Working as physiotherapist in the intensive care unit (ICU) is exciting, I always compare it with Crime Scene Investigation; you need to move around with care – for yourself, for your patient and their families – but you need to also be firm, decisive think on your feet, and above all you really need to know the theoretical background. Our job is to get our patient out of bed, as soon as safely possible. It’s called early mobilization. The earlier we mobilize, the more we limit the additional problems ICU-patients get from being in bed, receiving heavy medication and being on mechanical ventilation: additional problems such as muscle weakness and fatigue.

How to be a part of the ICU

If you want to be part of the CSI-team you need to understand the ICU’s environment, with all its’ machines, lines, tubes and medicine pumps. As it is very difficult to simulate the ICU in a classroom, and not every ESP student will have a chance to do a full-on ICU clinical rotation, we developed an e-learning module: Physiotherapy in the ICU’.

“Working as physiotherapist in the intensive care unit (ICU) is exciting, I always compare it with Crime Scene Investigation”

E-learning ICU

The ICU-physiotherapists and researchers from the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam helped us with the content and provided the real-life videos.


One of our final year students, Jonathan Thacker, with his perfect British accent, recorded all the audio to the module. So really this e- learning module is very much an ESProduct.

Google+ Community

While doing the course students are invited to post questions on the online discussion forum. Additional resources such as web pages, videos, and articles are posted to make for an even richer educational experience. I am always racing against the clock to answer questions within 8 hours!

ICU E-Learning Accessibility

Our students follow the module whenever it suits (apparently not on Saturdays ;-)) them and from any part of the world where they happen to be at that moment. In January 2017 students completed the module 3 different continents!

Student feedback

With the content being very specialized and different from most of the content of the ESP curriculum, students are positively surprised by the module:

One student writes: I enjoyed the content of the course and especially the practical part. Extremely interesting field of physiotherapy where I would like to work/experience more in the future. Students also liked the interactiveness of the module: I really enjoyed the course. There were no unnecessary repetitions, there were enough assignments/exercises and the videos were clear. After completion of the e-learning, students have to complete a practical observation in ICU. One student describes this experience as very positive: I like that you see quick progress in your patients, within days and sometimes hours! The patients were always happy to see me, as they wanted to move and get out of bed.

Meet Melike: When the ICU becomes real-life experience

After January’s course, I received an e-mail of Melike, a second-year ESP student who just completed the module. She wrote about her unexpected, real-life experience of ICU – as a patient! –, she allowed me to share some paragraphs in this blog:

The nurse said I started screaming “early mobilization” on the very first hour they brought me to the ICU. I tried to flex my knees, ankle, move my arms (I barely remember this part because I was covered with a heavy cover, so it was not easy to move). They were telling me “not so early, stop moving”.
I was amazed how weak I was although I had a very good cardiovascular level the day before. Moreover, how fast your lungs fill up with mucus is surprising! I had to mobilize myself in my room to avoid any problems (nurses told me to walk as much as I could). Coughing, breathing, sneezing are such problems!
The body is amazing, it reacts quickly. I am still quite shocked about the weakness of my body. Thanks for letting me have the course. It was really helpful and useful to me.

The Future of ICU-REHAB

The e-learning module is also part of a PhD research project, happening within ESP and the faculty of health. Our next step is to evaluate if the module sufficiently prepares our students for the ICU environment, in different settings across the globe.


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