Introducing environmental physiotherapy in teaching about health promotion

🇮🇸  Fyrir kennsluefni um þetta menntunarátak á ensku, vinsamlegast sjá neðst á þessari síðu.

Introduction and context in the curriculum

At the University of Iceland, the physiotherapy curriculum is made of 3 years for BSc and 2 years for MSc, which is necessary to be a certified registered physiotherapist. In the 2nd year of the BSc, we have two courses on health promotion (I and II). In the first one, the emphasis is on health promotion and prevention for societies and groups (4 ECTS) while in the latter the focus is more on the individual (5 ECTS). In the context of the first one, I decided to introduce environmental physiotherapy as a new approach in physiotherapy through a short recording on the subject and then have the students write down their own thoughts, an essay of +/-500 words. I encouraged them to speak from their heart, emphasising there were no wrong or right answers, I just wanted to hear their opinions.

Resources used in the lecture

In the lecture, I used resources from the EPA-website and the recording ended up being 40 minutes, where I introduced:

Inviting student reflections

I asked the students to reflect on the subjects and make a rationale for their opinion:

  • Does this knowledge matter to physiotherapists?
  • What do you feel was the most important subject? Why?
  • Was there something that surprised you?
  • Can you relate environmental physiotherapy to health promotion for the Icelandic community and/or physiotherapy in Iceland?

Since this was the very first time these issues were discussed with the students, I did not know what to expect. Most of the students found this interesting and thought this was important knowledge for them as future physiotherapists. Only two students expressed no need for this in PT-curriculum and did not see a reason for discussion this here and now. Following are few examples from the students´ reflections.

Steinunn A. Ólafsdóttir (PhD)

Steinunn A. Ólafsdóttir (PhD)

Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Therapy, University of Iceland

Steinunn worked as a clinical physiotherapist for over 20 years when she decided to take a turn and work on a PhD in health sciences which she finished in 2021. Prior to that, she finished a Nordic BA in interdisciplinary gerontology (NordMaG) and in her clinical work, her main experience was working with older people.

Student reflections 

Physiotherapists, along with other healthcare professionals, should participate a lot more when discussing environmental issues and municipal planning.

What I liked most in this lecture on physiotherapy and the environment was how relevant it is to plant these seeds into the subconscious of future healthcare professionals.

The current environmental mess is very structurally caused but usually, the consumers are held responsible for it. Therefore, I think it is highly relevant that the university takes the initiative to try and reduce this mess at its very root, among future healthcare professionals.

Physiotherapy might not be the most important or obvious area to improve the environment or sustainability. Still, it is important for physiotherapists to be aware of how their job affects the environment and how they can use different ways to reduce negative impacts on the environment.

    I want to start by saying that these are incredibly interesting subjects which are highly important and should definitely be discussed a lot more! – I am very glad to see that this discussion has started at the university. Students take this knowledge with them when they start working as physios. This is an important step in the right direction.

    One thing that surprised me was to see how being outside in green spaces, seems to have positive effects on the pain experience of individuals.

    It points out for example how physios can ensure that our services are available for refugees and asylum seekers; Are the websites for the PT-clinics in different languages? Is it easy for someone who does not speak Icelandic to find the phone number of our clinic? Can everyone afford our services? – I checked out a few websites of Icelandic clinics and I could only find information in Icelandic.

    Some thoughts on further development 

    Given the positive feedback from the students, I have been thinking about how this subject can further be integrated into the course on health promotion. Next year, I might reuse the recorded lecture and have the students listen to it as well and afterwards make some presentations themselves (rather than reflections) where they link related subjects of their own interest to health promotion.

    Since Iceland is a small nation and privileged in many ways, it might be challenging for the students to link the global environmental issues to health promotion of individuals and/or groups in our society. Most Icelanders don´t regret the higher temperature we are experiencing due to global warming! Still, we have some issues regarding air quality (due to suspended particulate matter and occasional volcanic ashfall), melting glaciers and recently more violent weather conditions. We have plenty of cold and hot water along with green spaces and beautiful nature which can be used for health promotion as well as with the exercise prescription, which is a part of our healthcare services, and as a part of other PTs treatment. The importance of maintaining these qualities should be emphasized.

    I hope the students´ awareness of environmental subjects goes along with them into their further studies awaiting and into their future practice as physiotherapists. If they would only consider for example their own consumption, transport mode and/or participation in waste sorting I think some seeds have been planted.

    Utvalg av undervisningsmaterialer / Selected
    teaching materials

    To facilitate resource sharing and collaboration, you can download the presentation used in the teaching of this module in pdf format here (in Icelandic only). If you choose to use this in original form or by changing according to your needs and context, we would highly appreciate if you could provide us with your feedback, questions and ideas for amendments.

    Olafsdottir, S.A. (2021). Sjúkrapjálfun og umhverfidsjúkrapjálfarar og umhverfid. Akureyri: University of Iceland. 

    Komast í samband / Get in touch

    🇮🇸. Við viljum gjarnan heyra frá þér og halda áfram samtalinu um kennslufrumkvæði okkar. Ef þú hefur einhverjar athugasemdir, spurningar eða hugmyndir sem þú vilt deila með okkur, vinsamlegast hafðu samband við Steinunni A. Ólafsdóttur með tölvupósti eða notaðu athugasemdareyðublaðið hér að neðan

    🇬🇧   We would love to hear from you and continue the conversation about our teaching initiative. If you have any feedback, questions or ideas that you would like to share with us, please contact Steinunn A. Ólafsdóttir via email or use the comment form below.


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