Research and clinical teaching in osteopathic programmes: a question of balance?

In recognition of the need for research and the lack of a distinct research culture in the osteopathy, the osteopathic programme at Victoria University (VU), Australia, aimed to produce research-informed graduates. From the first student intake in 1994, a research thesis was included as a major component of the final two years of the five-year (3+2 year Bachelor & Masters) programme. The course aimed to give students ‘hands on’ experience in research, and that this ‘taste’ of research would encourage graduates to return to undertake further research. The challenges and difficulties of this approach will be discussed.

The VU approach to teaching research has been only partially successful. Student projects have been published in peer-reviewed journals, but the percentage of published projects has been low. In a survey undertaken in 2011, graduates agreed that research is essential for the growth of the profession and they apply evidence-based practice where possible. However, many students viewed their research experience poorly and there was no strong agreement that graduates would like to be involved in future research.

From 2012, VU is embarking on a different approach to teaching research involving shorter research exposure in staff-led projects and more effectively imbedding evidence-informed teaching and principles in the classroom and clinic throughout the programme. These changes aim to produce a more positive research exposure for students, with the emphasis on training students to be research consumers and reflective practitioners, and will allow staff to focus on larger research projects.

Associate Professor Gary Fryer is the Discipline Head and Course Coordinator of the Osteopathic Programme at Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia. Gary graduated in 1991 and has practiced osteopathy in Melbourne, Brisbane and rural Victoria. Gary has been extensively involved in research and osteopathic education, and has taught research, osteopathic principles and technique at Victoria University since 1997, as well as teaching osteopathic technique and conducting research at the A.T. Still University, Kirksville, Missouri, from 2007-2009. His research interests have been diverse and include the reliability of palpation, the physiological effects and mechanisms of manipulative treatment, and the EMG activity of deep paraspinal muscles related to palpation and treatment. He has authored 40 articles in peer-reviewed journals, several book chapters, and has been an invited speaker to osteopathic conferences in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe.