The following page has frequently asked questions for those considering physiotherapy as a career.
What is physiotherapy?
Physiotherapy encompasses a range of interventions, services and advice aimed at restoring, maintaining and improving people's function and movement and thereby maximising the quality of their lives.
Physiotherapy practitioners use a flexible and holistic approach towards meeting the needs of their clients. They work in partnership with clients, respecting their autonomy.
Members of the physiotherapy workforce undertake many different roles, in a range of sectors and settings across the UK, and often in multi-disciplinary and integrated teams.
They do this throughout all stages of patient care – undertaking assessment, diagnosis, treatment, discharge, referral, rehabilitation and management of long-term conditions. For other clients they play a key role in promoting and maintaining health, preventing disease and enabling people to stay in and return to work.
In addition to these clinically-focused roles, members of the physiotherapy workforce are also educators, researchers, managers and leaders. Some physiotherapists have extended their individual scope of practice to undertake specialist and advanced roles.
What do physiotherapists do?
Chartered physiotherapists combine their knowledge and skills to identify an individual patient's functioning needs. They improve a broad range of physical problems associated with different systems of the body.
For example, they treat neuromuscular (brain and nervous system), musculoskeletal (soft tissues, joints and bones), and cardiovascular and respiratory systems (heart and lungs and associated physiology).
Physiotherapists work autonomously, most often as a member of a team with other health or social care professionals. They may be employed or self-employed and can work alone. Physiotherapy practice is characterised by reflective behaviour and systematic clinical reasoning, both contributing to and underpinning a solution focused approach to patient-centred care.
Physiotherapists are not only there to solve problems – they are also there to help prevent them from arising in the first place.
Each person makes different demands of their body, depending on their lifestyle and the activities they carry out. How their body responds to those demands is governed by a range of factors, including their overall physical condition.
A physiotherapist can help patients find the best way to use their body to maximise their strengths, eliminate bad habits and put minimal strain on weaker areas. This ultimately helps them enjoy a more full and healthy life.
Physiotherapy is a protected profession, which means that it is regulated by law to ensure that only people who have passed state approved training courses and have registered with the state regulator, may practise. The state regulator for physiotherapists is the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). Only those people who register with the HCPC may call themselves physiotherapists and practise physiotherapy autonomously.
And only physios who are members of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy may call themselves chartered physiotherapists.
Is physiotherapy the right career for me?
If you have good interpersonal skills and enjoy motivating others to achieve, physiotherapy could be the career for you.
Physiotherapists work with patients or clients to achieve positive health gains, so having the ability to motivate and sensitively support patients who are in pain or struggling after a serious injury or illness is a key required attribute.
If you are looking for an exciting and varied career for a lifetime, physiotherapy is that career.
How much can I earn as a physiotherapist?
The starting salary for a qualified physiotherapist in an entry level position in the National Health Service (NHS) is £24,907 (at Band 5). This will rise for specialist physiotherapists and for physiotherapist team managers. Principal physiotherapists (consultants) earn considerably more. Extra allowances are payable in the London area, where there may also be assistance towards the cost of accommodation. Salaries in the private sector may vary from those in the NHS.
All full-time NHS allied health professionals work 37.5 hours a week. The hours are usually during the day between Monday and Friday, but may include a seven-day working pattern. Some weekend and night duty on an on-call basis is usually required and newly-qualified staff are not exempt.
How do I qualify as a physiotherapist?
- Full-time programmes: the majority of physiotherapy courses require 3 years of full-time study, including clinical placements (4 years in Scotland).
- Part-time programmes: there are a number of part-time physiotherapy courses in the UK with the same entry requirements and learning outcomes as full-time courses. Some of these programmes have been set up primarily for physiotherapy support workers wishing to become chartered physiotherapists. However, if this applies to you, make sure that you discuss this with your manager prior to applying for a place on the programme.
- Accelerated programmes: applicants who already have a degree in a relevant subject such as a biological science, psychology or sports science may be eligible for an accelerated 2-year degree programme leading to a physiotherapy qualification.
- Work-based learning programmes: there is currently one work-based learning programme at Sheffield Hallam University leading to qualification as a physiotherapist. Students on these programmes are based in the workplace for their studies, travelling to the university two days per week for lectures/tutorials.
Once you have successfully completed your training course, you will have to register with the state regulator, Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), in order to practise physiotherapy and to call yourself a physiotherapist.
The HCPC will bar you from entering the profession if you have not passed your approved course and may also bar you from registering if you have certain criminal cautions or convictions for certain types of offences.
You may want to check HCPC registration requirements before applying to undertake a physiotherapy course if you believe that you have any circumstances that might prevent you from being allowed to practise.
Can work experience help?
Gaining work experience is helpful but can be difficult to organise in physiotherapy because of current training pressures on relevant departments. However, work experience in any aspect of healthcare will be useful to you.
This is because admissions tutors are looking for evidence that you can communicate well with all ages and sections of the community. Have a look into work experience and try:
- your local hospital and their private or public physiotherapy department(s)
- private physiotherapy clinics
- sports clinics, football clubs, special schools and units (for disabled children and adults), and nursing homes
- voluntary work (eg Red Cross Association, St Johns Ambulance Society, MS Society)
Many physiotherapy programmes or hospital departments near you will probably hold an open day at some stage in the year. Information on open days are usually posted on individual university or hospital websites. Alternatively, requests for information on open days should be made in writing, enclosing a large stamped addressed envelope.
How do I find out the entry requirements for specific degree courses?
Each physiotherapy programme has its own individual entry requirements.
Applicants are advised to visit the individual university's website for specific entry requirements and a prospectus. Alternatively, you can contact the university's admissions office.
For contact details, please refer to our list of UK pre-registration programmes.
Can the CSP recommend a particular course?
All physiotherapy programmes in the UK have to be approved by the HCPC. These are the minimum threshold requirements for practising as a physiotherapist. All of the programmes are also accredited by the CSP, which ensures that graduates are fit to practise and allows you, upon graduation, to become a chartered physiotherapist by applying for full CSP membership.
Studying a physiotherapy qualifying programme entitles you to apply for student membership. You may have to pay the membership fee yourself. In some instances the university may pay your fee for you. It can be useful to speak to individual university physiotherapy admission tutors so you can get a feel for their course and how it's set up. However, choosing where to study is a personal decision.
I am interested in a degree apprenticeship. How do I apply?
Currently, degree apprenticeships are available in England only. They are an employee-led initiative which means that you need to be in a place of employment that supports apprenticeships in order to secure a place. Degree apprenticeships enable you to earn and learn but for the employer, it offers the opportunity to build a local workforce i.e. staff likely to remain an employee as they have local links in the area. Typically it is available to existing support workers and can be a highly competitive process.
If this is a route you would like to pursue, look out for physiotherapy support worker vacancies both within NHS and non-NHS organisations. Whilst it is an attractive route, it does come with a number of factors that are outside of your control e.g. finding a support worker role and then an employer who is supportive of apprenticeships.
What are the current job prospects for physiotherapists?
Overall across the UK, job prospects are good. Our research (CSP Survey of Graduate Physiotherapists) shows that most go directly into full-time permanent employment within the NHS, with temporary contracts quickly converting to permanent and prospects in other sectors equally positive.
I was hoping to start university to study physiotherapy in 2021. Considering the pandemic, should still I apply for this autumn or wait until next year?
Universities up and down the UK are open for business. If you would like to apply to study a pre-registration physiotherapy programme (BSc, MSc or MPhysio), you still can. While social distancing is in place, teaching and learning will continue to be delivered online. Please visit your chosen universities' websites to find out more and get in touch if you want to ask specific questions.
I cannot organise any work experience due to the COVID-19 social distancing measures. What should I do?
Contact the universities you wish to apply to and ask for their advice directly. Programme teams are aware that applicants will not be able to gain work experience during the pandemic and so they will have suggestions of other things you can do. As a baseline, you will need to have a broad understanding of what physiotherapy is and where physios work. You can find lots of helpful information on the CSP’s website, including links to online learning resources within the students' section.