Learning professional touch: an exploration of pre-registration Physiotherapy students' experiences.
AbstractPhysical touch is considered a core competency in Physiotherapy, central to clinical reasoning and communication. Nevertheless, there is a dearth of research into how the skill is learned and the experiences of students in that process. The aim of this paper is to explore that learning experience among pre-registration physiotherapy students. An approach underpinned by phenomenology and ethnographic methods was undertaken over an 8-month period in one Higher Education Institution in the UK. Data came from a series of observations and focus groups, complemented by personal reflective learning diaries with first- and second-year undergraduate students. Focus group data were analyzed thematically and triangulated with other data sources. Three themes were developed: 1) 'Uncertainty, self-awareness and anxiety' explores the discomfort experienced in the early stages; 2) 'Emerging familiarity and awareness of inter-action' demonstrates developing confidence in bodily capability and communicative capacity; and 3) 'Realities of touch in a clinical environment' focuses on the shift from the pre-clinical to clinical context and highlights the cyclical processes of embodied learning. This study highlights the complexity and immediacy of the embodied learning of touch and its interactions with the development of professional identity. Negotiation of boundaries, both seen and unseen, creates jeopardy in that process through the first two years of the course.