Academic journal article Australian Health Review

Returning to Physiotherapy Practice: The Perspective of Returners, Potential Returners and Clinical Supervisors

Academic journal article Australian Health Review

Returning to Physiotherapy Practice: The Perspective of Returners, Potential Returners and Clinical Supervisors

Article excerpt

What is known about the topic? In nursing, reasons for returning to the profession are change in family circumstance, financial necessity or wishing to use their skills again. Little is known of the circumstances for other health professionals.

What does this paper add? Return to physiotherapy was driven by personal motivation rather than financial hardship. Returners are highly motivated, keen to learn, and are willing to undertake a period of training to help them return to practice.

What are the implications for practitioners? Flexible methods to enable return to practice are needed. Time away from practice needs to be managed to enable seamless returns, facilitating workforce strategies.


Physiotherapists in Australia are grappling with key professional concepts of continuing competence, recency of practice, and what is required to return to practice for thosewhohave been away from physiotherapy. Understanding return to practice requires consideration of three main areas. The first includes the reasons why physiotherapists leave the profession and why they return. Second is the provision and content of return to practice programmes. Third is the experience of returning to physiotherapy after a period of absence.

Why leave and why return

The physiotherapy literature has not discussed the issues of leaving and returning to the profession. However, the nursing literature presents the three reasons most often cited for leaving nursing as: family, such as having children or looking after an ill relative; dissatisfaction, either with the profession or with the work environment; and career change, for example moving to an administrative or managerial role or a planned change to a different career.1-5

Incentives that would most likely encourage an individual to return to nursing were stated as: hours that suited family circumstances; improved working conditions; and support in the form of training and understanding of the returner's personal and professional situation.1-7

The reasons for returning to nursing are most often stated as: a change in family circumstances where, for example, children are of school-going age or have left home and the person wishes to return to work; financial circumstance dictate that the person returns to work, such as divorce or some requirement for income; and the person really wants to return to practice, such as they have been out of a hands-on role and wish to become more hands-on again or they want to use their skills again.8-10

Family circumstances most consistently underpinned the reasons for leaving, incentives for returning, and actual reasons for returning. The choice to leave work to raise a family or care for a relative was a personal decision and when people leave for this reason they should be encouraged to maintain some contact with the profession if they wish to re-enter.11 Other than family reasons, there was an inconsistency between the incentives that people state would entice them back to practice and the actual reasons given. Individuals return because they want to or because they are forced to through circumstances and incentives from the profession have little to do with that choice.1,4,10,12

Once an individual decides to return to practice, how they return depends on the length of time they are away from their profession and the resources available to return. Physiotherapists who have had a short break may be able to return to practice without undertaking any form of training. However, those that have had a longer break, or feel it necessary to update their skills, may need to undertake a return to practice programme to satisfy continuing education, registration, or other professional or legal obligations.13-15

Return to practice programmes

Many of the return to practice programmes described in the literature are narratives from the nursing literature. There was little evidence presented of the principles underpinning how the programmes were established or evaluation of their effectiveness from a learner or outcomes perspective. …

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