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In this guide, we discuss exactly what to consider, and how to succeed when looking at a career as a Physiotherapist.
25th November 2013
Updated by Judith Allen 21st December 2017
So, you're thinking of becoming a Physiotherapist?
Our comprehensive guide details everything you'll need to know about how to successfully gain a job in physiotherapy.
What Does A Physiotherapist Do?
Physiotherapists work with patients to improve their range of movement, reduce pain, or to increase exercise tolerance. This in turn helps to improve a patient’s ability and/or mobility in the face of a range of medical conditions or following surgery, after an accident or an injury.
Physiotherapists use a variety of treatments and techniques including physical manipulation, massage, therapeutic exercise, electrotherapy, ultrasound, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, education and advice.
Being a physiotherapist might involve anything from helping patients with spine or joint problems, aiding recovery from accidents, sports injuries or strokes, working with children who have mental or physical disabilities, and helping older people with physical problems become more mobile.
Mainly, physiotherapists work in an NHS healthcare setting or private hospital in areas such as paediatrics, community services, outpatients departments, intensive care, women's health or occupational health.
When you begin your career, you would mostly have a high level of patient contact to consolidate the skills you have just learnt and then, as your career progresses, a physiotherapist may also move into roles such as Clinical Leads, Co-coordinators, Team managers, Community Matrons, Researchers, or Lecturers.
This is only a very brief and limited overview of how a physiotherapist might work, there are many and varied areas, departments, and roles a physiotherapist might cover.
Personal Qualities And Qualifications
When I finally applied to university after working in a hospital, it took me a while to decide between Nursing, Occupational Therapy, and Physiotherapy. I had been working in a support role in a hospital and was frustrated that I couldn't seem to move up into higher paid jobs without becoming a clinician.
I eventually chose physiotherapy because I already had some background knowledge in anatomy. I also liked the fact that training as a physiotherapist seemed easier to work privately and in other areas additional to healthcare. Because of this, there seemed to be more scope for work at the end of the degree.
It's recommended that you have at least a few years of NHS work behind you before you break into private practice, but there are quite a few opportunities. Most of them are for MSK (Musculoskeletal) Physiotherapists, but other examples include private physiotherapists working in Neurology and Wheelchair Services as seating specialists and, of course, there are the Sports Physiotherapists who work with individuals or teams.
Currently to become a chartered physiotherapist you have to get a physiotherapy degree, either an undergraduate BSc, or, if you already have a related degree, you can complete a Masters Degree in Physiotherapy (MSc) and qualify that way.
Make sure the course you complete is an award approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), otherwise you will not be eligible for registration to work as a physiotherapist or to become a member of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), which is the professional, educational and trade union body for physiotherapists and physiotherapy students.
There are many varied paths into becoming a physiotherapist.
Of the people I trained with, the majority came from school or following a gap year, but lots came from all walks of life.
Physiotherapy seems to be a degree that attracts a high number of mature students. The one thing we all had common is that to get onto the degree course, we all had studied sciences and/or maths subjects. This may have been from A-levels, Access Courses, Foundation Degrees, or previous university courses. As long as you had recent, adequate qualifications in a the necessary areas it was deemed acceptable to get you onto the course.
A school leaver would need the equivalent of five GCSE's including Maths, English, and a science subject, plus three A-levels with one being in a biological science subject.
The MSc Physiotherapy is a full time course that is normally completed over two years and gives you an accelerated route into the profession. Usually applicants to this course have recently completed a relevant degree such as Sports Therapy.
The BSc route is normally three years full time, or four years part time.
Personally, returning as a mature student, I was a bit put out when I was told at the age of twenty-five that my A-Levels were 'out of date', and that I would have to complete an access course that would take a year at three days a week!
In the end, it was actually the best thing I could have done. My study skills were a bit rusty after six years not studying, and the course I completed was aimed towards healthcare professionals, so it was all really relevant and worthwhile; even if I did feel at the beginning like it was putting me back a year.
Some of the people I trained with were straight from college. Others had already had years of experience in other professions. The one thing nearly all of us had without exception was that in some way we all had experience of working in healthcare.
Some had completed years on hospital wards as a Physiotherapy Assistant, while others had only completed a week of work experience.
It doesn't really matter in the end how much healthcare experience you have, but it is something I think you definitely need, and universities also commonly ask for this experience before you apply for the course.
Not only does it give you something to talk about at interview, but it will give you a feel for what you're letting yourself in for.
Shadowing, or getting some experience as an assistant tells you whether you're the right person for the job.
You have to be personable, empathetic and be able to gain some rapport and trust with people.
Getting someone on their feet 24-hours after a major operation takes some convincing!
Once on the degree course, it's quite full on. You have to complete one thousand hours of clinical practice placements over the three years of the BSc course to give you the hands-on experience you need to begin your career and to be able to register with the HCPC.
You will also study the sciences such as psychology, kinesiology and biomechanics, and be taught practical techniques that underpin physiotherapy.
You'll get to know the other students on your course very well as you practice on them the manual techniques you are taught.
The placements, which are an integral part of every physiotherapy degree, involve full-time working for five weeks in a department usually in an NHS location, with essays to write and revision to do alongside.
This is definitely not a degree for someone looking for an easy ride, but at the same time is a very fulfilling course to complete. At my university, the placements were broken up into six lots of five weeks, but other courses may do this slightly differently.
These placements can be anywhere, but usually they aim to always cover the core areas of physiotherapy in musculoskeletal (MSK), neurology and respiratory.
Depending on what you want to specialise in, there are also areas you can cover such as paediatrics, learning disabilities, or sometimes even the opportunity to study abroad. In addition to this, some students also completed extra placements upon qualifying, or in their third year.
Your skills are always in demand for overseas internships, volunteering, or disaster relief projects. There are paid places available for physiotherapists with organisations such as Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), but usually these paid projects and the organisations running them want someone reasonably skilled in their role and would not be recommended for a student or a newly qualified graduate until you have some experience behind you.
The NHS used to offer a bursary that paid the university fees for those wanting to train, but unfortunately this has been removed and now students are liable to pay fees again for all NHS courses.
In the future, some employers are thinking of offering apprenticeships so they may pay for some (maybe all) of your training if you continue to work for them for a certain length of time when you finish the course. Great if you like where you work and want to take the jump upwards to become a qualified clinician.
There is currently only one place in the UK offering a work-based system of training, but it isn't funded. Students attending this course are expected to travel to the university two days a week for lectures and tutorials, and then they are based in the workplace for the rest of the week, learning on the job.
Following Course Completion
Following successful completion of either the BSc or the MSc, you will be eligible to apply for registration with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).
Registration with this professional body is required to practice as a physiotherapist in the UK.
The usual first route into a job is to apply as a junior, (or Band 5) physiotherapist with the NHS. The starting salary for a newly qualified Physiotherapist in the UK is around £22,000.
It is better to look for a post that is 'rotational' (one that lets you gain experience in different areas before rotating to another ward or department, usually every six months or so). This enhances your knowledge and consolidates your learning. It also helps you to understand which type of physiotherapist you are; as you specialise more, the job can be really different from one physiotherapist to another.
Once your Band 5 rotations are done, it is normal to move up to a Band 6, or senior post which usually brings with it added responsibilities such as managing more junior staff or taking on a more complex caseload of patients.
Band 6 posts pay between £28,000 to £35,000 and are usually 'static'; you'll just work in the one department. Sometimes they do rotate, but this is not usually the norm.
Following on from this, Band 7 posts (beginning at £31,000 to £41,000) and upwards usually begin to bring in a managerial element and can involve:
● Managing teams,
● Being a clinical lead,
● Being responsible for shaping services,
● Being an expert in your chosen field.
Once qualified you will be expected to maintain, update and expand on your knowledge relevant to your job area. Every two years a certain percentage of physiotherapists on the HCPC's list are called up to present a folder stating how they have maintained and developed their knowledge.
Maintaining knowledge can take many forms; talks you have given to your department, courses you have been on, conferences, research, meetings, reflections, etc.
Training to be a physiotherapist doesn't stop when you leave university, it continues all the way through your career.
Many physiotherapists go on to specialise and complete further in-depth study at Masters level. These are sometimes funded by the department you work for.
Usually, funded courses like these are given to the more Senior Band 6 posts as this keeps the knowledge in the department and is a way of an organisation maintaining high standards.
If you go into private practice, all the CPD (Continuing Professional Development) has to be funded by yourself. This is worth thinking about when you set your prices as some course can be very expensive.
Most jobs as a physiotherapist are within the NHS. However, you could also work with local authorities, in the private sector, be self-employed, at day centres, schools, hospices, care homes, fitness centres or sports clinics.
Being a physiotherapist also doesn’t always mean having to treat patients. Some physiotherapists work in research, engineering, or product design to name just a few ways you could widen your job search at the end of your degree.
After a few years of being a junior, my area of choice to move into was Community, mainly for the variety of patients you get to treat. As part of my CPD, I have completed modules in leadership and respiratory, and am working towards an MSc in Advanced Practice.
For the next part of this course, I'm looking to complete a module to become a non-medical prescriber.
Physiotherapists have been able to prescribe after completing the necessary training since regulations were changed in 2012. This change aims to offer the freedom to give a more streamlined service to patients and to speed up treatment.
Within my scope of practice, this means eventually, upon completion of the course, I will be able to speed up access to pain medications and antibiotics for my patients by writing prescriptions, with the added benefit of potentially cutting down on hospital admissions and keeping elderly and frail patients out of hospital.
For physiotherapists working in other areas, for example as neurology or musculoskeletal specialists, being an independent prescriber opens up a wider scope of practice into areas such as becoming an injection therapist to assist with injecting medication into joints to help with rheumatology or orthopaedic conditions.
For physiotherapists working as a neurology specialist, this may mean being able to administer Botox injections to help patients suffering from the unwanted effects of spasticity or dystonia, which can be the painful and unwanted side effects from neurological conditions.
As a suitably qualified medical professional, physiotherapists are one of the few professions allowed to register to complete courses to enable them to offer Botox injections or dermal fillers as part of cosmetic procedures.
Roles are also emerging for physiotherapists that used to be traditionally held by nurses.
There are physiotherapists now working as Community Matrons, Discharge Liaison Leads, Ward Managers and Modern Matrons.
These roles are increasing as modern Healthcare seems to be changing and evolving to recognise the transferable skills of all clinical professionals.
At the heart of physiotherapy is excellent knowledge of human anatomy and physiology. This underpins everything we do and is the basis for how we make clinical judgments and treat our patients. There is only one way to learn this; a lot of memorising, practice and revision!
It seems like a daunting task, but the physiotherapy course will teach this in a really interactive way and do it alongside practical sessions about human movement and biomechanics. There are also really excellent online study tools and books to help you learn and recall all you need to know.
You must also be interested in the health and wellbeing of patients and have good communication and interpersonal skills. Often the people you come into contact with are in pain, scared, elderly, frail, deaf or may not speak your language, so you need to be good at getting the information you need from your patients in a sensitive and caring way.
Organisational skills, leadership, teamwork and management skills would also be a bonus. More physiotherapists are taking on roles in healthcare involving leadership, so knowing how to delegate to other members of your team or to assistants would be highly beneficial. The practical element of the degree course is an excellent way to learn or practice this skill.
With the more recent addition of roles in the NHS such as the Assistant Practitioner role, it means junior/newly qualified staff are increasingly put in a position where they are expected to lead. Healthcare roles are changing. Years ago, junior staff members were not necessarily expected to be able to delegate or manage team members in the way they are expected to do now.
Being able to teach or explain your ideas and knowledge to others is another useful skill to have. Throughout your training and career you will constantly be expected to explain complex medical issues to patients and colleagues in an understandable way. In addition to this, when you are qualified you will be expected to become a Clinical Educator for students training to become physiotherapists, as well as give feedback from training or complete teaching sessions to colleagues about courses you have been on.
Lifelong learning is a necessity in this profession. As the medical world keeps changing, you’ll be expected to keep up.
So, if you've decided this career is for you, lets look at your CV and how you can successfully secure the job.
Let's take your CV back to basics. When you're applying for a job you really want, it pays off to start again.
There are seven sections you can consider for your shiny, new CV; 4 non-negotiable and 3 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 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. 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 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
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.
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.” 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.
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.
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 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.
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), 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 to add funky fonts and pretty pictures. Don't!!
CVs are formal documents. Formal documents should be simple, functional and competent:
Get your English and formatting straight-forward and simple: your reader will thank you and you'll be steps closer to that interview!
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. 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. 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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
This is another piece of interview preparation that is so important to get done beforehand.
You don't need to write a script, but your future self will thank you 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.
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 off.
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.
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.
It is hard work training as a physiotherapist, but I don't think there are many other degree courses that lead to a more rewarding career where you can have such a positive input on people’s lives.
The course is tough, but it's a great sense of achievement when you complete it, and with additional ways to train beginning to emerge, such as being able to train in a work-based environment and part-time, it is more approachable for mature students too, or those who just prefer a more practical, vocational approach to learning.
Being a physiotherapist can be a hard job at times. Often you meet people during some of the worst times in their life, but it is very fulfilling when you can be the person who can change things for the better.
I have memories of people that will stay with me forever. Getting a patient walking again when he was told he never would is a major achievement, both for me and for my patient.
It can be a rollercoaster between the highs and lows, but knowing your input is having a direct effect on how well someone is able to live their life is a great feeling.
There are plenty of jobs available on graduation, and the roles for physiotherapists are expanding more and more within healthcare and also with excellent opportunities in related fields.
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