25 August 2023 | Carrie Hamilton

Enhancing physiotherapy education

Exploring large-scale simulated placements for BSc and MSc student

Clinical placements are a cornerstone of physiotherapy education, allowing students to gain valuable hands-on experience in healthcare settings. However, limited placement opportunities and evolving educational approaches have led to the emergence of large-scale simulated placements. In this blog post, we delve into the role of simulated placements, discussing their structure, impact, and most importantly, their sustainability for both BSc and MSc physiotherapy students.

Incorporating actors for realistic scenarios

Simulated clinical placements play a vital role in preparing physiotherapy students for real-world healthcare settings. One of the key elements that enhance the authenticity of these placements is the involvement of skilled actors who step into various roles, creating scenarios that closely mimic what students will encounter in their future careers.

The use of actors in simulated placements goes beyond mere role-play; it offers a lifelike representation of clinical situations. These actors are trained to portray patients with different conditions, backgrounds, and emotional states. They bring real-life complexities into the learning environment, allowing students to practice their skills in a context that closely resembles actual patient interactions.

The structure of simulated placements

Simulated clinical placements provide physiotherapy MSc and BSc students with a valuable, realistic learning experience, in a safe and supportive, facilitator-led environment. SimComm co-produced a placement programme for 80 BSc and 30 MSc undergraduate physiotherapy students .

Each student was provided with 40 simulated placement hours over one week, this was divided between hands on facilitated simulation, with follow-up synthesis and reflection of the learning outcomes. The facilitated sessions with actor role players centred around authentic scenarios which were level-matched and closely aligned with the HCPC Physiotherapy Standards of Proficiency (HCPC, 2018). The scenarios reflected the diverse society in which we live, with actors taking on roles of patients/relatives and colleagues, from a range of backgrounds, with differing demographics and characteristics, presenting in a broad range of situations. Students were able to reflect on their interactions, before, during and after the simulation; they received objective feedback from the actor, from the unique perspective of patient/relative or colleague, they received feedback from their peers and from the facilitator.

Advantages of actor-simulated placement

The incorporation of actors into simulated placements has several advantages.

Flexibility: Firstly, actor simulated placements provides students with exposure to a wide range of clinical scenarios, ensuring that they are well-prepared for the diversity of patients they will encounter in their careers. This exposure fosters adaptability and critical thinking, two essential qualities for effective healthcare professionals.

Moreover, working with actors enhances students’ communication skills. They learn not only how to convey information clearly and empathetically but also how to engage with patients who may be anxious, uncooperative, or in distress. These skills are invaluable in building trust and rapport with patients, which is crucial for successful physiotherapy outcomes.

Sustainability and cost-effectiveness: Another significant advantage of simulated placements is their sustainability and cost-effectiveness. The scenarios created with actors are reusable resources. Once developed, they can be used for multiple groups of students, offering an excellent return on investment. This allows educational institutions to make the most of their resources while providing high-quality learning experiences for physiotherapy students.

The sustainability of simulated placements for both BSc and MSc physiotherapy students is a critical consideration. These placements not only prepare students for their immediate clinical experiences but also equip them with skills and knowledge that will benefit them throughout their careers. The investment made in creating these resources continues to pay off as each new cohort of students benefits from realistic, actor-led scenarios.

Return on Investment: In evaluating the sustainability of simulated placements, the concept of return on investment becomes pertinent. The initial investment in developing these resources yields ongoing benefits. The enhanced skills, confidence, and readiness of physiotherapy graduates contribute to improved patient care and satisfaction. This, in turn, can lead to better clinical outcomes and reduced healthcare costs, emphasizing the long-term value of simulated placements.


The simulated placement, for both sets of students, was a resounding success. Both groups (BSc and MSc) worked through 10 scenarios. The larger BSc group required 20 separate facilitated sessions and 40 actors. For the MSc group, there were 5 facilitated sessions and 10 actors. As always, sustainability of programmes is linked to budget. Although a quantified analysis is yet to be completed, the time taken to organise the placement, write matched scenarios with clear learning outcomes, deliver the placement and evaluate, is time consuming. Continued co-production with shared facilitation (HEI and education provider) is a potential way forward, with re-use of scenarios and rotations; it is highly replicable, with a team of experienced facilitators and actors.


The incorporation of actors into simulated placements is a game-changer in physiotherapy education. It fosters a learning environment where students can thrive, providing them with the tools and experiences they need to excel in their careers. The sustainability of these placements, both in terms of cost-effectiveness and long-term benefits, underscores their significance in preparing BSc and MSc physiotherapy students for successful and impactful careers. As we look to the future of healthcare, these innovative approaches are shaping the next generation of physiotherapists, ensuring that they are not just healthcare professionals but also compassionate and skilled caregivers.


  1. Current placement expectations of AHP Regulators and Professional Bodies [Internet]. Health Education England. 2020. Available from: https://www.hee.nhs.uk/our-work/allied-health-professions/increase-capacity/ahp-practice-based-learning/current-placement-expectations-ahp-regulators-professional-bodies
  2. Rossiter L, Turk R, Judd B, Brentnall J, Grimmett C, Cowley E, et al. Preparing allied health students for placement: a contrast of learning modalities for foundational skill development. BMC Medical Education. 2023 Mar 15;23(1).
  3. HCPC. The standards of proficiency for physiotherapists [Internet]. Hcpc-uk.org. 2018. Available from: https://www.hcpc-uk.org/standards/standards-of-proficiency/physiotherapists/ 

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