If you're a people person interested in improving physical health, physiotherapy could be the career for you
Physiotherapists help patients with physical difficulties resulting from illness, injury, disability or ageing. Patients can include children, the elderly, stroke patients and people with sports injuries.
Working with patients, you'll identify and improve their movement and function. You'll promote their health and well-being, and assist the rehabilitation process by developing and restoring body systems, in particular the neuromuscular, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
As well as devising and reviewing treatment programmes comprising manual therapy, movement, therapeutic exercise and the application of technological equipment such as ultrasound, you'll also provide advice on how to avoid injury and self-manage long-term conditions.
Physiotherapists can work in a wide range of community and hospital settings. Hospital departments include:
More physiotherapists are choosing to work in the community, particularly in health centres. Treatment often takes place in patients' homes or in nursing homes, schools, day or health centres.
As a physiotherapist, you'll need to:
Jobs in the NHS consist of nine pay bands and are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates.
There are extra allowances payable in the London area, and you may also get assistance towards the costs of accommodation.
Salaries in the private sector may vary from those in the NHS.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Physiotherapists typically work 37.5 hours a week, usually Monday to Friday during the day. However, you may be required to work weekends and night duty on a rota basis, and seven-day services are becoming more common.
To practise as a chartered physiotherapist you must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). To achieve this, you must successfully complete either an undergraduate degree or an accelerated postgraduate course in physiotherapy approved by the HCPC.
For a place on a full-time undergraduate course, lasting three or four years, you'll need three A-levels at grade A to C, including a biological science. Many courses ask for AAB or ABB. You'll also need a minimum of five GCSE passes at grade C or above, including maths, English language and a selection of science subjects. Equivalent Scottish qualifications are five Scottish Highers, typically at grades AABB, with a minimum of two sciences.
To be accepted onto the two-year accelerated postgraduate course, you'll need a 2:1 degree or above in a related subject, such as biological science, psychology or sports science. Both routes include a mix of theory and practical training. For a list of courses see the HCPC Register of Approved Programmes.
Applications for full-time undergraduate and accelerated postgraduate courses are made via the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). Part-time courses are available at some universities, although these are generally for physiotherapist assistants already working in a healthcare setting.
There is a work-based learning programme at Sheffield Hallam University, approved by the HCPC. The course is full time over 27 months and is aimed at students who have around two years' experience of working in health and social care, for example as a physiotherapy assistant or assistant practitioner.
Students on approved courses will usually have their fees paid in full and you may also be eligible for financial support in the form of a bursary through NHS Student Bursaries. For other nations in the UK, see:
Remember to check what funding is available at your chosen institution.
For more courses, search postgraduate physiotherapy courses.
When applying for jobs and courses, you'll need to show evidence of:
Employers want to see that you've researched the profession and have a good understanding of the role. Try to visit a local physiotherapy department and ask to work shadow a physiotherapist to get an idea of what the work is like and whether it would suit you.
It's also useful to get some voluntary or paid experience in a health or care setting to show your interest in the area. There may be opportunities with private physiotherapy clinics, sports clinics, football clubs, special schools and units, and nursing homes. Voluntary work for charities such as the British Red Cross or St John Ambulance may also be valuable. This experience will help when applying for jobs. Working as a physiotherapy support worker provides a valuable insight into the role and shows your commitment.
For advice and opportunities, see work experience and internships.
The NHS is the major employer of physiotherapists. You may also work for local authorities or the private sector in:
Some physiotherapists work in a variety of settings. For example, you may work part time at a sports injury clinic and have another part-time post with an NHS or private hospital. Another option is self-employment.
Look for job vacancies at:
Specialist agencies such as Labmed may recruit for physiotherapy posts.
As a newly qualified physiotherapist, you may need to find creative ways of starting your career, such as:
Once qualified, you're likely to receive clinical supervision on the job and mentoring support. You'll be encouraged to develop your knowledge and skills by attending briefing sessions, short courses and reflective practice programmes. This contributes to your continuing professional development (CPD), which is a requirement of continued registration with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).
In Scotland, newly qualified physiotherapists can access Flying Start NHS. This programme supports your learning during your first year of practice in NHS Scotland.
As a registered physiotherapist you can become a member of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP). There is a wide range of post-qualifying courses and events available. You may also wish to undertake postgraduate study in your area of specialism.
Once you've got experience at advanced practitioner level, you can complete a course approved by the HCPC that allows you to independently prescribe medication to your patients for pain and inflammation.
You may begin in a rotational role, working in different departments for three to four months, to get more experience in different specialties, e.g. outpatients and orthopaedics. While on rotation, you'll be on call and perform weekend work.
Following this initial clinical experience, you may choose to specialise in a field such as:
Once you've got relevant experience, there are opportunities to move into a more senior post or into health service management. There are opportunities to get into teaching, training or research.
With experience, you may take on an advanced practice role working as an extended scope practitioner (ESP). Roles vary considerably and can include requesting investigations, making management decisions based on investigations, advanced reasoning skills developed through postgraduate training and professional development, advanced decision-making and other skills such as injections with the use of ultrasound guidance. Some ESPs perform nerve conduction studies and may perform minor surgery or other medical procedures that are usually carried out by doctors.
Alternatively, you may choose to work in private practice (usually after two to five years' experience) and then progress to open your own practice and become self-employed.