How to qualify for and find a job as a physiotherapist
This guide is for people from all rungs of the career ladder, whether you're still at school and thinking about what course to take; a qualified physiotherapist that's just graduated or a mature worker that's looking to change jobs. We've tried to cover everything you could need to know about physiotherapy, from university courses, CVs, cover letters and your future in physiotherapy. No matter where you're at in your career, just read on now...
25th November 2013
How do I become a physiotherapist?
Well, first things first – you need a degree! Physiotherapy jobs involve an understanding of bio-mechanical science. Therefore, you absolutely need a period of extended study to make sure you fully understand all that can go right and wrong with the human body.
Generally speaking, you need a solidly scientific educational background but, for those of us who came to healthcare later in our decision-making, there are pre-registration years available to get ready for studying Physiotherapy at this level.
I did take the appropriate scientific qualifications and I want to know about standard Physiotherapy degrees!
Righty-ho! You can choose from many different universities as long as your grades are good. It is also okay to have studied other qualifications like BTECs and OCRs but again, you will need to have performed extremely well.
GCSE requirements for Physiotherapy are some of the highest I've seen thus far – universities generally want to see between five to seven GCSEs at grade C or above with English, Maths and Science all represented. Quite a few want B or above!
A Levels should tally to around 320-360 UCAS points which, again, is very high. This equates to something like ABB or AAA at A Level (or equivalent). One of these should be Biology (or something related like PE or another Science) and you should've gotten a B or an A. For BTECs and OCRs, many universities don't specify minimum grades but some do. Check with the course leader if you're at all unsure.
I took different qualifications like BTECs or a degree in Humanities but now I want to study Physiotherapy – what options do I have?
There are a few courses available to those of us that weren't your typical Science-y students. If you didn't get A Levels but took different subjects or types of qualifications then there are a few universities out there that can help.
Requirements vary. Some don't mind what form of qualification you took as long as you can make up 200 UCAS points. Others are slightly less open about the type of qualification they'll consider and both still expect you to have performed very well.
If you want to convert your Bachelor's degree, it needs to have been completed in the last 5 years, have been at least a 2:1 and preferably in a related area!
If you've got any concerns, the best thing you can do is contact the course leader to talk to them about it. You should be able to find their contact details on the degree's web page. Alternatively, call the university switchboard and ask to be put through.
Getting experience and making sure
Once you've established that you have the aptitude to get onto a physiotherapist degree course, it's time to make sure you get some experience. Not only will this make sure you're on the right path, but it's necessary to get onto a Physiotherapy degree course.
To get a placement, start at your local hospital. With any luck, they'll have a dedicated work experience co-ordinator you can talk to. Also, a proper letter (rather than an email) will help you stand out. If there isn't a co-ordinator, write to the Physiotherapy department. Other options are charities, private physiotherapists, sports clinics and nursing homes.
If you're in a position where you could actually take a job in the field (for instance, you're taking a gap year before university), you could look for a physiotherapist assistant job! You don't need specific qualifications for this work; it's more about your attitude and general level of competence. Do this for a year and you'll definitely know if a physiotherapy job is the route for you!
For those with some cash to splash, you can also consider volunteering abroad. There are healthcare placement organisations that can send you to a variety of countries to help out and get some real, hands-on experience. It costs rather a lot and won't be suitable for those with dependants but if those two things aren't a problem, then do consider some time abroad!
If none of the above are possible, any kind of experience in the health-care field will help. Voluntary roles or support worker roles at day-care centres and nursing homes will go down a treat. To strengthen this experience further, make sure you sop up as much physio-related information as you can. If you can get hold of industry journals to read then that will be excellent. Websites and forums will get you in the mind set too, as will keeping an eye on the news for stories that impact on the world of physiotherapy.
Another extremely good idea is to keep a professional development journal. When you encounter situations or stories that are relevant, keep a record of them and write an entry about how this can affect the field, what it may mean for patients and workers and any ethical or governmental issues that have occurred to you.
And remember, as always: if you know the universities you want to apply to, the best thing you can do is contact the course leader to find out what'll make them happiest!
Let's take your CV back to when it was a mere sheet of blank paper and your job aspirations were nothing but a twinkle in your eye. When you're applying for a job you really want, it pays off to start again.
In these sections, we'll cover how to write a chronological CV. These are best for career professionals that will be focusing on one area of work. There are seven sections you can consider for your shiny, new CV; 4 non-negotiable and 3 debatable.
- Name, address, telephone number and email address
- Personal statement (debatable)
- Skills section (debatable)
- Job history
- Education and qualifications
- Interests and hobbies (debatable)
As you can see, the very least your CV needs is your personal details, your job history, your qualifications and a note about references.
Personal details are the first thing you put in so that the recruiter knows who they are considering. These are usually right-justified but you can always pop your name on the left if you think it looks nice.
After this, you may have a personal statement and skills sections. If not, your next section will be your job history. You start with your most recent and work your way back to your first job. Or, when writing CVs for a specific career, you only enter the most relevant ones. Remember that voluntary placements and your work experience may well be good to add here too!
Next comes your education and qualifications. If you've been doing this gig for some time, you'll start with your most recent CPD or post-graduate study. If you've just started out, it'll be your B.Sc. Then, you enter your A Level details and after, your GCSEs. The latter aren't absolutely necessary – it's your call. Some suggest that you should show that you have English and Maths (or your equivalent); others think it's a matter of how relevant they are.
If you think it would support your application, enter your GCSEs. If your attention was...ahem... scattered when you were 16, you can just write something like “7 GCSEs including English and Maths” and let your later brilliance do the work instead.
Finally, references. We don't put the actual details on here any more, we just write 'Details available upon request'. If the recruiter is interested, they'll ask you who to contact.
Organising your CV – what about those debatable sections?
As you'll have seen, there are three areas that you can put your CV but may not want to: your interests and hobbies, a personal statement and a skills section. With all of these, your primary concern is space – if adding a section takes away from the vital sections, then don't put it in.
Should I add a personal statement?
Personal statements can be taken in two ways. They can be a good idea if you think the reader will understand your value better when you summarise your main accomplishments and skills. This can be true and may be true for you. On the other hand, they're a bit redundant. Why repeat anything you've already written elsewhere?
Not only that, but often people only write about their soft skills at the top: “I'm a hard-working, diligent, caring person, etc., etc., .....”. Of course you are. This doesn't add anything to the document. There is a place for talking about your soft skills and this is the last paragraph of your cover letter. Otherwise, let them see your strengths when they meet you. CV readers need hard skills to decide if you're right for the work.
Would it look good to have a skills section?
Again, a skills section can be a bit of a waste of space – after all, you'll give examples of your skills in your job history. But much like personal statements, they can be really good for helping the reader to quickly understand your capabilities. If you do have space and do want to put one in, use bullet-points. This kind of formatting is really concise and readable. A long, drawling paragraph will just annoy them.
Do I have to put in my interests and hobbies?
Finally, let's consider the interests and hobbies section. In some respects, what you choose to do outside of work doesn't really matter and doesn't impact on your work. And, unless it's especially interesting, telling them things like “I enjoy going on bike rides and socialising” doesn't add much to your application.
But if you're applying for a higher-level physiotherapist job with greater stresses and responsibilities, adding an interests section can be useful. It shows that you can balance your work/life ratio and not get bogged down and burnt out. Indeed, you'll probably be asked about how you'll manage your workload so telling them about your penchant for hill-walking, macramé or gardening will look good.
Taking your CV to the next level – good English and formatting
Once you've ordered your CV and decided which sections are best to include, it's time to polish it until it shines! The simplest ways to do this are to first read it out loud (and I mean, properly out loud) to yourself and secondly, to get a friend to read it. Doing these two things will catch the worst of your errors.
Next, we need to consider how it will look. It's easy – when faced with a competitive job market – to add bells and whistles to your CV in the form of funky fonts and pretty pictures. Don't!!
CVs are formal documents. Formal documents should be simple, functional and competent. Use white or off-white A4 paper. Don't include a picture of yourself. Make sure your font is in black, no smaller than 10-point and no larger than 14-point. If you need to go smaller, you've written too much; any larger and you haven't identified enough things about yourself that make you brilliant!
The font itself needs to be a standard and simple one. Times New Roman, Arial, Verdana....you know, the ones you see everywhere. This is partly so that it looks professional and is easy- to-read. But there's another very good reason for doing this. These days, we often email our CVs to people and upload them to searchable databases. If you've used odd fonts or strange, complicated formatting, recruiters and computers may not be able to find important information.
Next, we need to think about 'white space'. 'White space' is the space around paragraphs, headers and sub-titles. It literally gives us 'space to think'. If you cram in as much writing as possible, readers will struggle to scan for the important information. Their attention will wane and you'll be consigned to the bin for being a waffly bore. Make sure your paragraphs are separated logically and are no longer than 4 sentences or so.
Finally, let's make sure those readable, well-separated paragraphs are well-written too! When under pressure and trying to present information formally, people sometimes get a bit wordy and convoluted.
To start, make sure you aren't writing in the passive voice. This takes up loads of space and doesn't read well. For example: “Hydrotherapy, ASD and working with the elderly were all things I studied on my degree course”.
Now try this: “During my degree, I worked with the elderly, those with ASD and in a hydrotherapy centre.” Easier to understand, isn't it?
Similarly, don't use overly-complicated words. There's no need to come over all “Professor Physio”. You're just a normal person who wants to help people move their bodies more effectively, so write like one. Again, it stops the reader getting tired (and thinking you're pretentious!).
Get your English and formatting straight-forward and simple: your reader will thank you and you'll be steps closer to that interview!
The why and how of cover letters
By now, your CV should be well-written and good-looking. Once you've gotten a trusted friend to proofread it and you're happy that it's as good as it's going to get, it's time for the cover letter.
Cover letters are more than a formality designed to accompany a CV in an envelope. No, no – they're another excellent option to re-emphasise the main reasons as to why you're the best choice for the role.
Cover letters shouldn't be more than one side of A4. They may be a touch longer but there's no need to be wordy here. The details are in your CV and the cover letter is for presenting the choicest bits that'll get your CV read. To do this, we write cover letters in four sections.
First, you write about why you're applying for this particular physiotherapist job. There were probably several you could have applied to but this is the one you wanted. Why? If it's because it was the only one nearby, don't say that! Find something professional about the post that you're looking forward to and make that your reason.
Secondly, you need to tell them about the parts of your training and work history that make you perfect for the job. If you're a newer physiotherapist, use your placements from your degree and any prior work experience; if you're seasoned, you can cherry-pick the best bits of your CPD and work history.
Thirdly, they need to hear about what you want to do in the future. When you decided to apply for this job, you probably had some idea about how it would change you as a professional. Write about the aspects you expect to focus on. For instance, the role may develop your managerial skills. Or, it might consolidate your understanding of a specialism, making you a valuable resource. Tell them about your hopes and dreams to help them visualise what kind of worker they'll be getting.
Lastly, your visualisation continues. This paragraph is for telling them a little about yourself. Job applications rarely have room for your 'soft skills' but cover letters benefit when the reader can imagine you as a person. Think of three traits you display that make you a great physiotherapist. Maybe it's your attention to detail. Perhaps it's your unstoppable friendliness. Write about it nicely and let them know what sort of person they'll speak to at interview!
They loved me! I have an interview – what now?
Excellent news! If you paid as much detail to your CV and cover letter as we suggested, this is no surprise. Next, you need to get ready for the interview to ensure that you shine your very brightest.
Interviews require a few generalised bits of preparation but, as a prospective physiotherapist, there's some other things you need to think about. First, we cover the former; then, the latter.
Basic interview preparation
Preparing for an physiotherapist interview requires the same things from any applicant in any field: travel, clothes, company information, what you're going to say and a roleplay.
How do I get to the interview?
It's never a waste of time to make sure you know your route to interview. Check the address and decide how you'll get there. If you're driving, get the tank filled the day before and make sure there aren't any glaring maintenance issues that could be a problem. If you’re cycling, check your bike, and if you're using public transport, double-check travel times.
Whatever your method of transport, be careful to check the local council's website. It's possible there'll be unexpected road closures on your route. Public service users should also make sure there won't be any maintenance works or strikes planned either!
What am I going to wear?
As you know, you need to dress smartly for interview. The bare minimum of preparation is to lay out your outfit the night before. Better still, get ready a few days beforehand so that you can check for any mending or dry-cleaning that would smarten you up a bit more.
What do I need to learn about the company?
Always research the company. You need to know why they're doing what they do and what they hope to achieve. You also need to be able to explain this to the interviewers. It's possible that they'll ask for your opinion on details about the company so have a think about some positive and constructive opinions that relate to the company's concerns. An especially good thing to check are any inspection reports. If they had unusual results, find out how they reacted and what they did about it.
What am I going to say?
This is another piece of interview preparation that is so, so important to get done beforehand. You don't need to write a script or anything like that but your Future Self will thank your Past Self for preparing your answers. Interviewers often want to know about your understanding of the role itself, your broader opinions on the discipline and about things you've experienced and how you reacted to them. If you're not sure about the kinds of questions to consider, search online – there's always plenty to find.
A great way of doing this is to use the STAR method – Situation, Task, Action, Result. Consider a hypothetical interview question: “Tell us about when you last asked to carry out a procedure that you felt was incorrect – how did you manage this?”. The Situation and Task are specified in the question; incorrect procedures and managing your refusal or a modification of the task. Your Action is what you decided to do (including your rationale for your decision) and the Result is what happened after.
Hopefully, you handled it well and it all went smoothly. Or, it didn't go so well and your manager was annoyed. If it didn't go well, remember to tell them what you learnt from it. Actually, whether it went well or not, always tell them what you learnt from the situation!
Role-playing – Practice makes perfect!
Role-playing isn't always looked upon favourably but it really is a brilliant way of ironing out the creases before the big day. Get a good friend, bribe them with a cup of tea and give them some physiotherapist interview questions to ask you. You should be able to answer smoothly, confidently and flexibly, according to the context. Also, ask your friend to look out for body language and to listen to how you frame your answers. Nail-biting, hair-twiddling, excessive hand-waving and lack of eye contact never look good. Similarly, if you are too negative, moan in your answers or ramble nervously, that'll put the interviewer. Ideally, you will present as a calm person that speaks positively, simply and clearly. Do a run-through with your friend and catch the little mistakes early on!
Physiotherapist interview preparation
There are three types of interview to expect for a physiotherapy job; the typical panel interview, clinical reasoning assessments and that of group assessment. You'll also be asked discipline-related questions.
Panel interviews are those that you're probably most familiar with. You go into a room and there's a number of people behind a desk and you sit in front of it and answer their questions. Straight-forward stuff.
Clinical reasoning interviews involve showing how you make decisions about treatment. You need to show that you understand how to collect the information needed, deconstruct the information, weigh up different factors, calculate the probabilities involved and use different bits of information together in a sensible way. By the end of this process, you will hopefully have a usable and correct diagnosis of problem and treatment path.
Group assessment interviews are held with other candidates. It’s likely that you'll be asked to prepare and give a short presentation as a group. You may well also be asked for your thoughts on how the group worked together and for an analysis of the group dynamics. You'll probably be observed for your body language, ability to cope under pressure and how you pay attention to others.
CPD and physiotherapy
No matter the specialism you find yourself interested in, there are plenty of options for the physiotherapist that wants to evolve, develop and become ever better at their job! Not only will CPD be a matter of your personal interest but a necessity for your registration with the HCPC. Unlike other professions, the HCPC doesn't ask for a specific number of CPD hours completed but you do need to provide evidence that you're making the effort to stay up-to-date.
Universities across the UK run a real variety of long- and short-term courses and modules that focus on all kinds of things; from specific illnesses to infection control to prescribing to problem-solving. You could also take a post-graduate qualification to really extend your learning.
If you haven't the time, money or current inclination to undertake a course then there's plenty of reflective and free CPD you can do. As suggested for work experience, keeping a journal of professional reflection is always helpful. You can also write about incidents or work with your supervisor to identify important scenarios that you should think about. Similarly, you can take part in online discussions or subscribe to a professional journal.
Developing your career in physiotherapy – where can you take it?
One of the nice things about physiotherapy is that your career path can be really varied. Fundamentally, it's about helping people to use their bodies as best they can. However, the number of different ways in which services users need to use their body and the different types of service users you'll encounter means that the discipline environment is broad too.
The NHS and the private healthcare sector are your main employers. You’ll be needed in a myriad of ways – from chest physiotherapy in intensive care to working with the elderly to stroke rehabilitation to sports to developmental issues. In any of these, you may be needed to carry out therapeutic exercise, manual therapy, hydrotherapy departments, working at a physiotherapy gym....the list goes on and on. Other possibilities are community centre provision, schools, prisons, the armed forces and charities.
Once you've been employed for a few years, you can specialise in particular disorders, consider private practice, go into teaching or work in health care management – whatever takes your fancy!
Getting out there
And so, we come to the end of our guide. Whether you've been here for advice on university courses, help on tightening up your applications or deciding where to take your career next, we hope you've found it helpful and readable. Best wishes for your physiotherapist journey and do email if there's anything you want to tell us. Good luck!