A group of 20 second-year physiotherapy students from Adelaide have been undertaking unique, hands-on learning activities at the University of South Australia Whyalla Campus over the past week.
The students were tasked with treating model patients at the on-campus physiotherapy ward as well as learning first hand the struggle of living with a physical disability by using empathy suits.
Physiotherapy Program Director Gisela Van Kessel said the centre was a facility that the students did not have access to in the city, so it was a fantastic opportunity for them to learn in a practical way.
"The students got to practice what they would do in a real ward setting. It's a very safe learning environment for them so if they make a mistake, they can go back and fix what went wrong," she said.
"They get to learn through both failure and success."
Ms Van Kessel said the patient case studies were tailored to fit the experience level of the students, who are tackling their first clinical experience.
"There's usually one core theme in the patient's story, so today they're getting a patient out of bed who has had abdominal surgery or treating a patient who has a chronic pulmonary disease," she said.
"They're practicing asking questions around those conditions so they can work out the best treatment plan."
Student Thomas Kostakis said the activities had been a 'wonderfully intense' experience.
"I do think this will give us a good advantage for next year when we're thrown in the deep end with live placements," he said.
"It's good to get all our mistakes out of the way now before we see real patients with real conditions."
The other main task for the students was using empathy suits which simulate a physical disability. One group of students played the role of the disabled while another group played the role of their carers.
The groups were then challenged with completing basic tasks like traveling to the Westland Shopping Centre to do shopping and then using the ingredients to cook meals.
UniSA Associate Professor of Rural Health and Training Sara Jones said the empathy suits had straps and pulleys attached that were used to pull a person's limb into a fixed position.
"We can replicate the position someone's limb would be in if they had a stroke, a substantial knee injury or arthritis," she said.
"We can do it for both upper limbs and lower limbs, we also have additional straps that can limit students ability to bend over or bend their arm."
Ms Jones said the carers were then challenged with supporting the disabled student.
"They had to then think about the issues they are facing like getting in and out of a community bus or car, and what the limitations are," she said.
"These students as practitioners need to be considering the carer as well as the individual that is living with the disability."
Student Jessica Hildenbrandt, who was given a suit they replicated a significant knee and back injury, said it was 'all the little things' that made life a struggle.
"While we were shopping it was hard to get coins out of your purse or reach an item on the shelf, it's all the little things that are suddenly now really exhausting," she said.
"As a future physio it makes you realise that getting people with a disability out into the community can be a really challenging thing from them to do."