The gender balance in physiotherapy

Natalie Beswetherick, CSP Director of Practice & Development, looks at the implications of the slow shift in membership 

Natalie Beswetherick
Natalie Beswetherick, CSP’s Director of Practice & Development

Historically the physiotherapy profession has been predominantly female. Over the decades this has slowly changed.

The CSP membership data of practising and non-practising physiotherapists shows that between 2017-2020, the female-male split has moved two percentage points with members identifying as 76% female and 24% male, to 74% female and 26% male. 

However the gender breakdown of year one intakes to physiotherapy programmes shows a more significant shift over time. In 2009/10 the female to male ratio was 70% female students and 30% male students.

Fast forward to the 2019/20 academic year, the percentages have shifted by just over 10%, with 59% female students and 41% male students. Non-binary gender data has only been collected from 2019. 

Between 2009 and 2019, there was over 10% increase in male physiotherapy students

So what are the implications for the profession and practice? Does gender impact on the sector or speciality that physiotherapists choose to work in and what is the service users experience of the gender of their physiotherapist?

Historically the majority of registered physiotherapists worked in the NHS for their entire career, but this is changing.

Anecdotally it appears that more physiotherapists are working in the independent sector and many are men, specialising in MSK and sports medicine. But this does not necessarily meet changing population health needs. The need is for a diverse physiotherapy workforce that reflects the populations we serve. 

What drives individuals to choose a career path and how is this potentially influenced by gender?

Opportunities for flexible working, self-employment, career progression, maternity and paternity support and salary prospects are likely factors.

But as a profession we increasingly need a workforce that has the breadth and depth of expertise to rehabilitate people with multiple long-term conditions and work outside of hospitals, in both the public and independent sector. 

The profession should consider how this shift in gender is reflected in physiotherapy service delivery across all sectors.

Opportunities which support diversity, including gender balance, can only be a positive for patient care. 

Natalie Beswetherick, is CSP’s Director of Practice & Development

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