Teaching and learning communication skills in physiotherapy: what is done and how should it be done?

Physiotherapy. 2009 Dec;95(4):294-301. doi: 10.1016/j.physio.2009.05.003. Epub 2009 Jul 29.


Objectives: To survey practice and opinion regarding school-based teaching of communication skills, to summarise relevant research evidence from physiotherapy and beyond, to reflect on practice in light of evidence, and to propose associated recommendations.

Design: Survey using customised questionnaires. Basic descriptive statistical analysis and thematic content analysis were used. The results were compared with evidence from systematic reviews to derive recommendations. SURVEY PARTICIPANTS AND SETTING: Educators in all UK centres delivering physiotherapy qualifying programmes in 2006.

Results: A response rate of 69% was achieved. The majority of respondents reported delivering communication-specific modules. Lecturing was common, and more experiential methods were also used. Assessment was mainly by written work. Educators commented on challenges and strategies involved in student engagement, provision of authentic experiences, availability of teaching time and expertise, and physiotherapy-specific teaching resources. Evidence from allied health profession, medical and nursing education research emphasises the importance of experiential teaching, formative feedback, observational assessment and a substantial evidence base on which to ground course content. In physiotherapy, the latter is emerging but incomplete. There are also gaps in direct evidence about advantages or otherwise of stand-alone modules and benefits of pre-qualification communication training. Evidence suggests that effective training requires substantial teaching time, expertise and a body of empirical research on specific communication practices and their effects.

Conclusion: Curriculum designers and educators should endeavour to maximise the degree to which training in this area is experiential, provide training when students have already had some contact with patients, and assess students by observation if at all possible. Due to gaps in the evidence, some important questions about optimal practice remain unanswered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Curriculum*
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Physical Therapy Specialty / education*
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Teaching / methods*
  • United Kingdom