There is an established (since 1957) School of Physio and Occu Therapy affiliated to the National Hospital Colombo. It trains physiotherapists on a 2 year program for an HND to absorb into hospitals by the Ministry of Health. It is considered a vocational institute that gives focused job training. Practical training in the National Hospital is an integral part of the course, where they go on rounds and help with physical therapy for recovering patients. I was also given physical therapy from these students when I was recuperating in hospital after surgery for a broken femur.
The syllabus given is outdated and apparently not changed since 1956. They take students with basic A levels and as it is a diploma awarding institution it required minimal entry standards that included aptitude tests. However lately it has been decided only to recruit a number of students from Provincial levels, so that after training they can be sent back there to work. So a provincial allocation has just been gazzeted that has done away with aptitude tests and made entry even easier. This is likely to reduce their standard. Further the quantity intake is not based on any criteria, but on the whims of the Government as to how many they require leading to inconsistent entry requirements. It must be noted that these students get a stipend of Rs12,000 a month during their training period for the two year Higher National Diploma.(HND)
In the meantime, the Applied Health Sciences Faculties of both the University of Colombo and the University of Peradeniya have established a Special Degree program in Physical Therapy leading to a BSc in Physical Therapy. This is a 4 year course that commenced in 2006, where the first batch qualified 18months previously and have yet to receive appointments into the Health Department.
Each University churns out 30 students each year, only giving the country 60 graduates a year qualified in Physical Therapy, none of whom have yet received appointments into the Health Department hospitals.
There is a pay anomaly, where the diploma holder is on pay scale similar to nurses. The degree holders currently have not been assigned a pay scale and this may be part of the reason for them not receiving appointments as yet. Those Graduates are now agitating for a pay scale commensurate with their qualifications, higher than for the HND holders.
They fear that the Health department does not wish to give them a higher grade, explaining the delay in appointments. They have been promised that the School of Physiotherapy will be closed once these graduates come out, so they will not face any competition. I must also mention that there are over a thousand vacancies in the Health Sector that are not filled for physical therapy and the current carder in all the hospitals is only 390.
Physical Therapy is the career in greatest demand the world over and the need for physical therapists in Sri Lanka is immense as there are thousands of patients who require physical therapy. It is therefore ironic that we in Sri Lanka have over 60 physical therapy graduates without employment appointments in the state health services sector.
My personal opinion is that both the school and the degree program MUST run in tandem as they cater to the needs at different levels. The request by the degree holders to close the school is unreasonable as we need both Diploma Holders and Degree Holders to cater to the demand. The school should perhaps come clean and change the syllabus to a more current and relevant format so that the finger cannot be pointed as to the quality of the education that they receive.
It is important to pay the graduates on a higher scale commensurate to their qualification. The entry requirement for these undergrads is on a par with medical students, and dental school, so they believe it is important they receive a wage commensurate to the standard of work they perform. It is also apparent the reason they have not received appointment letters is that they have not been able to agree on their pay scale, that the new graduates demand. They will not accept the same grade as the diploma holders. The demand for the closure of the Physiotherapy school as mentioned earlier is unfair. We need even lower qualified people to do this work in the private and public sector and should not encourage exclusivity. The quality of the degree is on a par with University Education overseas and so they MUST NOT impose the closure. The university syllabus is current, and will fulfill all requirements of International Employment as there is a shortage of physical therapists.
I believe graduates of Physical Therapy must be hired at the appropriate pay scale. I also believe the school should continue churning out two year diploma holders, which also fills a great void in the national requirements, both for Degree Holders AND Diploma Holders.
I wish to point out that there are private tertiary institutions that also do HND programs that are recognized for further study overseas and affiliated to overseas colleges as well as this is a profession in high demand world wide and is also a profitable venture for the private institutions to offer. With the ever increasing private tertiary establishments it is likely that more will crop up and also will be in demand by private hospitals if the quality of their output exceeds that of the state institutions. This will force the state institutions to compete at a higher level improving the quality of their courses to keep up to date.
The pressure therefore MUST be on the state to improve their output otherwise their intake will suffer, and the fee paying student gain the upper hand in this profession as well. Another rich v poor, and state v private sector battle!!