Working hard to belong: a qualitative study exploring students from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds experiences of pre-registration physiotherapy education

John Hammond, Annabel Williams, Saskia Walker, Meriel Norris

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    Background: Previous research has demonstrated that attainment inequalities exist for students from Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups in pre-registration physiotherapy education. While previous research has explored students from BAME backgrounds experience of university, the context of physiotherapy is unique and is under researched. Therefore the purpose of this study was to explore BAME student experiences during their physiotherapy training. Methods: Using a phenomenological approach pre-registration BSc and MSc students from BAME backgrounds from two universities who had completed both academic and clinical modules were invited to participate. Focus groups followed a topic guide developed from the literature and were facilitated by physiotherapy educators from outside the host institution. They were digitally recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed thematically. Analytical triangulation was adopted throughout the research process as a mechanism to enhance rigour. Results: Seventeen students participated from a range of self-identified BAME backgrounds that were also representative of age, gender and course. Themes derived from the data included: feeling an outsider in reflections of belonging, behaviours by others that marginalise BAME and personal strategies to integrate in physiotherapy despite the lack of power and influence. Collectively these themes demonstrate a range of challenges which students from BAME backgrounds face within both an academic and practice learning environment. Conclusions: While this may not be surprising based on other disciplines, this study demonstrates that studying physiotherapy as a student from BAME background requires persistence to overcome a series of many implicit challenges. Understanding the experiences of students from BAME backgrounds presents unique opportunities to educate the profession and co-create opportunities for a more diverse profession with practitioners and educators as role models. There is a need for greater training for educators to listen to these students' voices and their stories, and understand where institutional structures and practices could be modified to enable BAME student inclusion in physiotherapy education and practice.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number372
    JournalBMC Medical Education
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 16 Oct 2019

    Bibliographical note

    The Author(s). 2019 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0
    International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
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    • Black Asian and minority ethnic
    • Physiotherapy
    • Qualitative
    • Race
    • Student


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