How to become a physiotherapist

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physiotherapist with patient

Did you know that every professional sports team has a physiotherapist? They help players who have suffered injuries on the field, and give them advice on avoiding future problems.

In fact, physios work with people of all ages, from all walks of life. One day they might be using physical therapy to support a child with disabilities. And they next they will be helping an elderly person be more active. They play a really important role in making sure everyone’s able to live healthy, happy lives.

Are you a team player with fantastic interpersonal skills? Do you motivating others to do well and want to make a direct impact in people’s lives? Physiotherapy could be a really fulfilling career for you. Here we’ll explore how to become a physiotherapist, and we'll also answer the question, how much does a physiotherapist earn?

What are physiotherapists?

First, let’s look at what these healthcare professionals actually are. Physiotherapists (often called physios) help people to regain their body’s movement and function when they’ve been affected by illness, injury or disability.

Physios use “manual therapy” techniques, meaning they
use their hands to ease pain and stiffness.

What do physios do?

Physiotherapists work with three main areas of the body: neuromuscular (brain and nervous system), musculoskeletal (soft tissues, joints and bones), and the cardiovascular and respirator systems (heart and lungs).

They look at a patient’s body as a whole, instead of just focussing on a particular injury (this is sometimes called a “holistic” approach).

Physiotherapists use exercises and physical activity to improve their patients’ ability to move around, and to strengthen different muscles and joints. 

Another important part of the job is to educate people so they don’t get physical problems in the first place. They give advice about things like avoiding injuries, having better posture, or correct lifting and carrying techniques.

The day-to-day tasks of a physiotherapist could include:

  • Helping people with spine and joint problems.
  • Working with patients who have been in accidents.
  • Helping those who have had strokes.
  • Using a number of techniques, including massage, ultrasound, acupuncture (inserting very small needles into the skin) and hydrotherapy (that’s exercising in water).
  • Keeping detailed records of patients’ treatment and how they’re progressing.

Physiotherapists are usually based in hospital, health clinics, and GP surgeries. They also make home visits. Sometimes they also work in nursing homes, and fitness centres. Physios tend to work independently, but as part of a team of other healthcare professionals like social workers and doctors.

Check out this video to see what being a physio is like:

How much does a physiotherapist earn?

As a starter physio you’ll earn between £22,000 to £28,500; and as an experienced professional your salary will be up to £35,000.

What skills do I need to become a physiotherapist?

The qualities and abilities you’ll need include in order to become a physiotherapist:

  • Keen to take a hands-on approach.
  • Calm, understanding and caring.
  • Know how to actively listen.
  • Able to motivate people. Physios have to be firm but also sensitive and encouraging.
  • Can work on your own initiative and collaborate with others.
  • Physically fit as the work can sometimes be strenuous.
  • Very good communication skills for explaining treatment to your patients.
  • Well organised.

So what are the steps involved in becoming a physio?

First you’ll need a physiotherapy degree that is approved by the Health and Care Professions Council, which usually takes three years. In order to apply for the degree, you’ll usually need:

  • Three A-levels including biology (PE is sometimes accepted);
  • An at least five GCSEs of grade 4 and above, including maths, English and a science.

Entry requirements do vary though, so it’s worth checking with the universities you’re interested in.

Watch this clip to see what life as a physio student is like:

 

Work experience will benefit you when it comes to applying. Physiotherapy placements can be tricky to arrange – but a healthcare placement will give you an insight into the role. University admissions staff are looking to see that you can communicate well with people of different ages and backgrounds. So make sure you’re clued up on how to make the most of work experience.

When it comes to finding a work placement, you can try the NHS, private physiotherapy clinics, football clubs, schools for children with disabilities, nursing homes, or charities like St John Ambulance and the Red Cross.

After you complete the physiotherapy degree, you can register with the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and at that stage you’ll be a fully qualified physio.

Want to hear from a real physio about what the job is actually like? Read our interview with Helen, a physiotherapist who helps stroke patients get their independence back.

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Image credits

Main image via Freepik; physio by UC Physiotherapy via Flickr

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