The construction of professional identity by physiotherapists: a qualitative study


The UK Frances Report and increasing societal expectations of healthcare have challenged physiotherapists to reconsider professionalism. Physiotherapy has viewed identity as a fixed entity emphasising coherence, continuity and distinctiveness. Socialisation has required the acquisition of a professional identity as one necessary ‘asset’ for novices. Yet how do physiotherapists come to be the physiotherapists they are?


Qualitative study using Collective Memory Work. Eight physiotherapists in South West England met for two hours, once a fortnight, for six months. Seventeen hours of group discussions were recorded and transcribed. Data were managed via the creation of crafted dialogues and analysed using narrative analysis.


Participants shared ethical dilemmas: successes and unresolved anxiety about the limits of personal actions in social situations. These included matters of authenticity, role strain, morality, diversity. Participants made claims about their identity; claims made to support an attitude, belief, motivation or value.


Professional identity in physiotherapy is more complex than traditionally thought; fluid across time and place, co-constructed within changing communities of practice. An ongoing and dynamic process, physiotherapists make sense and (re)interpret their professional self-concept based on evolving attributes, beliefs, values, and motives. Participants co-constructed the meaning of being a physiotherapist within intra-professional and inter-professional communities of practice. Patients informed this, and it was mediated by workplace and institutional discourses, boundaries and hierarchies, through an unfolding career and the contingencies of a life story. More empirical data are required to understand how physiotherapists negotiate the dilemmas they face and enact the values the profession espouses.


The construction of professional identity by physiotherapists: a qualitative study.