Looking beyond the label: defining, framing and developing your practice

Having to go through back copies of Frontline prompted CSP adviser Gwyn Owen to think about the endless opportunities open to physio staff.


I’m moving house at the moment and am going through my back copies of Frontline deciding which articles to cut out and keep before sending the rest to recycle.  It’s been interesting to see how physiotherapy practice shapes, and is shaped by, the changing sociopolitical landscape and by developments in research, technology, and service design and delivery.

Reading through Frontline’s back catalogue I was struck by the rich variety of CSP members’ practice. Although members share knowledge and expertise in maximising someone’s potential for movement and function, that practice can be expressed in many different ways (see figure 1).

Have a look at the profiles I found in Frontline for a flavour of that variety (see box 1). Each role presented there is distinctive.  But the individual accounts show how the values, behaviours, knowledge and skills developed through hands-on physiotherapy multiply to produce other forms of practice.  

The transferability of physiotherapy practice offers huge potential – both for the physiotherapy profession and for individual practitioner’s career development. View Physiotherapy Works here 

Many new opportunities are emerging alongside physiotherapy’s traditional career structure, as the workforce moves into new fields of practice and undertakes new roles.  These opportunities can sometimes be overlooked when services are being squeezed to do more for less, with some posts being frozen, downbanded, or transferred to an alternative provider.

The aim of this article  is to provide some space and guidance to think critically and creatively about the career opportunities that are realistically within reach. The focus is on how the values, behaviours, knowledge and skills you use in your current role could enable you to move into another area of practice.

For example, you might be considering a strategic leadership role, or a return to UK physiotherapy following a period of working overseas.  You might be looking for a full-time PhD studentship, or a move into the private sector. The process could also be used to develop an argument to help members challenge a number of posts being downbanded  as part of service redesign, for example.

Labelling my current practice

Before you can start thinking about your future physiotherapy practice, it’s really important that you’re able to define where you are now.

Typically,this information is held in some sort of portfolio – that box of information and evidence that describes who you are and the values, behaviours, knowledge and skills that you use in your day-to-day practice.  See Showcase your Practice

The CSP’s physiotherapy framework will help you analyse the content of your portfolio.  The framework offers a structure and some descriptors for celebrating your current strengths and highlighting where there are gaps in the evidence describing your practice.  It will also help you look beyond the label as you plan your next career move.

Framing my physio practice

The framework describes the values, behaviours, knowledge and skills used by the physiotherapy workforce, at six different levels of practice. Unlike other career frameworks that are specific to one type of role or employment setting, the CSP’s physiotherapy framework is designed to describe the whole variety of occupational roles undertaken by the physiotherapy workforce.

This aspect of the framework’s design means that it becomes a valuable tool for thinking about career development both vertically (such as career progression) and horizontally (such as planning a move from clinical practice into a strategic public health role, or from an academic role into clinical practice).

The descriptors in the CSP’s framework have been mapped to six other competency frameworks that are relevant to physiotherapy practice. These include the NHS Knowledge and Skills Framework, the NHS Leadership Framework, the Public Health Outcomes Framework, Skills for Health, Vitae Researcher Development Framework and the Clinical Academic Careers Pathway Capability Framework.  It’s also exciting to see how some of the CSP’s professional networks are beginning to use the framework to describe the values, behaviours, knowledge and skills used to practice in a specific area. The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Occupational Health and Ergonomics (ACPOHE) adapted the CSP’s physiotherapy framework to describe practice in occupational health settings.  See: www.acpohe.org.uk and the Physiotherapy Pain Association (PPA) has been working to translate the framework to describe how physiotherapy practice in pain management settings. The PPA plans to launch its framework at Physiotherapy UK in October.  

Members who use the CSP’s ePortfolio to record and store evidence of your continuing professional development (CPD) will find a workbook of CSP Physiotherapy framework descriptors in the CPD resources workspace.   Visit the ePortfolio and follow the links for information about the CPD resources workspace and how to subscribe.

Looking beyond the label

Once you have mapped your current profile, the next step is to explore the options available by searching job websites. This is where it becomes really important to look beyond the label. So rather than limiting your search to ‘physio*’, why not start with something broad. Your search terms could relate to a field of practice (such as ‘neuro*’), a client group (‘child*’ or ‘older people’), an occupational role (‘leader’, ‘teach*’).

Although it may be tempting, try not to limit your options (whether to geographical region, role, field of practice, working pattern and so on) too soon.  The purpose of this search is to help you think critically about how closely your current profile is aligned to the options available.  If there are specific posts that interest you, could you meet the person specification – or are there gaps in your profile?  How do employers assess someone’s suitability for a post – do you have the necessary resources and evidence to meet these requirements?

Making the move

Once you have a sense of the sort of role you want to move into, it will be possible to map your personal strengths, interests and needs against the requirements of that role. Doing that is likely to flag up some learning needs – which you can use to plan a programme of continuing professional development to build a portfolio of evidence to support your transition into that new role. See box 3 for a sample of the CPD opportunities and events available from the CSP that could support your career development. fl

Sample profiles of CSP members

Sample of jobs websites

  • Guardian jobs: (vacancies in health and social care across statutory/independent/voluntary sectors)

CSP resources and opportunities to support transitions in practice

  • Use iCSP and other social media to facilitate networking, collaborative learning opportunities and explore the availability of mentorship
  • Overseas qualified physiotherapists have access to specific advice and a mentorship via the overseas qualified iCSP network.
  • Members looking for support with the Health and Care Professions Council’s return to practice process – please check iCSP retention, recruitment and return to practice network.


Gwyn Owen

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