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Mapping your career

Many people want to find out what being a physiotherapist entails. Louise Hunt talks to physios who aim to give them a true picture

At some point in their professional lives, most physiotherapists will be asked to give careers talks at schools and colleges.

Certainly, the number of requests for information from the CSP to support careers talks suggests that members from all backgrounds are helping to raise the profile of physiotherapy among a potential recruits.

‘We know that members are being asked to talk about physiotherapy as a career, as we sent out 10,000 leaflets to members last year alone,’ says CSP marketing manager Alison Payton.

Responding to demand, the CSP has launched a new toolkit in a bid to provide members with a more up-to-date resource, as well as recognising that it can be time-consuming to prepare materials for talks.

‘It’s not really about attracting people into physiotherapy – we don’t need to do that as courses fill up – but it’s rather about providing members with a resource when they are asked to visit schools, for example, and talk about physiotherapy as a career,’ explains Miss Payton.

She adds: ‘The toolkit was specifically developed using member feedback to improve upon the old leaflet and make the task of giving careers talks easier.

‘It consists of a leaflet and a poster that refers talk attendees to the careers section of the CSP website for more detailed information on a career in physiotherapy, and also a PowerPoint presentation for members to build a talk around.

We’ve also had some dedicated merchandise produced for members to give out to younger attendees, including pencils and wrist bands promoting physiotherapy and the CSP website.’

The toolkit is available on the CSP website: To obtain  hard copies (A5 and A3 posters), members should contact the CSP Enquiry Handling Unit. Tel: 020 7306 6666 or email:

On track: first hand advice On giving careers talks

For many aspiring physios, Stuart Elwell has a dream job: he’s a physiotherapist with West Bromwich Albion football club.

But when he gives careers talks to students at a local college in Stourbridge, West Midlands, Mr Elwell stresses the importance of advancing through a traditional physiotherapy career path, which provides the breadth of experience that holds him in good stead.

‘A lot of the A-level students are very keen to work in professional football, so my talk is about giving them information on the core structure of a physiotherapy degree.

We look at what will happen when they qualify, for example, how rotational posts work and the importance of becoming a rounded professional.

I tell them that what I see in professional football requires me calling upon my background working with acutely ill patients in the NHS.

‘I also tell them the unglamorous side of my job – the early starts, the paperwork and the high pressure to get very expensive injured players fit to play again.’

Range of opportunities

Band 7 physiotherapist Mercedes Donaldson says she is in ‘quite a unique position’ to deliver careers talks on physiotherapy, as she is already based at an independent school for 14 to 18-year-olds – Bryanston School in Dorset, where she treats sports scholars with musculoskeletal injuries.

She contributes to talks held once a year for students who have an interest in pursuing a career in healthcare.

‘My approach is to assume that they do not know much about physiotherapy and to cover the questions I would have wanted to know when I was 16 or 17, such as “what is physiotherapy all about and what skills do I need?”.

‘I’m passionate about my career and I just want others to appreciate all the various skills that go into physiotherapy. My main message is that there are so many different types of careers in physiotherapy – it is not just about sports and massage.’

What are the typical traits of the would-be physios Ms Donaldson meets? ‘People who tend to be out-going, enthusiastic and empathetic,’ she responds.

And although they may have set out from a sports background, she says work experience helps to broaden their horizons.

‘One chap was really into the sports side – but he really enjoyed a work experience placement in neuro and stroke rehab, so I wouldn’t want to generalise that it is the sports kids that want to become physios,’ Ms Donaldson adds.

She knows of at least one pupil from last year’s cohort that has gone on to study physiotherapy.

Lucinda Brock, a physiotherapist in private practice, has taken part in eight careers talks at a local independent school at evening events focused on highlighting the different health professions.

These are aimed at children at GCSE level and their parents, although older teenagers can also attend.

She also emphasises the range of opportunities within physiotherapy.

‘I focus on what you need to do to become a physiotherapist and where it can lead you,’ she says.

‘I run a private practice now, but I worked in the NHS for five years, so I try to get across that physiotherapists do not only do outpatient work, they may also be working in hospitals, teaching and researching and travelling the world, and how a career in physiotherapy can take you in many directions.’

On the right track

As many of the careers events physios are involved in are aimed at young people choosing their GCSEs or A-levels, understandably those interested in pursuing a career in physiotherapy want to know whether they are picking the right qualifications.

‘People want a good understanding of the qualifications they need, and which universities offer physiotherapy and the differences between them,’ says Carol Adkins, director of a private physiotherapy clinic in Berkshire and specialist in neurology, who has 16 years’ experience of talking about physiotherapy at local careers fairs.  

‘The young people are generally well informed about careers. There is a vast choice of degrees out there and physiotherapy has got to compete with that. We do have to sell ourselves.’

Ms Brock adds that it is helpful to anticipate these questions. ‘I do a bit of research beforehand to see what the different universities are looking for.’

Mr Elwell has also found it helpful to obtain the latest data from the CSP on physiotherapy graduate prospects.

‘There is a negative view at the moment that there are no graduate jobs in physiotherapy, but the CSP is good at feeding us statistics that show there are jobs for graduates, although they may be more short-term contracts at the moment.

The current trend shows that by the time this year’s cohort of first year students finishes they should be fine for finding jobs when they finish,’ he says.  

Work experience

As physiotherapy students are expected to have undertaken some relevant work experience before being accepted on to a degree course, how to go about finding placements is often high on the minds of students and parents.

Says Ms Brock: ‘We get a lot of requests for work experience at these events but our clinic is small, so we can only invite them to visit us and see what we do, and maybe talk through a case study, but I encourage them to find placements that would give them good communication skills.

‘It is useful to be able to signpost people to where they can get work experience and to be aware of what possibilities there are in the NHS,’ she says.

Ms Adkins, however, is in the fortunate position of being able to offer work experience to some of the most promising students.

‘I’ve always thought it really important to offer work experience, it was from my own work experience that I decided to become a physio.

We offer a week’s work experience to those we think have the right aptitude for a physiotherapy career and are proceeding in the right way. Most of the students sort placements out for themselves, and that is really important.’

The students get a work experience pack, a day’s induction and shadow the physios.

Her clinic is unusual for private practice, she says, in that it employs physiotherapy assistants.

For some years now, Ms Adkins has been able to offer those who have undertaken work experience the possibility of working for the clinic as an assistant for a year before going on to do their degrees.  

‘By doing this it does feel like we are giving something back to the profession.

Nothing thrills us more than when someone who has done a gap year with us comes back to work at the clinic after graduating, as has happened with two of our current physios.’ fl


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Louise Hunt

Issue date

18 July 2012

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