Health science courses aim to prepare students for the demands of their chosen profession by learning ways appropriate to that profession and the contexts they will work and live in. Expectations of what students should learn become re-contextualised and translated into entry-level curriculum, with students operating as a connection between what is intended and enacted in curriculum, and required in the real world. Drawing on phenomenology, this paper explores how students understand practice-the collective, purposeful knowing, doing and being of a community-in entry-level physiotherapy programs. Ways of thinking and practising (WTP)-a framework attentive to the distinctive nature of a discipline, its values, philosophies and world-view (McCune and Hounsell in High Educ 49(3):255-289, 2005)-provides the conceptual lens. Six themes describing how students see the WTP of physiotherapy practice emerged from the analysis: discovery of new knowledge; problem solving client related contexts; adopting a systems based approach to the body; contributing to a positive therapeutic alliance; developing a sense of self and the profession; and the organisation of the workforce. The study produces knowledge about practice by focusing on physiotherapy students' experiences of disciplinary learning. Including students in educational research in this way is an approach that can help students realise their potential as part of a community of practice.