A career as an osteopath will suit you if you're interested in people's health and wellbeing, have excellent communication and coordination skills and a good head for business

As an osteopath, you'll use touch, physical manipulation, stretching and massage to treat patients with a range of conditions, including:

  • back pain
  • injuries
  • joint pain
  • digestive disorders.

You may also provide advice on posture and exercise to encourage a faster recovery and help prevent problems reoccurring.

You will take a holistic approach to treating patients, looking at the underlying causes of the illness and not just the symptoms.

Responsibilities

As an osteopath, you'll need to:

  • take detailed case histories from new patients, including both general health (lifestyle and diet) and specific symptoms
  • assess the patient's general posture and check for restrictions or tensions in joints or muscles by asking them to perform a series of active movements
  • undertake physical examinations by using a highly refined sense of touch (palpation) to identify any restricted, weak or strained areas of the body
  • make a working diagnosis and plan treatment in partnership with the patient
  • provide appropriate treatments using soft tissue techniques, gentle release techniques and other appropriate methods, such as cranial osteopathy
  • make lifestyle and dietary recommendations to patients in areas such as posture, eating, exercise and relaxation
  • refer patients to their GP or other specialists, if required
  • maintain accurate and up-to-date patient records.

As most osteopaths are self-employed, you'll also need to carry out activities related to running a business.

Salary

As most osteopaths are self-employed, your income will depend on factors such as the price you charge per hour, the number of patients you attract, how many hours you work and your running costs and overheads.

  • Osteopaths typically charge £35 to £50 for a session lasting 30 to 40 minutes.
  • The average initial consultation fee is £48 for a 30-minute session, followed by an average of £42 for follow up consultations.

Fees charged will vary depending on a range of factors, including your location and experience.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll typically work a standard working week, although you may need to be flexible to suit your clients' needs. For example, you may choose to work some evenings or weekends. You can work either full or part time.

What to expect

  • Work is done on a one-to-one basis and can be physically, mentally and emotionally demanding, although very rewarding.
  • Work is available in most areas in towns and cities throughout the UK.
  • You're not likely to spend much time travelling or staying away overnight, although when starting out you may be based at two, or even three, different practices to make up a full working week.
  • There are more than 5,200 UK registered osteopaths, which includes around 8.4% who practise abroad (GOsC).

Qualifications

If you want to practise as an osteopath in the UK, you must be registered with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC). In order to register, you need to complete a training course that is recognised by the GOsC.

Courses are generally offered at undergraduate (BSc Hons, BOst or BOstMed) or Masters (MOst) level and typically last four years full time, five years part time or a mixture of both. Qualified doctors and physiotherapists are able to take an accelerated course. See the GOsC website for a list of training courses.

Courses include elements of anatomy, physiology, nutrition, biomechanics, pathology and pharmacology, in addition to over 1,000 hours of clinical training.

Interest-free loans for undergraduate and postgraduate courses may be available from the Osteopathic Educational Foundation. It may also provide small grants towards fees, travel and equipment to osteopaths undertaking higher education.

You'll also need to have an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check, as you may be working with children and/or vulnerable adults, and must be covered by professional indemnity insurance for a minimum of £5million.

Like all healthcare professionals, you also need to be 'fit to practise'. This means showing appropriate professional behaviours and being able to practice to the standards required and outlined in the Osteopathic Practice Standards.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • good communication and coordination skills
  • the ability to show empathy and work sensitively with a range of patients
  • strong observational skills, a logical approach and the ability to problem solve in order to diagnose effectively
  • initiative, independence and business awareness.

Work experience

Although previous experience isn't essential, it may be useful to spend some time with a practising osteopath before applying for a place on a course. To find an osteopath near you, search the GOsC Register. Experience of working with people in a caring role is also useful.

Employers

Most osteopaths are self-employed and you're likely to work as an associate in an osteopathic practice before setting up your own practice or working in a group osteopathic practice.

It's possible to work from home and adapt a part of your home into a space in which to diagnose and treat patients. Alternatively, you might be based at a health centre, in private sports/leisure facilities or in high street shops such as pharmacies. For more information on setting up a business, see self-employment.

There may be some opportunities to work within hospitals, with doctors in general practice and in community health centres. You could also work in occupational healthcare in public bodies and private companies, such as sports clubs and city firms with their own medical centre.

There may be occasional vacancies advertised on NHS Jobs. You will also find adverts for osteopaths to join a practice as an associate or buy an established practice in specialist publications such as:

Professional development

In order to stay registered with the GOsC, you must do at least 30 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) a year. As many osteopaths work alone, this has to include at least 15 hours of learning with others.

CPD activities can include:

  • attending lectures and seminars
  • taking short courses
  • taking part in practical sessions
  • undertaking individual study
  • assessing patient feedback
  • having structured discussions with colleagues.

There are also opportunities to do postgraduate study in areas such as sports care and osteopathic treatment of children.

Organisations such as the Institute of Osteopathy (iO) and regional societies of osteopaths provide courses and workshops on specialist areas, as well as advice on clinical skills and running a business.

You may also want to take business-related courses in areas such as marketing and finance.

Career prospects

There is no formal structured career path in osteopathy, but you'll usually start by working as an associate in an osteopathic practice and then move on to set up and run your own practice. Alternatively, you might progress from an associate to working within a group osteopathic practice.

Once established, you may develop specialist interests or work with specific patient groups, for example, athletes or older people.

As osteopaths are usually self-employed, the success of your practice will depend on your entrepreneurial, marketing and networking skills. You must be committed to establishing and building your reputation, which takes time and effort. Help and guidance on how to approach this is provided by the iO.

Some experienced osteopaths follow an academic career teaching at one of the GOsC-approved training institutions. There are also opportunities to go into osteopathic research.