Physiotherapists treat patients suffering from musculo-skeletal disorders caused by disease, ageing or injury. Physiotherapists treat patients with physical disorders. As this encompasses a huge range of illnesses and patient types, Physiotherapists tend to specialise in one of a number of particular areas. These range from very specialised Chest Physiotherapy where the build up of secretions are removed from the lungs of those suffering from pulmonary disorders such a cystic fibrosis, to Sport Physiotherapy which treats injuries incurred while engaging in sport.
The main tools of the trade are the techniques that a Physiotherapist learns during his training. Soft-tissue manipulation, massage, joint release, acupuncture, movement re-education and stretching are all applied on a case by case basis, depending on the patient in question. In terms of specialist equipment, T.E.N.S. machines and ultrasound are the most common, used to release fibrous knots of scar tissue deep within the muscle and reduce harmful inflammation in joints. For increased mobility various types of traction can be applied to the neck, back and limbs. Acupuncture and electro-acupuncture is a relatively new practice used in the management of pain and inflammation.
- A recently qualified Physiotherapist working for the NHS can expect to start on a salary of around £19,000 to £24,000.
- Physiotherapists working in busy private clinics as specialists, and commonly Sports Physiotherapists, earn around £26,000 - £38,000 per annum.
- Highly qualified specialists and team leaders can earn up to £52,000 per annum.
ResponsibilitiesA Physiotherapist's daily tasks may include any or all of the following:
- Meeting patients and making a clinical assessment based on a combination of factors such as range of movements, age, case-history, patient feedback and response to specialist assessment techniques.
- Treating patients using a variety of specific techniques such as join manipulation and soft tissue massage.
- Educating patients as to beneficial exercises to be performed in their own time.
- Teaching patients how to use movement aids such as callipers and walking sticks.
- Writing up detailed notes for the purposes of handover to other specialists or GPs and keeping patients' records up to date.
- Using specialist equipment such as T.E.N.S. machines to treat patient symptoms.
QualificationsIn order to work as a Physiotherapist in the UK you must complete an HPC (Health Professions Council) accredited three or four year university based degree leading to a BSc in Physiotherapy. You will need at least five GCSE grades A to C including Maths, English and science subjects and a minimum of four AS or three A levels at grade C or above, including biological science.
Once graduated from university you are free to register with the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists.
SkillsPhysiotherapists work primarily with sick people in need of care, and as such there is a special set of personal attributes that are required to do the job. Things that will set you in good stead are:
- A genuine desire to help other people.
- A patient and understanding nature.
- Ability to connect with a huge range of people, from the elderly to children, the very sick and the mentally ill.
- Hands-on approach to solving problems.
- Good standard of personal fitness - manual work is the backbone of a Physiotherapist's job.
- A vested interest in human anatomy and sports science.
Working ConditionsThe elderly, children, those with learning difficulties and particular syndromes or diseases all exhibit a different set of problems and require a different approach to rehabilitation and care. As such a Physiotherapist works in a range of settings including hospitals and private clinics. Whatever the setting, NHS hospital, or private clinic, a Physiotherapist will operate from a treatment room. A Physiotherapist's treatment room will almost always contain a desk for taking notes and performing administrative tasks and a couch, or table for patients to lie or sit upon during treatment. Treatment tables are portable and available in lightweight models to allow for treatment in the community, at sporting events etc. The hours worked are usually based on a shift rotation with an early shift, perhaps 7am - 3pm and a late shift 12 noon - 8pm in order to see patients who work full time.
Any experience you can get working with the elderly or needy, in charity placements for example, will help in your university application. It would also give you a taste of working with dependant individuals and whether or not you may find that a rewarding career choice.
The NHS is the single biggest employer of Physiotherapists in the UK. After this the private health care sector including private clinics, sports centres and sports clinics employ many Physiotherapists.
Apart from university graduates, Physiotherapy Assistants can complete further training to become fully qualified Physiotherapists. There is also the option to do a conversion degree for graduates holding a high 2:1 in another biological sciences discipline. Throughout their careers all Physiotherapists are expected to keep up to date on the latest advances in Sports Science and medicine as part of their CPD - Continuing Personal Development. Experienced Physiotherapists can earn more money by taking on greater levels of responsibility and becoming team leaders or moving into managerial positions. Alternatively investing in the ownership or part-ownership of a private clinic could be a route to higher income.
Kim Saha, 29 years old, is a Chartered Physiotherapist currently working in a private sports clinic. She also works part-time on an appointment basis with the UK Olympic track and field athletes. While studying at University Kim competed in the pole vault at national level. Kim has been working as a Physiotherapist for 8 years.
Kim, What did you do before becoming a Physiotherapist?
I studied Physiotherapy at the University of Teeside for 3 years.
What's a typical day working as a Physiotherapist?
I always work on alternate shifts, either starting at 8am or 12 midday. When I get to work, the first thing I do is check my list of patients for the day and plan a little bit on what I'm going to be doing with each one. Then I greet each patient as they come in and check how they were after the last treatment before proceeding onto the next treatment. In between treatments, I spend my time writing letters to GPs and consultants to update them on the patients they've sent me.
A typical patient will require a thorough assessment in order to make a diagnosis. I then treat them with a range of techniques including massage, soft tissue release, acupuncture, joint mobilisation and manipulation and of course directed rehabilitation. Towards the end of the treatment I might give the patient a series of exercises to do in their own time and prescribe postural adjustments they must pay attention to.
What do you like about being a Physiotherapist?
I like the daily variety of lots of different situations and the contact with lots of different people. Of course I like helping people overcome their problems. Being a sports physio my job is often about helping people to achieve their goals, their dreams even.
Is there anything you dislike about being a Physiotherapist?
I don't like when patients are not motivated to help themselves, when people don't look after themselves, because there's only so much I can do and the rest is up to the way they live their lives.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming a Physiotherapist?
Make sure you understand the wide variety of settings a Physiotherapist can be involved in, which does not always include sport and private practice. Try to get experience in each of those areas, for example hospital based Physiotherapy.
Where do you think you might move onto from Physiotherapy in terms of career progression?
I would like to be an Olympic Physiotherapist full time.
What other inside-information can you give to help people considering becoming a Physiotherapist?
Make sure you consider the number of Physiotherapy graduates getting jobs at this moment in time. Make yourself as attractive as possible to an NHS employer by being a rounded person and understanding that Physiotherapy is essentially a hospital based clinical role.
Do you mind us publishing your salary - this is very helpful for job seekers?
I earn £35,000 as a base salary and a bonus every 3 months averaging about £3,000 a time. As a plain Physiotherapist this is as good as you'll get. To get to what I'm earning now took a long time and I'm in about the best position I could currently be.