Vertical Integration of Critical Thinking and Research Skills in an Australian Osteopathic Programme

The development of research and critical thinking skills in an osteopathic programme requires a carefully scaffolded approach in order to build the knowledge and skills required for contemporary osteopathic practice. The drivers of curriculum (the course team, university and national registration authority) should be involved throughout and their needs integrated in order to fulfil the course and graduate objectives.

In developing the curriculum of the most recent university Bachelors plus Masters (3 plus 2) degree structure, certain lessons have been learnt, none more significant than the teaching of critical reasoning and research skills. The transition from undergraduate to postgraduate studies, as described in the Australian Qualifications Framework, requires an explicit progression in depth and complexity of learning. This poses challenges for the academics who may have substantial clinical and teaching experience but minimal formal research training, and also for students who have their primary focus on the clinical pathway that dominates these programmes.

Vertical integration is a curriculum alignment strategy that crosses year and award levels, aiming to build knowledge and understanding in a systematic streaming process while avoiding overlapping content. An analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of a vertically integrated model will be presented, using the example of the Southern Cross University osteopathic programme. This will include a discussion of the importance of undergraduate preparatory studies, entry requirements to the Masters, difficulties in research supervision, the ethics approval process and student perceptions of their experience. Options for achieving and enriching the outcomes from this curriculum will be suggested.

PAUL J ORROCK ND DO MAppSc GradCertHEd is an osteopathic clinician and academic. He has lectured in osteopathic courses at three Australian universities, and is Senior Lecturer, and inaugural Head of the Osteopathic Programme at Southern Cross University. Paul has a Masters degree by research where he investigated the relationship between pelvic dysfunction and gait, and is currently studying for his PhD looking at pragmatic clinical trial methodology. Paul completed a major workforce study of osteopathy in Australia, the results of which have been published internationally. Paul also has had a private practice as an Osteopath for over 24 years integrating the use of natural medicines and osteopathy into family health care. Paul’s goal is to see osteopathic medicine offered in the health system to the whole community.