An Armed Forces physiotherapist is a qualified physiotherapist who provides rehabilitation for soldiers and civilians both on and off operations.
Armed Forces physiotherapists rehabilitate and maintain the fitness of soldiers in a wide range of settings, from rehabilitation centres to field hospitals. They can be based “at home” in the UK, working in Ministry of Defence Hospital Units, army training regiments and at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre (DMRC) at Headley Court in Surrey. They can also be sent on operations abroad, providing care to soldiers, prisoners of war and local civilians.
Armed Forces physiotherapists must be ready to embrace the army life as they will combine the jobs of officer, soldier and physiotherapist. Their role encompasses a much wider set of skills than civilian physiotherapists who mainly treat musculo-skeletal problems. During their career, they learn to develop a combination of clinical and military expertise. They are equipped to manage a broad range of injuries and traumas, including critical care conditions. They often work with multidisciplinary teams that deal with multiple traumas, amputation and neurological cases. They must also be ready to rehabilitate patients to a much higher fitness level than the general population as they work with soldiers, who are considered elite athletes.
The salary starts at £24,615 per year (rank of Second Lieutenant) and can go up to £45,090 per year (rank of Captain).
- Maintain and improve the fitness of soldiers through sports injuries management and prevention
- Assess the medical condition of patients (often in conjunction with other medical practitioners)
- Develop a treatment plan to reduce pain and promote movement and functional ability
- Administer physical therapy treatments to patients, for example active and passive exercises, manipulation, therapeutic massage, etc
- Apply treatments with specific equipment such as laser and ultrasound machines
- Instruct, motivate and assist patients to improve functional activities
- Rehabilitate patients in a field environment
- Deal with multiple traumas
- Lead a team of soldiers
- Take part in military activities
The following qualifications are needed before being eligible to become an Armed Forces physiotherapist:
- 180 UCAS points and 35 ALIS points (Advanced Level Information System) at GCSE (including a minimum grade C in English, maths or foreign language)
- BSc (Honours) in Physiotherapy
- Membership of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy
Once their application is accepted, physiotherapists first take a 10-week course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Surrey to become officers. The Professionally Qualified Officer (PQO) course is the shortest officer training; it ensures that physiotherapists can perform their professional duties in a military setting. Recruits learn basic military skills and academic subjects such as international relations and tactics. They also undergo intensive physical training.
They then take a course at the Defence Services Training Centre. They undertake specific clinical training to get ready for operational deployment: they learn how to treat a very broad range of injuries, including intensive care treatments for burns, respiratory conditions and head injuries.
- Excellent physical fitness and resistance
- Ability to master core survival skills
- Ability to master basic military skills and tactics
- Ability to respond well to very stressful situations
- Strong sense of initiative, especially when treating patients on operations
- Reliability, responsibility and decision-making skills
- Courage and motivation
- Lateral thinking
- Leadership skills
It is important that physiotherapists love travel and adventure as they can be sent around the world to work. They must be ready to accept the risk of working in extreme environments when deployed to conflict zones like Iraq or Afghanistan. In these cases, there is potentially a mortal threat so the work is obviously extremely challenging, both mentally and physically. Armed Forces physiotherapists must also be comfortable with the idea of learning military skills, for example handling weapons.
Being sent on deployment means that physiotherapists are very likely to spend time away from their family. They also have to change postings every two years, sometimes at short notice. While they are in deployment, hours may be long and unpredictable.
The Army requires new recruits to have one year of clinical experience and strongly encourages applicants to get military experience before submitting their application.
Armed Forces physiotherapists work for the British Royal Army.
The experience and skills gained by physiotherapists in the army offer them opportunities within the NHS, sports medicine, private practice, the university sector and health management.
Physiotherapists start their career in the army with the rank of Second Lieutenant. After completing the Professionally Qualified Officer course, they become Lieutenant. If they wish to develop military and leadership skills further, they can then apply for training to become Captain.
The British Royal Army offers the possibility to move on to many different jobs, such as Parachutist Reconnaissance, Army Skills Instructor or Pilot. It also provides the opportunity to study for different qualifications such as MAs and vocational courses. It offers a wealth of Continuous Professional Development (CPD).
Also known as…
- Physiotherapist Officer
- Medical Support Officer (Physiotherapist)
- Military Physiotherapist
- Physical Therapist
What’s it really like?
Kieron Sheehan, 30, has experience both in the Armed Forces and civilian physiotherapy.
How long did you work for the Armed Forces?
I worked 6 months with the Army.
What did you do before this job?
I worked at a clinic for three years. I have now been working at Injury Therapist for just over a year, treating members of the general public and the military. I am also involved with Mixed Martial Arts at the Combat Sports Academy in Strood, Kent, and semi-professional football and rugby clubs, currently Westcombe Park RFC.
What do you do in a typical working day?
I treat mainly musculo-skeletal injuries. Part of my routine is to assess and diagnose injuries, decide on treatment plans and maintenance treatments to prevent the re-occurrence of injuries, perform sports massage and acupuncture. We have a lot of patients who come to the clinic on a monthly basis when they are not injured, just for injury prevention. I also work with Mixed Martial Arts injuries at the gym or at events we attend.
What are the main differences between treating the general public and the military?
I work in a Sports Injury clinic; we deal with members of the public with all types of injuries, not just sport injuries.
With the Armed Forces, I work a great deal with injury prevention, so a lot of the servicemen don’t come in for treatment for one particular injury but for general maintenance. Saying that, during the time I worked within the Army, there was only one serviceman who came into the clinic without a current injury. These guys are doing a great job for our country and maybe we need to look after them better within the Army itself, with more sports injury and activity-specific treatments.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working for the Armed Forces compared to working as a civilian physiotherapist?
Sometimes working with civilians can be more difficult: I have to justify my time and types of treatment I give them, make them understand how long it will take to rehabilitate an injury and explain the conditions surrounding it. The military are more used to aches and pains from their general activity in day to day life. Another thing is that they don’t pay directly for treatments.
What do you like about the job?
Helping to facilitate the return to fitness of individuals when they have been in pain, along with the appreciation received. Getting to meet some great people, hearing some great stories of life in the military, and I am glad to help the British military as best I can.
What do you dislike about the job?
Having some time constraints for the rehabilitation process: some injuries require complete rest, and sometimes this is not entirely possible.
What kind of injuries have you had to deal with? Have you worked with critical care conditions?
Mostly I’ve dealt with musculoskeletal injuries, most often lower back problems and also some neurological injuries. I haven’t personally dealt with any critical care conditions.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this job?
Try to get qualified in Sports Injury Rehabilitation as well; it helps with accelerated rehabilitation and is more activity specific.
What job(s) do you think you might do after this role?
Ideally I’d like to work full time in professional sport, possibly Mixed Martial Arts or I would consider owning some private clinics.
What other inside-information can you give to help people considering this career?
You can work as a physiotherapist within the Armed Forces, either joining up as an officer, working as a salaried civilian, or as we do working in a private practice (in that case the servicemen come to our clinic). Job seekers would need to decide what would be the best option for them.
Do you mind us publishing your salary / rate per hour – this is very helpful for job seekers?
With the Armed Forces as a physiotherapist I take £20 per 30-minute session.
How did you end up doing this job, was it a childhood dream or was it by accident?
Playing professional sport would have been the childhood dream. With that being not possible for one reason or another, I studied Sports Science at university and I became interested in sports injuries and physiotherapy. From there I completed an MSc in Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation. After working in a clinic for 3 years, I set up my own clinic at the Spirit Health Club within the Holiday Inn Rochester. When members of the Armed Forces come from all over the country to train in Kent, some stay at the hotel, and that’s where I began treating them.