International students becoming Physiotherapist
: A post qualitive inquiry

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


While there has been much written about international students’ experiences of studying in the UK and to a lesser extent, the experiences of international nursing students, there is little known about the experiences of international physiotherapy students. In response to the recent trend for international students seeking to complete their physiotherapy degree in the UK, this inquiry aims to examine international students becoming physiotherapist.
Previous research in this area is based on the epistemological theory of social constructionism, viewing ‘becoming a physiotherapist’ as a linear process of professional socialisation, where students assimilate new attitudes, knowledge and skills, and assume a new identity as a professional physiotherapist. However, this post qualitative inquiry offers a novel approach. Drawing on Deleuze and Guattari’s (1983; 1987) concepts of affect, assemblage and multiplicity, I present becoming physiotherapist as a rhizome: expanding, elongating, changing shape in a relentless, dynamic process of unforming and forming connections with a range of different bodies, entities, assemblages.
Through a series of unstructured interviews over a three year period, 12 international physiotherapy students shared stories relating to their experiences of becoming physiotherapist. Using a rigorous process of thinking with theory (Jackson and Mazzei 2012), I engaged with a range of theories as I worked with the data (MacLure 2010) and through this intense process, theory became entangled with the students’ stories around their becomings, from which a number of insights emerged.
Becoming physiotherapist was different for each of the students and was presented as a process of deciphering a range of codes, relating to the human body, movement and also communication. While all of the international students had some familiarity with the code of physicality, and quickly became familiar with new cultural and learning codes, language codes presented challenges in different ways throughout the three years. However, despite this, becoming physiotherapist continued. Capacity building was viewed in terms of the ability to affect and to be affected by other bodies in a particular environment, and this was different for each student. A number of factors were highlighted as important to the ability of students to express capacity: the structure of the learning environment, the behaviour of those with whom they were learning and their own imaginaries. This inquiry has provided an alternative view of international students’ engagement and challenges the deficit model often described in literature. Rather than viewing engagement as the responsibility of the student, it is seen as a response to affects flowing through a particular environment. Recommendations are made for physiotherapy education, including the scheduling of time and multiple opportunities for students to move flexibly between striated learning spaces (to gain familiarity with new codes and structures) and smooth learning spaces (for adapting and refining behaviours). Broader educational implications are raised, including impact of contextual hospitality on both the student’s experience and their ability to express capacity on practice placements. The concept of the Body without Organs is used to explore the powerful impact of educators who approach students with humility, who are vigilant to affects within a learning milieu. Students responded to such behaviour by expressing their unique capacities, and entering into productive relationships which further enhanced their becoming physiotherapist.
Date of AwardDec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorKatherine Wimpenny (Supervisor) & Deanne Clouder (Supervisor)

Cite this