Preparing undergraduate students for clinical work in a complex environment: evaluation of an e-learning module on physiotherapy in the intensive care unit

BMC Med Educ. 2020 Apr 28;20(1):130. doi: 10.1186/s12909-020-02035-2.


Background: Intensive Care Units (ICUs) are daunting environments for physiotherapy (PT) students performing clinical rotations. To prepare students for this environment, a newly developed, evidence-based e-learning module was designed and implemented in the undergraduate curriculum. The aim of this study was to investigate whether e-learning is a feasible method in preparing PT students for clinical work in complex ICU environments, as perceived by students and experts.

Methods: A mixed methods proof of concept study was undertaken. Participants were final-year students of an international curriculum, and experts from didactic and clinical fields. An e-learning module consisting of 7 separate chapters based on the latest scientific evidence and clinical expertise was developed, piloted and incorporated into the undergraduate curriculum as a compulsory course to be completed prior to clinical ICU rotations. Data were collected through 3 focus group meetings and 5 semi-structured interviews; these meetings and interviews were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim and analyzed.

Results: The study sample comprised of 14 students and 5 experts. Thematic analysis revealed three themes: expected competencies of PT students in ICU, feeling prepared for ICU clinical work and dealing with local variety. The e-learning module enabled students to anticipate clinical situations and PT tasks in the ICU. Higher level clinical reasoning skills, handling of lines and wires and dealing with out-of-textbook situations could not be achieved with the e-learning module alone.

Conclusions: An e-learning module can sufficiently prepare PT students for their clinical tasks in the ICU, as long as it is integrated with, or closely connected to, the students' clinical placement.

Keywords: Competencies; E-learning; Intensive care unit; Physiotherapy; Undergraduate education.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Clinical Competence / standards*
  • Computer-Assisted Instruction / methods*
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / standards*
  • Male
  • Physical Therapy Modalities / education*
  • Students, Medical / statistics & numerical data