Vocations and Learning

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 1–18 | Cite as

Graduating Physiotherapy Students’ Conceptions of their own Competence

  • Merja Kurunsaari
  • Päivi Tynjälä
  • Arja Piirainen
Original Paper


A competence-oriented approach has recently emerged in higher education and thus far, not much attention has been paid to how “competence” itself is understood in education. The purpose of this study was to examine how graduating physiotherapy students perceive their competence at the end of their studies. The data comprised interviews with 33 graduating physiotherapy students. The data were analysed with the phenomenographic approach. The findings indicated that graduating students had different and wide-ranging conceptions of what competence in physiotherapy entails and what their own competence covers. The descriptive categories – mastering core skills, understanding the theoretical basis of physiotherapy, having a holistic view of physiotherapy, engaging in and developing multi-professional collaboration – varied hierarchically on the basis of seven themes. From a pedagogical point of view, four critical aspects were identified: focus of reflection, professional agency, cultural awareness and communication.


Professional competence Conceptions of competence Graduating students Physiotherapy Physiotherapy students Phenomenography 



The authors sincerely thank all of the physiotherapy students who participated in this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Merja Kurunsaari
    • 1
  • Päivi Tynjälä
    • 2
  • Arja Piirainen
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Sport SciencesUniversity of JyväskyläJyväskyläFinland
  2. 2.Finnish Institute for Educational ResearchUniversity of JyväskyläJyväskyläFinland

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