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WHO benchmarks for training in osteopathy published

15 November 2010

Six years after the project was initiated, benchmarks in training in osteopathy have finally been launched.

Six years after the project was first initiated, benchmarks in training in osteopathy have finally been launched by the World Health Organization.

These international benchmarks aim to reflect minimum training standards to practice osteopathy and support countries across the world to establish systems of training, accreditation.

Although WHO standards do not have a formal legal status, they are the first of their kind for osteopathy and have some international standing. For this reason the British Osteopathic Association and GOsC contributed to a three day WHO consultation event, to ensure that the benchmarks did not contradict UK osteopathic training standards. This international gathering, held in February 2007, brought together WHO officials, government representatives, along with osteopathic regulators and associations from across the globe.

The introduction to the training standards document sets out the basic philosophy and principles of osteopathy, a description of osteopathic training programmes, core competencies, a benchmark training curriculum and contraindications of treatment.

It identifies two types of training programmes depending on prior training and clinical experience of trainees. Importantly the benchmarks recognise that it takes time to acquire appropriate mastery of osteopathy and to be able to practise as primary contact healthcare professionals. Type I training programmes, aimed at those with little or no prior healthcare training, are typically four year, full-time programmes with supervised clinical training at an appropriate osteopathic clinical facility as an essential component. Type II training programmes are aimed at those with prior training as healthcare professionals with the same aims and content as Type I, but with a possible modification to the course content and length.

For Type I training programmes, the benchmarks state that a typical programme would take 4,200 hours, including at least 1,000 hours of supervised clinical practice. This minimum fits in with UK standards and those agreed by the Forum for Osteopathic Regulation in Europe. The syllabus and curriculum of Type II programmes must demonstrate the same competencies of osteopathy as graduates of Type I programmes.

Whilst the benchmarks could be said to serve as a helpful introduction to international osteopathic standards, they do not reflect what was originally envisaged from a WHO Guideline on training standards. Unlike other professions which practice in similar ways across the world, osteopathy has two branches: osteopathic medicine as commonly practised in the United States and osteopathy more common within Europe, South Africa, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The original draft of the WHO document reflected these two distinct branches. You will see that references to osteopathic medicine and osteopathic physicians are no longer included. The original draft also had the higher status of a WHO Guideline, as opposed to a benchmark.

For this reason the Osteopathic International Alliance has proposed to develop an international osteopathic standards document, bringing together existing standards from regulated countries, such as the UK. This should serve as an international standard (voluntary), until the first available opportunity we understand we have to review the WHO benchmarks in osteopathy. It is also hoped the benchmarks can also then be ‘upgraded’ to an official WHO Guideline.