What is a physiotherapist?


Physiotherapists are Allied Health Professionals (AHPs).  Whether you're a patient wanting to know more about who you're seeing, or you're interested in a career as a physiotherapist, we've got what you'll need to know. 

What is a physiotherapist and what patients do they see?

Physiotherapy is a science based healthcare profession that promotes recovery from illness, injury, disability or aging. The aim is to restore normal movement and functional ability to make a person as independent as possible, and reach their full potential. The key is patient focus, meaning physiotherapists will be expected to exercise sound judgement in a variety of clinical situations, being able to evaluate and adapt their therapeutic skills to meet the needs of the individual patient.

A physiotherapist can treat and manage a broad spectrum of physical problems, including musculoskeletal, respiratory, neurological and cardiovascular. Not only this, they are also involved with health promotion and illness prevention. As a science-based profession, practitioners aim to evaluate their practice continually and add to the current body of knowledge in order to provide the best possible care for patients.

Within the NHS, physiotherapists are required in the majority of departments and you could work within outpatients, Intensive care, Elderly care, Respiratory, Neurology (including stroke services), Orthopaedics, Paediatrics, Learning disabilities and Occupational health.

A physiotherapist could also be community based and work within mental health, health centres, patient’s homes, nursing homes, day centres and schools. As a physiotherapist, you are expected to work as part of a multidisciplinary team made up of Occupational therapists, doctors, nurses, social workers, therapy assistants, to put the patient at the centre of everyone’s care.

What’s a typical day for a physiotherapist?

“My day starts at 8am, when I pick up the set of notes for my first patient and walk down to the waiting area to greet them. This might be someone I’ve seen a few weeks before, so the session involves asking how they are, how they have got on with their exercises and working out how to help them to move forward with their rehabilitation.

“At 8.30am my next patient arrives, a new patient to me. During this session it is my job to get to know the patient, their condition, ask questions to work out what is wrong, and come up with a plan to help them to get back to what is important to them. We can see a variety of different conditions from sports related injuries, chronic pain issues, back pain, and age related conditions, which can affect any joint of the body. They may have had an operation to repair a ligament in their knee, an operation to fix a broken bone, or are recovering from a car accident. In these cases, we work as a team with our occupational therapists to help the patient to get back to work, and being independent again.

“Half way through the morning I have time to review patients that are attending our group sessions following a wrist fracture. During this class I am able to advise them and progress them onto the next stage of exercises. In the afternoon I see more patients during my one to one appointments. Treatment options can vary depending on the complaint, options include, electrotherapy, manual techniques, hydrotherapy, home exercises and education. At the end of the day I lead an education and exercise group for people with arthritis of the knee, helping people to cope better, to be stronger and more confident. Then by 4.30pm I am ready to go to the gym, to try to practice what I preach!”

Career paths for a physiotherapist

There are a number of ways to enter onto a course for this popular profession. The BSc (HONS) physiotherapy is a three year full time course, and most universities require six GCSEs grades A*-C, including maths, English and science. You will require three A-levels, including a biological science or physical education, though the grades will vary depending on the university but most will look for higher grades.

A BTEC extended diploma will be considered for entry onto the course in a relevant topic, in combination with an A level in a biological science or physical education.

Some universities offer a foundation year if you do not meet the entry requirements. Once this year has been completed and passed, you would get access onto the BSc programme.

The MSc (pre reg) physiotherapy route requires a previous degree at 2.1 or higher in a relevant discipline, such as biological science, sports science, chemistry or psychology. The candidate will also require GCSE maths and English A*-C.

Finally, an apprenticeship course includes a combination of work based learning modules and specialist education which leads to a BSc Hons degree in Physiotherapy. For entry to this course, a candidate requires GCSE maths, English and science grades A*-C and 120 UCAS points from A levels, including biology or an appropriate BTEC extended diploma.

Why I became a physiotherapist

“The reason I love being a physiotherapist is because of all the amazing people I meet every day, all with a different story to tell, and that feeling you get when someone looks at you so genuinely and says ‘because of you, I now realise what I can do’.”