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How to become a physiotherapist

You'll need an undergraduate degree to become a physiotherapist. You'll then be ready to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and work in the NHS.

What is a physiotherapist?

Physiotherapists help people affected by injury, illness, or disability through movement and exercise, manual therapy, education, and advice.  

They maintain health for people of all ages, helping patients to manage pain and prevent disease.

Starting your career as a physiotherapist

Choosing subjects at school

To get on a course that could lead to a career as a physiotherapist, useful subjects include: 

  • Human Biology 
  • Physical Education 
  • Care 
  • Physics 
  • Chemistry 
  • English 
  • Maths

Speak to your guidance teacher about subjects offered at your school.

Workplacements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some healthcare experience by doing a work placement or volunteering. You’ll get training, increase your knowledge, and learn new skills. This could help you when applying to university, college or a new job with NHSScotland.

College and university

Most universities accept a wide range of qualifications, giving you the option of applying directly from school or going to college first. 

At college, you could do an HND in Sports Therapy or Applied Sport Science. 

Widening access

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you could get into higher education through the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need. 

Pre-registration undergraduate Physiotherapy degree programme

In Scotland, 3 universities offer undergraduate programmes in Physiotherapy approved by the HCPC: 

  • Glasgow Caledonian University 
  • Queen Margaret University 
  • Robert Gordon University 

Pre-registration undergraduate programmes take 4 years full-time. 

Pre-registration postgraduate Physiotherapy degree programme

If you have relevant qualifications and healthcare experience, you can do a master’s degree in Physiotherapy. A postgraduate pre-registration course usually takes 2 years.

You should contact individual universities to find out about specific entry requirements.

After graduation, you must register with the HCPC. You can then apply as a newly qualified physiotherapist for vacancies in the NHS.

Course search

Search for college or university programmes on My World of Work.

Get to know the role

Functional movement is a key part of what it means to be healthy.

As a physiotherapist, you'll care for people who have many different types of conditions, such as: 

  • multiple sclerosis 
  • back pain 
  • neck injuries 
  • sports injuries 
  • arthritis 
  • stroke 
  • mental health problems 

Physiotherapy plays a significant role in enabling people to improve their health, wellbeing, and quality of life.

Tasks include: 

  • care for children and young people with cerebral palsy, helping them to increase their muscle strength and activation 
  • support the rehabilitation of people who are recovering from a heart attack, stroke, injury, or surgery 
  • help older people to improve their mobility 
  • use therapeutic ultrasound to reduce pain or increase circulation 
  • use hydrotherapy to strengthen weak muscles 

You could use a range of equipment such as: 

  • cross-trainers 
  • treadmills 
  • exercise bikes 
  • parallel walking bars 
  • walking aids 
  • dumbbells 
  • gym balls 
  • high-tech equipment for specialist therapy 

You'll need these skills:

  • caring 
  • collaborating
  • communicating
  • problem-solving
  • persuading and motivating people 
  • leadership 

Physiotherapists work with other healthcare professionals, including: 

  • occupational therapists 
  • health visitors 
  • social workers 
  • doctors 
  • nurses 
  • healthcare support workers 

You could work in: 

  • health centres 
  • a person’s home 
  • nursing homes 
  • day centres 
  • schools 
  • hospital outpatient departments 

Learning and development

During your career, you’ll be expected to keep your skills and knowledge up to date through Continuing Professional Development (CPD). The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) provides: 

  • training courses 
  • conferences 
  • seminars  

Visit the CSP website for more about training and CPD courses.

Career progression

With training and experience, you may choose to specialise in a particular area of practice, such as: 

  • sports injuries 
  • critical care 
  • care of the elderly 
  • working with children 
  • caring for cancer patients 

You could also progress to advanced or consultant physiotherapist roles.

As head of a physiotherapy service, you would be responsible both for a team of staff and for managing a budget. 

There are also teaching and research opportunities. 

Professional bodies

When you become a qualified art therapist, you must register with the HCPC to work in the NHS. You can also join the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

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