Perceptions and work-readiness of Australian physiotherapists in cancer care: a national evaluation

Physiotherapy. 2021 Jun 26;113:1-7. doi: 10.1016/ Online ahead of print.


Objectives: Physiotherapy interventions can improve health outcomes for people across the cancer continuum yet little is known of the work-readiness and perceptions of physiotherapists working in cancer care. This study described perceptions of Australian physiotherapists.

Design: Electronic, national cross-sectional survey.

Setting: One hundred nineteen Australian hospitals and 35 rehabilitation programmes in July 2019 were invited.

Participants: Clinical physiotherapists responsible for the provision of cancer care.

Main outcome measures: Custom-designed survey targeted clinical knowledge, physiotherapy management, physical activity/exercise, and learning/preparedness. Relationships between domains and demographic characteristics eg: clinical experience and work setting, were analysed.

Results: One hundred twenty eight surveys were completed. Median [IQR] experience was 8 [4 to 19] years (2 [0.5 to 5] years specifically in oncology). Most participants (99/128, 77%) felt poorly prepared to commence work in oncology. Confidence was consistently lower among physiotherapists in their first year compared to others. Confidence and knowledge was rated high for people with early stage cancers (median 4 [3 to 5]) and lower for prescribing exercise for patients with cardiotoxicity and knowledge of precautions/contraindications regarding hormone and targeted therapies (median 2 [1 to 3]). High importance ratings (Likert scores 4 or 5) were reported for exercise (115/127, 91%) and physical activity (120/126, 95%). Learning needs were identified for medical management, treatment side-effects/precautions and management of cancer-related pain and fatigue.

Conclusion: Australian physiotherapists feel underprepared to work in cancer care, but report good confidence and knowledge. Professional development opportunities appear indicated.

Keywords: Cancer; Physical activity; Physical therapy modalities; Rehabilitation.