The Job and What's Involved

Osteopaths diagnose and treat conditions that cause pain and disability. They recognise that many common conditions are caused by abnormalities in the structure of the body and the way it functions. The whole body system must be balanced, otherwise problems can arise; for example, bad posture can cause headaches.

Patients come to osteopaths with a range of problems including back pain, migraine, repetitive strain injury and sports injuries. People suffering from conditions like arthritis may visit osteopaths for pain relief.

The osteopath's first task is to collect information. They:

  • Take a full medical history of the patient.
  • Observe the patient performing simple movements.
  • Examine the patient using a highly developed sense of touch, called palpation, to identify points of weakness and excessive strain.
  • Sometimes order tests such as x-rays and blood tests.
  • Make a diagnosis based on this information and devise an individual treatment plan for the patient.
  • Use their hands to carry out a wide variety of treatment techniques.

The treatment plan can include:

  • Using high velocity thrust manipulation techniques, designed to improve mobility and the range of movement of a joint.
  • Stretching to help joint mobility.
  • Massage to relax stiff muscles.
  • Giving patients exercises to work on at home.
  • Giving advice on diet and lifestyle changes.
  • Referring patients to doctors or other complementary therapists.

The number of treatments required varies according to the patient and their condition. Acute pain may be relieved in one or two sessions, but on average most patients need four to six treatments.

Osteopaths must be flexible about working hours as many of their patients will have work or other commitments during normal office hours. Evening and weekend work may be necessary. Some practitioners work part time.

Osteopaths work in private clinics, therapy centres, hospitals, sports clubs and in clinics in large companies. They may also visit patients in their own homes. A driving licence may be useful for osteopaths working in a number of locations.

The work may be physically demanding and involves standing and bending.

Earnings for osteopaths start from around £12,500 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 3,650 osteopaths practising in the UK. As more people become aware of osteopathy, demand is likely to increase.

Most osteopaths are self-employed; they work in their own practices or in private therapy centres and sports clinics. An increasing number of osteopaths work with GP practices, sports clubs and teams, or in the occupational health teams of large organisations. Opportunities for osteopaths to work in the NHS are growing.

Vacancies for osteopaths in the NHS may be found on the NHS jobs website (www.jobs.nhs.uk).

Education and Training

By law, all osteopaths must register with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) before they are allowed to practise. To qualify for registration, candidates must have a recognised qualification in osteopathy from an accredited osteopathic education provider.

For a list of accredited osteopathic education providers contact the GOsC. Most are located in the south of England. Recognised qualifications include Bachelor in Osteopathic Medicine (five years full time), BSc (Hons) Osteopathic Medicine (four years full time), Bachelor in Osteopathy (four years full time or five years part time) and BSc (Hons) Osteopathy (four years full time or five years part time).

Normal entry qualifications are a minimum of two A levels/three H grades (preferably in chemistry or physics, and biology or human biology) and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) or equivalent, including English and maths. Applicants should check carefully as requirements differ between providers.

The minimum age to start training is 18.

Subjects covered include:

  • Basic medical sciences including anatomy and physiology.
  • Patient skills including psychology and communication skills.
  • Clinical medicine.
  • Pathology.
  • Diagnosis and treatment planning.
  • Osteopathic techniques, concepts and philosophy, which are integrated into all subject areas.
  • Clinical practice.

A substantial amount of practical clinical experience is an essential part of training.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most osteopaths are self-employed and therefore responsible for arranging and funding their own training and development, but as in any health-related profession it is important to keep up to date with new techniques and changes in the law. The GOsC has introduced a scheme of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for osteopaths. All osteopaths are required to complete at least 30 hours of CPD each year.

Qualified osteopaths may improve their skills by taking a range of postgraduate qualifications and there are opportunities to specialise in particular areas of treatment:

The Osteopathic Sports Care Association offers a wide range of short courses for qualified osteopaths, as well as an MSc in Osteopathic Sports Care. This qualification is open to osteopaths registered with the GOsC who have been in practice for at least two years.

The Osteopathic Centre for Children offers a two-year MSc course in Paediatric Osteopathy in conjunction with the British School of Osteopathy.

Self-employed osteopaths may also find it useful to take additional training in business-related subjects such as accounts or marketing.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An osteopath should:

  • Have a high level of manual dexterity.
  • Have excellent communication and listening skills.
  • Have empathy with patients who are in pain.
  • Be able to put shy or nervous patients at ease.
  • Have a logical approach to problem solving.
  • Have good observational skills.
  • Have physical and mental stamina.
  • Be able to keep an emotional distance from other people's problems.
  • Know when to refer a patient to a conventional medical practitioner.

Your Long Term Prospects

There is no formal career path for osteopaths. Self-employed osteopaths must be prepared to spend a lot of time building and marketing their businesses.

Experienced osteopaths with an appropriate teaching qualification may have opportunities to teach and to be involved in research.

There may be opportunities to work overseas, but it is important to check that UK qualifications will be recognised in the country where the practitioner intends to work.

Get Further Information

British Osteopathic Association,
3 Park Terrace, Manor Road,
Luton, Bedfordshire LU1 3HN
Tel: 01582 488455
Website: www.osteopathy.org

University College of Osteopathy,
275 Borough High Street, London SE1 1JE
Tel: 020 7089 5316
Website: www.uco.ac.uk

College of Osteopaths,
The Osteopathy Programme,
The School of Health & Rehabilitation,
MacKay Building, Keele University,
Staffordshire ST5 5BG
Tel: 01782 58 45 58
Website: www.collegeofosteopaths.ac.uk

General Osteopathic Council (GOsC),
176 Tower Bridge Road, London SE1 3LU
Tel: 020 7357 6655
Website: www.osteopathy.org.uk

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