements in Canada, Australia and the UK to offer international exposure.
"The placements give students the opportunity to work under the supervision of qualified physiotherapists, so they understand the role in different settings and even in different countries," Professor Jones says. PolyU provides the only physiotherapy programme in Hong Kong which is benchmarked and recognised internationally. Graduates can register and work in the UK without examination. In Australia, Canada and the US, graduates need only complete a professional examination in order to practise.
"Our academic colleagues participate in international conferences and collaborate with universities all over the world, so we are fully aware of what is happening in our field," says Professor Jones. She adds that 90 per cent of the teaching faculty have PhDs from international institutions, and all her colleagues are dedicated to the development of credible scientific bases that underpin the practice of physiotherapy.
A unique component of the programme is the inclusion of an introduction to oriental medical concepts in the curriculum. Courses in tai chi and acupuncture are offered as electives and students even have a hand in shaping the programme. For example, the tai chi course was developed at PolyU based on research into its effectiveness conducted by both staff and students. "To promote creative and analytical thinking, all of our students are involved in a research project before they graduate," says Professor Jones. "Physiotherapists are problem solvers and life-long learners. They can practise independently and also within interdisciplinary rehabilitation programmes. They also play an essential role in the restoration of optimal function and quality of life for individuals. A caring attitude and strong communication skills are fundamental characteristics of physiotherapists."