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Osteopathy Australia Annual Conference 2015


Learning as transformation: Reflective practice in osteopathy

Gopi McLeod

This presentation outlines the findings from research into the development of reflective practice in osteopathic education. The research evaluated the effectiveness of a reflective-practice educational intervention embedded into the osteopathic medicine course at Southern Cross University. This longitudinal qualitative case-study research tracked a single cohort of student osteopaths over four years of their double degree. The reflective-learning curriculum at the university requires students to engage in progressively more challenging reflective-learning strategies as they move through their five-year course. Underpinned by the principles of adult transformation theory, a set of reflective-learning strategies—known as the Critical Reflective Stream (CRS)—ran in parallel with the clinical skills and osteopathic practice units. The aim of the research was to evaluate the effectiveness of the CRS in preparing students for independent clinical practice. Three primary research questions drove the research: (1) Does engagement with critical reflection enhance students’ critical reflective thinking and reflective practice? (2) How do student osteopaths perceive reflective practice? and (3) Why is it important to learn to critically reflect prior to entering clinical practice?

By gathering a series of data sets sourced from student work, focus groups, interviews and university teaching and learning documents, a detailed examination of the students’ progression was possible. Collectively over several years, the strategies that were embedded to enhance reflective practice have been highly successful, enabling students to transition from dependent students to independent, critical, reflective practitioners. Analysis of the students’ activities over this time shows an increasing depth in their reflections as the course progressed in addition to transformed thinking arising from their growing awareness of their underlying assumptions and of the complexity of clinical practice. Evidence of the students’ changed perspective is also apparent in the main themes identified in their reflections. In the earlier years, the students’ reflections tended to focus on feelings of uncertainty and ambivalence about their suitability as a practitioner. In the later years, when the students were concerned with their transition to independent clinical practice, their reflections focused on engaging with their responsibilities and on devising and implementing strategies for improving their clinical competence and becoming a more patient-centred practitioner.