The Job and What's Involved

Injury, illness, disability and the ageing process can hamper people's movement. Physiotherapists work with patients to help them regain mobility, independence and well-being.

They do so by:

  • Hands-on therapy, such as manipulation and massage.
  • Designing and supervising exercise programme's.
  • Applying electro-therapies, such as ultrasound and laser treatments.
  • Encouraging the patient's active participation in restoring movement.

Physiotherapists work with patients of all ages. They deal with a range of conditions affecting the soft tissues, joints, bones, nervous system, heart and lungs. For instance, they may:

  • Treat joint and spinal problems.
  • Help people overcome the effects of falls, sports injuries or other accidents.
  • Work with stroke patients to help them restore movement.
  • Ensure hospital patients keep their limbs mobile while they are confined to bed.
  • Support terminally ill people in their own homes.

They also work in health promotion - for example:

  • Leading community exercise programme's and back-care classes.
  • Advising expectant mothers on issues such as exercise and posture.
  • In industry, advising employers and staff on how to prevent and overcome health problems.

Patients are often referred by a doctor. Increasingly, patients are able to refer themselves for physiotherapy.

Physiotherapists see patients on a one-to-one basis, but often work as part of a healthcare team. They have close contact with other professionals such as GP's, social workers, district nurses and occupational therapists.

Physiotherapists in the NHS work a 37.5-hour week. The job often includes some work during evenings and weekends, when patients can attend clinics. There may also be a requirement to be on call at times.

Self-employed physiotherapists may have more flexibility, though they often need to work at hours that suit patients, including evenings.

The work may be carried out in clinics and health centres, GP practices, hospitals, patients' homes and other community settings such as sports centres.

In hospitals, physiotherapists may work in almost any ward or department, as well as in outpatient clinics. They may lead therapeutic exercise in physiotherapy gyms or hydrotherapy pools.

Physiotherapists wear either a uniform or practical clothes. The work can be physically demanding.

Salaries for newly qualified physiotherapists in the NHS start from £20,225 a year. NHS employees living in and around London are paid extra. Pay varies for physiotherapists who work outside the NHS.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are over 40,000 chartered physiotherapists working in the UK. Around 60 per cent of them work in the NHS.

While the field is growing, entry is competitive.

Physiotherapists are employed by:

- NHS acute and primary care trusts
- GP practices and health centres
- Private practice
- Residential homes
- Special schools
- Sports centres and clinic.

Vacancies are advertised on the NHS jobs website ( and on trusts' own websites. They can also be found on the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy's (CSP) dedicated jobs site ( as well as in the specialist magazine Frontline.

Education and Training

To practise, physiotherapists need to have completed a degree course recognised by the Health Professions Council (HPC).

Degree courses in physiotherapy are offered by many UK universities. Approved courses are listed on the HPC website. Most involve full-time study for three or four years. There are also part-time courses.

Entry qualifications vary, but candidates usually need three A levels (A-C), including a biological science subject, as well as five GCSE's (A*-C) taken at one sitting, including maths, English and sciences. Other qualifications that may be taken into account are:

  • BTEC National Diploma/Certificate in science or applied science.
  • BTEC National Diploma/Certification in health sciences.
  • Diploma in society, health and development.
  • NVQ Level 3 in a relevant subject.

Competition for places is keen. It is essential to gain healthcare-related work experience. This may be through a local NHS or private physiotherapy clinic, or through voluntary work with a health charity.

Graduates with a first degree in a relevant subject, such as a biological science, psychology or sports science, may be eligible for an approved accelerated two-year degree programme leading to a physiotherapy qualification.

It may be possible to gain experience as a physiotherapy assistant and then study part time for a physiotherapy degree. No formal qualifications are required for the assistant role. However, at least two A levels, or equivalent qualifications, plus five GCSE's (A*-C) are likely to be required for entry to a part-time degree programme. It is important to check individual course requirements.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) supports blind and partially sighted students in physiotherapy training and employment.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Physiotherapy programme's include time on clinical placements as well as academic study. On successful completion, graduates must register with the HPC in order to practise. They are also eligible to become members of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP).

Newly qualified physiotherapists usually spend time in the NHS, working on rotation to gain experience in different settings.

Physiotherapists are expected to keep updating their knowledge and skills. To maintain their registration, they must keep a record of their continuing professional development.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A physiotherapist needs to be:

  • Good at listening, explaining and motivating.
  • Able to forge a good rapport with patients.
  • Comfortable with hands-on patient contact.
  • Sensitive and caring.
  • Approachable.
  • Good at finding practical ways to solve problems.
  • Physically fit.
  • Able to work well alone and within a team.

Your Long Term Prospects

After gaining experience, physiotherapists can go on to specialise in a particular field, such as orthopaedics or elderly care.

Progression in the NHS may be to a senior physiotherapist post and then to department head. There are now consultant posts in physiotherapy, as well as 'extended scope practitioner' physiotherapists, who take on a wider role in diagnosing and managing patients. A move into general health service management is also possible.

Physiotherapists may become self-employed, dividing their time between work in different settings, or enter private practice.

Experienced physiotherapists can move into research, or into teaching with a higher degree.

There may be opportunities to work abroad.

Get Further Information

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP),
14 Bedford Row, London WC1R 4ED
Tel: 020 7306 6666

The Health Professions Council (HPC),
Park House, 184 Kennington Park Road,
London SE11 4BU
Tel: 020 7582 0866

NHS Careers, PO Box 2311, Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655

Royal National Institute of Blind People,
105 Judd Street, London WC1H 9NE
Tel: 020 7388 1266

Skills for Health,
Second Floor, Goldsmiths House,
Broad Plain, Bristol BS2 0JP
Tel: 0117 922 1155

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