Transforming cognitive and emotional dissonance for physiotherapy students learning medical anthropology

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South African Journal of Physiotherapy

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University of Cape Town

Since the 1980s physiotherapy has shifted concerns towards cultural, economic, philosophical, political and social questions, and more flexible ways of speaking about and practicing physiotherapy. In response to both global shifts and local demands, the Physiotherapy Division at the University of Cape Town (UCT) approached their Social Anthropology colleagues to teach a broader range of perspectives to their physiotherapy students. The objective of this research was to explore the changes experienced by UCT physiotherapy students exposed to a cross-disciplinary teaching environment, and discuss the possible role of the course in affecting their experience. A qualitative research design drew data from multiple sources and was analysed using an interpretive content analysis method. Using an anthropological model of transformation, the changes experienced by students were categorised into three sub-categories of ‘separation’, ‘transition’ and ‘incorporation’. Emotional and cognitive changes were attributable to the course material. By attending to their emotional discomfort, physiotherapy students not only successfully incorporated anthropological concepts to healthcare but also improved their professional identities and personal self-worth.