How to Become a Physical Therapist
As part of our series on careers in the medical field, this article takes a look at how to become a physical therapist or physiotherapist. As with all jobs in the area of healthcare, this is a field which is likely to survive recessions, downturns or any other crises the economy throws at us.
So if you enjoy working with people and want a career which is relatively secure, read on to see if this is a job you might be suited for.
A Physical Therapist (PT) in the United States – or Physiotherapist in the United Kngdom – works with people who have experienced some form of physical disability, which might be as a result of illness, accident or a consequence of getting older.
Physiotherapy has been a popular career choice for some time and as a result is not easy to get into. Applicants must have a degree and need to have studied science subjects at high school or secondary school level, before applying for a place on a specialist university course.
PTs or Physios work not only with people who have conditions affecting muscles, joints and bones, but also those who have problems with the heart and lungs or the nervous system. Examples of illnesses which require therapy are cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and stroke.
The therapist works alongside doctors and other medical staff to ensure that the patients’ rehabilitation occurs as quickly and effectively as possible. This will vary enormously from patient to patient and could last from a few weeks to many years, depending on their condition.
The type of treatment a Physio or PT will give varies from the very high tech to the very low tech and includes ultrasound, learning how to use and adapt to a prosthetic limb and exercises to strengthen specific parts of the body.
There are a number of specialist areas in which a physio can work and these include sports medicine, which is very popular, paediatrics or working with the elderly. Most physios in the UK will work in a hospital for 2 years before specializing.
A specialist degree is required to enter this profession and there is a lot of competition. So it’s advisable to focus on getting good exam results in science subjects so that you can get a university place. If you already have a degree, you can take an accelerated course (2 years) to get a masters in physiotherapy (UK). As with most medical professions, you will need to be involved in continuing professional education to keep your skills up to date
In the US, you need a master’s degree or doctorate from an accredited school and will be expected to continue to update your skills throughout your career.
In the UK, physios work in the National Health Service, as well as the private sector, and in nursing homes, voluntary organisations and schools for children with special needs.
What sort of person makes a good PT or Physio?
You need to :
- be interested in health and improving quality of life
- be able to work with people from all walks of life
- have the ability to communicate clearly and effectively
- be skilled in developing rapport with patients
- have the ability to motivate patients
- be capable of working as part of a team
Salaries in the NHS stars at around £20,000 and go up to about £60,000 for consultant level. In theUS, average earnings are in the region of $66,000-£70,000
Prospects – jobs are expected to grow much faster than average in theUS. This is partly due to the increase in member of ageing population who will require physical therapy. There is also growth in theUK, as more and more GP surgeries are taking on physios.
As with any career, you need to get as much background information as you can. If you live near a large hospital, contact them to see if they have open days, talks or any other careers sessions. If you can meet some people already working in physiotherapy, this will give you much more insight into the career.
If you think this could be a good choice of career for you, you can also do some online research to find out as much as you can before making a decision.
Go to your local library or to a specialized careers library to find out more about careers in physiotherapy where you live. Don’t forget that eduction and careers change very rapidly, especially if there is a technical element involved. So once you’ve read up on the career, make sure you check online with the relevant official bodies – health service, government sites, hospitals and universities – to ensure that you have the most up to date information.
Getting More Information about How to Become a Physical Therapist
In the UK, check out the NHS site for physiotherapists at:
And the professional body for physios, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists is at
InNorth America, the Governments’s Occupational Outlook Handbook will give you plenty of information on earnings, training, demand and related careers. You can find it at : http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos080.htm
InAustralia, the Australian Physiotherapy Association is a good starting point:
And inNew Zealand, you’ll find more information here:
As with any profession, there is a lot to think about – not only where you will study, but how you will fund your training, where you wil llive and the long term prospects. So be sure to take plenty of time to investigate all aspects of how to become a physical therapist.