Virtual Student Placements

Keeping the pipeline of physios flowing during Covid-19 and beyond

18 June 2020

Connect Health’s 8-point guide to setting up virtual student placements


Consider placement structure

  • What aspect of your virtual service could students shadow? Utilise MSK, APP, pain and rheumatology clinics using Microsoft Teams. Patients have been very accommodating about having students shadowing (at times up to 24 in one go!).
  • In what way could students get some patient interaction? We have students doing joint clinics with clinicians via 3 way conference calling.
  • How could students improve your virtual offering? We have students running live exercise classes via Facebook, taking our capacity from 3 classes per week to 20 classes per week.
  • What other learning opportunities can you give them? Our students have full access to our CPD ‘Academy’ and deliver case studies and CPD presentations to each other and their mentors.

Identify your capacity for students

  • Virtual clinics allow multiple students to shadow the same clinic, which greatly increases capacity.
  • Projects and self-directed/semi-supported learning can be done by students at times that suit them, greatly increasing the flexibility of the placement model.

Arrange a clinical mentor and a student mentor

  • Each student has a clinical mentor and a student mentor from a previous intake which shares the responsibility and gives leadership and management exposure to students.
  • We have found clinicians keen to act as mentors due to evaluating methods, gaining clinical hours, satisfying a thirst for knowledge and career development.
  • Time commitments for clinical mentors are actually reduced compared to a traditional F2F placement due to the increased autonomy of students and the wide variety of shadowing opportunities.


  • What virtual platforms will you give students access to? How will you communicate effectively with them? All our students receive a dedicated Connect Health Office 365 account to enable easy integration into our digital infrastructure. We have used a combination of email, Microsoft Teams and Facebook Workplace to communicate with students

Student experience

  • Focus on what you can offer students not what you can’t!
  • We can offer great exposure to virtual clinics to develop subjective history taking skills, clinical reasoning and virtual management of a diverse patient caseload.
  • We can’t offer any exposure to objective assessments, but this doesn’t prohibit a worthwhile MSK placement.
  • Encourage student autonomy and ownership of their placement. Virtual placements require students to be more proactive and engaged. It also lets them curate their placement experience to best suit them.
  • We have made available a wide variety of clinics and set them some digital projects, but have then let them organise their own timetables and experience.


  • Agree with the universities how they would like the assessment to be conducted, some are sticking with usual forms and others have a bespoke ‘COVID’ form.
  • We have found there to be more similarities than differences between F2F and virtual placements regarding assessment.
  • So long as expectations are clearly set and discussed between mentors and students, it is possible to assess a virtual placement using a normal placement assessment form.

Co-create with your students

  • We changed numerous aspects of our placement structure and offering during our first cohort based on feedback and discussion with students.
  • The main changes were:
    • Starting to involve students in joint clinics rather than just shadowing, as there was an appetite for the students to get involved.
    • Reducing the number of virtual projects to ensure students were not spread too thin.

Don’t wait for the right time!

  • There is a pressing need for physiotherapy placements, the right time is now!
  • COVID-19 has created ideal conditions for rapid innovation and testing of new models. Clinicians and students are more open to change, new ways of working and new ideas.


For more information on how to set up your own virtual placements, please contact

Download a version of this guide:

8-Point Guide PDF

Visit our Virtual Student Placements page for more information and resources:

Virtual Student Placements


We have been featured in the IHPN “Working together during covid19” report, highlighting some of the outstanding partnerships between independent sector and NHS providers during the pandemic to ensure that patients get the care they need. Take a look here (we are on page 28):

IHPN Report