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Physiotherapy: area of practice

In a graduate career as a physiotherapist you'll help and treat people with physical problems caused by illness, accidents or ageing.

Physiotherapy is a wide-ranging profession with opportunities to work in many different areas including:

  • respiratory physiotherapy on wards and intensive care units
  • neurological physiotherapy
  • musculoskeletal outpatients
  • orthopaedics
  • paediatrics
  • sports physiotherapy with elite athletes
  • ergonomics

The majority of physiotherapists work within the health system providing rehabilitation services in the above fields. Regardless of the specialty, many of the key responsibilities are similar: physios are responsible for the diagnosis, care and management of the rehabilitation of each patient in their care, liaising with other health professionals, the patient, the patient’s family and completing any associated paperwork. As you become more senior you are also responsible for teaching and mentoring more junior staff and students.

The majority of patients are referred via hospital ward doctors, GPs or hospital consultants for outpatients, although referrals can come from other sources, eg other health professionals or the patients themselves. The job of the physio is to assess the patient, make a diagnosis and suggest a treatment plan. The length of involvement can vary from just the one meeting to a lengthy relationship lasting several months or more depending on the level of complication of the condition.

Instead of working in teams, physios see patients individually on a one-to-one basis. Physiotherapy is generally quite accommodating when it comes to flexible and part-time working although there can be some restrictions depending on the specific area you work in. Most physios work a standard 37.5 hour week, though the work environment is typically busy and senior physios may see between 15 and 20 patients a day. 

Skills required

Physiotherapists require many skills, including teamworking, IT, listening and communication skills, diplomacy and the ability to empathise with patients but still be tough when required. Patience, sensitivity and tact are important. As a person you need to care about people, be organised and efficient and also be able to switch off at the end of the day.

Starting out

Both ‘physiotherapist’ and ‘physical therapist’ are protected titles, which mean you will have to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) before you can practice. In order to be eligible you have to have completed a HCPC-approved degree in physiotherapy. You can also become a chartered member of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

As a newly qualified physio you will be given your own patient list and will plan and treat those patients yourself but you will have regular meetings with senior staff to discuss patients and any problems you may be having. There is also regular in-house training for all staff, which will consolidate and expand your knowledge.