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Guide to studying Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy is not just about expert massages. Read about studying the area, and what it’s like to be a physiotherapist, to see if a career is for you.

Physiotherapist treating a patient in a patient's office

CONTENTS

  1. What's Physiotherapy?

  2. Why study Physiotherapy?

  3. What qualifications do you need to study Physiotherapy?

  4. What degrees can you study?

  5. How will you be assessed?

  6. What are the postgraduate opportunities?

  7. What jobs can you do with a Physiotherapy degree?
  8. How to become a physiotherapist

What's Physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy is a specialist branch of medicine that helps improve impairments in movement. It promotes a patient’s quality of life through physical intervention to help mobility and function.

Physiotherapists play an important role in treating a wide range of conditions, including:

  • Neurological (stroke, Parkinson’s)
  • Neuromusculoskeletal (sports injury, arthritis)
  • Cardiovascular (rehabilitation after a heart attack)
  • Respiratory (cystic fibrosis, asthma).

Specialists work with patients on a regular basis, helping them through exercise, massage, the use of specialist equipment and many other methods. They form treatment plans and also advise people on how to prevent injury.

Why study Physiotherapy?

A clear reason why you might study Physiotherapy is to help those who are in pain. It can make invaluable changes to a person's quality of life. Many serious health problems can be effectively treated with physiotherapy.

As well as technical expertise, skills you’ll develop on a Physiotherapy course include:

  • Communication
  • Confidence
  • Adaptability
  • Patience
  • Teamwork
  • Fitness.

Physiotherapy courses include plenty of hours in the classroom, where you learn from experts in the field. Aside from the usual brand of lectures and seminars as the core of learning, there's a fun practical aspect to studying the subject area – problem-based learning, tutorials and eventually work experience in hospitals.

During Covid-19, courses have to adapt to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. This just means the way they are delivered is slightly different. For instance, teaching groups may be smaller, and there may be more remote learning.

Physiotherapy is a vocational career, and university tuition reflects this. All UK universities offering degrees in the subject area promise their students clinical placements across a range of healthcare settings. This gives you the chance to see your learning in action, giving context to all the time spent studying the theory. You'll graduate well prepared for a career in the field.

The graduate prospects for Physiotherapy students are also impressively high. Courses provide you with good skills which will always be in demand, and so by gaining an official qualification, you are investing in your future.

The NHS Learning Support Fund is currently offering £5,000 per year to support Physiotherapy degree students in England and Wales. This is a grant, so you don’t have to pay it back.

Physiotherapist assisting a patient while exercising

What qualifications do you need to study Physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy undergraduate courses usually require two or three A Levels, with one in biological science or PE. You’ll also need five GCSEs in grades C and above, including in English, maths and science.

Other equivalent qualifications include relevant BTEC, HND, HNC, NVQ, Highers and Access courses.

Entry requirements can vary.  Always confirm the grades and other requirements for the particular university and course you're interested in.

Courses usually include placements working with members of the public. You’ll need to complete a DBS disclosure check (for criminal records) for public protection and safety.

  1. GO TO
  2. Choosing A Levels

Tips for applying

Universities look for students who have the potential to be good physiotherapists. You’ll need strong communication skills and the ability to make others feel calm. Try to demonstrate this, and other relevant skills, when applying to a course.

Work experience will strengthen your application. If you can, spend time with a physiotherapist to get an understanding of what they do. You could also volunteer or work with a local organisation, for example:

  • Hospital or health clinic
  • Physiotherapy clinics
  • Nursing homes
  • Sports clinics.

What degrees can you study?

  • BSc Physiotherapy
  • BSc Sport Rehabilitation and Exercise Science
  • International Foundation Programme (inc. Physio and Paramedic Science)
  • BSc Veterinary Studies (Physiotherapy).

Sometimes degree apprenticeships are available, where you can work and earn alongside gaining a qualification. You have to apply through an employer, where you don’t have access to student grants.

How will you be assessed?

You'll be heavily assessed while working on placement. This is based on a knowledge and skills framework that's fully explained to you once you begin the course. When not on placement, you’ll be involved in practical and clinical sessions. You’ll also be assessed via other methods, such as written exams and group projects or presentations. 

What are the postgraduate opportunities?

Examples of taught MAs and research degrees at postgraduate level include a straight MSc in Physiotherapy, as well as MSc Applied Exercise Physiology, MRes Exercise Physiology, PgCert Vocational Rehabilitation and MSc Cognitive Rehabilitation.

  1. GO TO
  2. Physiotherapy postgraduate course chooser

What jobs can you do with a Physiotherapy degree?

Most Physiotherapy students become professional physiotherapists. There are many paths to go down, such as geriatric medicine, intensive care, mental health, outpatients, orthopaedics, paediatrics and stroke services.

With experience, you can specialise in an area, take on more responsibilities in senior roles or progress into health service management. You could even set up your own practice and be self-employed.

Alternatively, you could find opportunities in the armed forces, sports and fitness, research or teaching.

How to become a physiotherapist

The popular route is by gaining a qualification in Physiotherapy – either at degree level or through a degree apprenticeship.

Postgraduate conversion courses are available for those with a degree in related areas such as sports science or psychology.

You also register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) before you start practising professionally.

What’s it like to be a physiotherapist?

Physiotherapists mostly work in hospices, at GP practices, clients’ homes, care homes, hospitals or fitness centres. Daily tasks can be varied, but often include:

  • Helping patients with physical body issues
  • Supporting those recovering from accidents, injuries and strokes
  • Working with people with physical or mental disabilities
  • Providing specialist techniques such as massages or electrotherapy
  • Planning rehabilitation programmes and setting goals
  • Collecting statistics and writing reports
  • Discussing issues and supporting clients and their families.

You could be working alone or as part of a team. Often you’ll work alongside other healthcare professionals and different departments, such as paediatrics and occupational health.

After qualifying you’ll have Continuing Professional Development (CPD) meetings, where you talk about your future career goals. You can become a member of organisations such as the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy which support your career development.

A working week is typically 37.5 hours, and you may have to work evenings and weekends. Salaries for physiotherapists are on the Agenda for Change system (the NHS staff grading and pay scale), usually on band 5. With the NHS, you’ll have access to generous pension schemes, holiday allowances and health service discounts.

Is a role as a physiotherapist right for you?

You’ll be working with lots of people with a wide variety of issues. You have to be very empathetic and good at listening to their problems. It can sometimes be an emotionally and physically challenging role, but also a rewarding one, as you are truly helping people to live better.

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