Core strength - transforming physiotherapy education in Vietnam

Professor Prue Morgan and Vietnamese physiotherapy students.

High-quality physiotherapy is essential for improving outcomes for people with health conditions like cerebral palsy, stroke and traumatic brain injury. Until recently, Vietnam had relatively low levels of capacity to deliver it.

In a nation of 100 million people, the country’s physiotherapy workforce was only equipped with diploma-level or short-course credentials, and there was no requirement, nor ability, to obtain international standard university-level qualifications at home.

With more than 7 percent of Vietnamese people living with a significant disability, a rapidly ageing population and a road traffic accident rate well above the Southeast Asian average, standards were definitely in need of a lift.

Professor Prue Morgan, head of the Monash University Department of Physiotherapy and a neurological specialist and experienced physiotherapy educator, was part of a five-year USAID-funded collaborative mission to change it.

Overseen by Hanoi-based global not-for-profit Humanity and Inclusion and international professional body World Physiotherapy, the mission called on international expertise to design a new national physiotherapy educational system and a continuing professional development network that would provide a comprehensive boost to the workforce’s clinical skills.

In collaboration with four Vietnamese universities (Hai Duong Medical Technology University, Da Nang University of Medical Technology and Pharmacy, the University of Medicine and Pharmacy at Ho Chi Minh City and Hong Bang International University), partnering with the Université Catholique de Louvain and the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, Professor Morgan was invited to contribute to four key outcomes identified by a gap analysis:

  • Development of a new national physiotherapy curriculum that is evidence-based and outcomes-focused, and aligned with international expectations of physiotherapy practice
  • Provision of continuous professional development to physiotherapy academics and clinicians to upskill in clinical reasoning and clinical decision-making skills
  • Development of a national standard in physiotherapy for endorsement by the professional body and government
  • Facilitation of a national physiotherapy association in Vietnam to develop physical therapy standards and provide support to achieve greater recognition of the scope of practice of the physical therapy profession

Five years on and undeterred by the global pandemic, the collaboration has delivered a vastly improved system that brings Vietnam up to speed with international best-practice.

Fundamental changes included a new four-year Bachelor of Physiotherapy national curriculum, the new Vietnam Physical Therapy Association, now thriving with over 600 new members and its first-ever conference delivered in 2022, and new national physiotherapy competencies undergoing approval by the Vietnamese government.

“Our Vietnamese physiotherapy academics have come such a long way – from operating as ‘technicians’ to being able to engage in clinical decision-making and evidence-based practice,” said Professor Morgan. “They now have the tools to lead their region in best practice rehabilitation care.”

One of those tools comes directly from leading Monash research in physiotherapy practice assessment - the 2009 Assessment of Physiotherapy Practice (APP) tool, used Australia-wide to assess physiotherapy student competencies in clinical practice. “I was most excited about the adoption of the Monash University-designed and validated tool,” said Professor Morgan. “We translated the tool into the Vietnamese language and facilitated its uptake through a series of clinician and student workshops. We’ve now ensured that physiotherapy students in Vietnam are assessed against the same criteria as their Australian peers.”

Access to high-quality, fair and equitable health care and support is critical to creating thriving communities, whether locally, nationally or internationally. Professor Morgan’s contribution to this international collaborative approach to solving Vietnam’s rehabilitation skills challenge has helped improve both standards and access and will lead to a better quality of life for those who most need it.

View the research paper for more details

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About Monash University

Monash University is Australia’s largest university with more than 80,000 students. In the 60 years since its foundation, it has developed a reputation for world-leading high-impact research, quality teaching, and inspiring innovation.

With four campuses in Australia and a presence in Malaysia, China, India, Indonesia and Italy, it is one of the most internationalised Australian universities.

As a leading international medical research university with the largest medical faculty in Australia and integration with leading Australian teaching hospitals, we consistently rank in the top 50 universities worldwide for clinical, pre-clinical and health sciences.

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