Physiotherapy is often described as an innovative, pioneering and highly rewarding career. Qualified physiotherapists can choose among a wide range of specialties and exciting career paths, in both public and private environments, and have tremendous opportunities for being at the forefront in delivering quality patient care.
Unsurprisingly, the physiotherapy workforce has increased significantly over the years. A census by the NHS Information Centre shows that the number of physiotherapists working in NHS Trusts in England has increased by a staggering 48 per cent between 2000 and 2009. During the same period, the proportion of physiotherapists employed outside the NHS has also increased.
So, what is physiotherapy?
Physiotherapy is a healthcare profession that plays a key role in helping restore, maintain and maximise movement and function in people with injury, disease, or disability. It does so through a wide range of interventions, including exercise, manipulation, massage and acupuncture, as well as patient education on preventive health.
Examples of health problems for which physiotherapy is indicated, and research proven effective, include traumatic or sport injuries, arthritis, back pain, sciatica, stroke, and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
What do physiotherapists do?
Physiotherapists use the physical techniques described above to facilitate recovery and healing. Their key competencies include:
- Identifying and delivering treatments that best suit patients’ individual needs.
- Advising patients on ways to improve and maintain health and wellbeing, for example through positive lifestyle changes, or by using techniques for good posture and safe lifting to reduce their risk of injury.
- Prescribing medicines for any disease, condition or other medical problem within their competence.
Career opportunities in physiotherapy
Membership data from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists (CSP) suggest that the majority of newly qualified physiotherapists are in permanent employment within a year of graduating. A large proportion works in NHS or private hospitals, but an increasing number practice in nursing homes, private clinics, workplaces, schools and sport centres. Many physiotherapists work independently as self-employed healthcare professionals.
Physiotherapist salary and working hours
Most physiotherapists work 37.5 to 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday. But they may occasionally be required to work night shifts or at the weekend, on an on-call basis. Salaries range from around £21,000 to over £30,000 a year, depending on experience, qualifications, type of role, place of work and other factors.
Physiotherapy Degree and Training
Like most healthcare professions, physiotherapy requires a university degree to practice. This is usually a three-year B.Sc. in Physiotherapy consisting of a combination of lectures and hands-on training, and must be approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), the state regulator for physiotherapy. As part of the degree programme, some universities offer work experience in a physiotherapy department, where students have the opportunity to observe and shadow senior physiotherapists and work with patients.
The minimum entry requirements for a full-time degree programme in physiotherapy vary among universities, but typically include at least five good GCSEs, including English, maths and a choice of science subjects; plus three A levels, including one in biology or human biology, at grade A, B or C. However, because of the strong competition for places on physiotherapy degree programmes, conditional offers are usually made to applicants with higher qualifications.
Individual universities may consider alternative qualifications to those listed in the minimum entry criteria, such as a BTEC National Diploma in Health Studies (Science) with distinctions or merits, or an Advanced GNVQ/GSVQ in Health and Social Care or Science. It is important to contact the institution you wish to apply to, for an up to date list of alternative qualifications.
Registering with the HCPC
Once you have successfully completed an approved degree, you are automatically eligible for registration with the HCPC. Obtaining HCPC registration is mandatory. You must register before you can start practicing as a physiotherapist. You will then be asked to pay an annual fee, to keep your name on the register.
Starting out as a physiotherapist
Most newly qualified physiotherapists start employment in an NHS hospital, where they undertake rotational training roles, each one lasting three to four months, in different departments and specialties. These posts are excellent opportunities for a physiotherapist to gain broad clinical experience as well as the necessary knowledge for identifying the area most suited to them.
There is a wide range of options physiotherapists can choose from, in terms of specialties. Here are just a few examples:
- Sport medicine
- Respiratory medicine
- Physiotherapy for cardiac problems
- Stroke rehabilitation
- Physiotherapy for the elderly
- Children physiotherapy
- Spinal injury rehabilitation
- Private practice
- Community physiotherapy
Core skills that will help you succeed
As with all professions, in addition to having the right qualifications and training, and a clear idea of the specific area of interest, physiotherapists need to possess certain core skills to succeed and take pleasure in their career. It is essential to:
- be an excellent team player,
- have strong interpersonal skills,
- be an effective communicator,
- enjoy inspiring others to achieve goals,
- be trustworthy and dependable,
- demonstrate empathy and compassion,
- have a warm and friendly personality,
- build up good relationship with each patient, and
- have a positive and supportive attitude.
Professional development is key
Ongoing training is an integral part of working successfully in physiotherapy. And all physiotherapists are required to keep their clinical knowledge and skills up to date throughout their career. It is therefore important to constantly, and proactively, look for opportunities for professional development, and to make the most of them when available.
Advancing your Physio career
Generally, experienced physiotherapists apply to a more senior position, at some point. Those who have worked at an advanced level for a certain period of time may now choose to undertake an HCPC education programme to become independent prescribers. Some physiotherapists move into managerial roles, and become involved in purchasing and managing physiotherapy services. Other may decide to further their career by moving into teaching or research.
- Chartered Society of Physiotherapists (CSP), A Career in Physiotherapy, http://www.csp.org.uk/professional-union/careers-development/career-physiotherapy
- NHS Careers, Physiotherapist, http://www.nhscareers.nhs.uk/explore-by-career/allied-health-professions/careers-in-the-allied-health-professions/physiotherapist/
- Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, Working as a Physiotherapists, http://www.royalberkshire.nhs.uk/wards__departments/p/physiotherapy/working_in_physiotherapy.aspx?theme=Patient