The impact of Covid-19 on teaching Chiropractic

Phil Dewhurst is Head of the School of Chiropractic at AECC University College. He oversees the running of the School of Chiropractic, ensuring our high standards of teaching, research and collaboration are maintained within the school’s portfolio of undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Phil also has oversight of the school’s continuing professional development courses.

He tells us more about how the School of Chiropractic and on-site Chiropractic Clinic navigated the challenges brought by the Covid-19 pandemic: 

Impact of the pandemic

“During the first lockdown, the Clinic closed as per national guidance and wasn’t able to re-open until mid-July. During lockdown, we worked hard on designing a way of operating the Clinic that meant we could still accommodate the learning requirements of 140 students. As you can imagine, this was a real challenge and a big undertaking logistically.

“It was a case of working out how we could do this; complying with the guidance from both Public Health England and the Department for Education, as well as with health and safety requirements, and keep people safe. At the time, we didn’t know what coming out of lockdown would look like or how clinics were going to be able to operate.

“Suddenly risk assessments, screening patients before they came and see us, extra cleaning measures, and PPE become the norm. We changed the way that we ran student consultations, used telehealth to limit the amount of time that patients spent on campus, and started lateral flow testing all of our students and staff. Vaccinations became available to anyone in a clinical-facing role – staff or student – which was fantastic.

“The nature of the lockdown, and the demographic of the patients that we see at the Clinic, meant that it was a tough year for the Clinic. Particularly in the run-up to Christmas, we did see a reduction in patient numbers – as you would expect. Since Christmas, that has risen back up, which was encouraging to see.”

Protecting the student experience

“We spent the summer of 2020 designing the delivery of our courses to ensure that we could continue face-to-face teaching. We felt that practical skills teaching had to be hands-on – you can’t replicate that online.

“We planned it all out at the beginning: we had multiple scenarios for how the year could go. That meant that when something happened, we pulled that scenario out. We wanted the students to have the best possible experience, with as little disruption as possible. We did everything we could to try and achieve that.

“We considered moving the curriculum around, moving all the theory into Semester One and all the practical in Semester Two. But we didn’t want to assume that come Christmas/New Year 2020 we would be back to normal.

“We decided that we would design our teaching from to prioritise face-to-face from the very start of the new academic year. To do that, we put lectures online and put students into bubbles. We initially kept some tutorials and small group work on campus, and all clinical skills teaching took place on campus.

“We converted seminar rooms into labs for practical skills, to ensure that we could keep small group sizes, and then video-linked the rooms together. In this way, students could still see staff in other rooms, ask questions of that staff member, and see demonstrations.

“It was the closest we could safely get to what students were used to. The feedback that we had from students indicates that it worked well. There were some teething problems, but once we’d been doing it for a couple of weeks, it became a really slick operation.

“When it came to the second lockdown in October, the priority was once again to preserve face-to-face teaching. At that point, all tutorials moved online and we only had practical skills and the clinical services on campus – in line with national guidance.

“It was announced that only certain courses would be allowed to continue on campus in the New Year and Chiropractic wasn’t initially on that list. The British Chiropractic Association, Royal College of Chiropractors and the General Chiropractic Council, along with our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Lesley Haig, lobbied for this to be amended and the Government did allow us to continue teaching on campus.

 “This change reflected the fact that healthcare is more than just medicine, nursing and dentistry. The list was expanded and we carried on pretty much as we had been doing before Christmas.”  

Acquiring additional skills

“Our students have inevitably had a very different learning experience since the pandemic began. They will graduate from AECC University College with a very different set of skills: they’ll have their core Chiropractic skills, but they will also have gained lots of other additional skills too.

“They will have far more confidence talking to patients on the phone and taking information that way, for example. They have experience making decisions regarding treatment without seeing the patient face-to-face.

“Our graduating students are now well-used to working as teams as they have had to work like that all year in bubbles. There are lots of other benefits that have come from their experience that most people won’t immediately see. These skills will really help them as they transition into a practice environment and work as part of a bigger team.”

You can find out more about the School of Chiropractic here.

Phil Dewhurst

Above: Phil Dewhurst