Areas of work, specialisms and alternatives

Physiotherapy: area of practice

25 Jan 2023, 13:38

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

Close-up of a physiotherapist's hands assessing a patient's knee joint mobility.

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 but the working day is typically busy and senior physios may see between 15 and 20 patients a day.

Typical employers of physiotherapists

The main employer for physiotherapists is the NHS, although opportunities for local authority and private sector work also arise. You might, for instance, work for a nursing home, school or private hospital – or part time for a number of employers. Being self-employed is an option, too.

Vacancies can be found on the NHS Jobs or NHS Scotland recruitment websites, along with the website of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

Qualifications and training required

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 degree in physiotherapy approved by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. For this you are likely to be required to have two or three A levels, including a biological science or PE. You should also have five GCSEs at grade C (4) or above, including English language, maths and a science.

If you have an undergraduate degree in a related subject (eg biology or sports science), you could complete a two-year accelerated masters degree.

Key skills for physiotherapists

  • Patience and understanding
  • Diplomacy and tact
  • Organisational skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Competence in using computer software

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