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Is physiotherapy the right career?

It’s a big decision to choose a career, so unless you have always known what you wanted to do it is worth finding out as much as you can about it.

Physiotherapy is the most popular degree course in the UK and the last numbers I heard were about 18 applicants for every place. This means it is very competitive and the universities can be picky in who they choose to admit.

If you are going to succeed in getting onto a physiotherapy course you will need to have a combination of academic achievement and personal experience and initiative.

Remember, the admissions people need something to single you out as an outstanding candidate in some way, or they may pass you over.

You may want to look at your strengths and weaknesses in the following categories: (on this page)

Understanding physiotherapy and the demands of training

Get a good understanding of physiotherapy before you go near that UCAS application form.

Sources include:

  • The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy
  • Physiotherapy - a questions and answers careers book. 1996. Trotman &Co Ltd, Richmond. 0 85660 278 7
  • Work experience - this can be helpful but you may find it difficult to arrange. Physiotherapy departments have a lot of pressure on them with workload, staffing shortages and commitments to student placements.

    Try other areas of healthcare, as these may be just as suitable as physiotherapy departments themselves. University admissions tutors are looking for the ability to communicate with all types and ages of people, and a talent for relating to those with illness or disability.

    Careers guidance officers/departments should be able to help with the details. Well written letters, in good english, make a good impression.

  • Physiotherapy assistant posts. In my department we usually have at least one person who is applying or intending to apply to train. Assistant posts are very valuable experience but are very competitive when they come up. Jobs in other care-related areas, such as nursing homes, may also equip you with a better understanding of people and therapy.
  • Hospital departments may run open days. It may be worthwhile sending an enquiring letter with a stamped, addressed envelope.

Academic requirements for entry

To see detail of these requirements and opportunities please go to Chartered Society of Physiotherapy - UK Qualifying Programmes

Full Time Programmes

Three or four years of full-time study is typical to become a Chartered Physiotherapist. There is a large amount of self-directed study, and clinical placements of 4-6 weeks, which may not near where you live or study.

This is a “full-time” programme and you must be certain of your your ability to commit yourself completely for the years the courses require.

Part Time Programmes

Part-time physiotherapy study programmes do exist in the UK, and some have been set up for physiotherapy assistants who wish to train.

Accelerated Programmes

Accelerated physiotherapy programmes offer the ability to acquire a licence to practice physiotherapy if you have certain qualifications. A degree in a relevant discipline such as a biological science, psychology or sports science, (usually first class or upper second class degree level), may make you eligible. Successful graduates will be eligible to apply for state registration and membership of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

The minimum entry requirements are the same as those for all degree programmes. There is strong competition for places and conditional offers of a place are set higher than the minimum. A variety of qualifications may be accepted and you need to check directly with the individual university before you apply.

More physiotherapy qualifying places have become available due to the Government’s NHS Plan but competition for places is likely to continue.

Evidence of initiative in other areas of life

Admissions tutors have a lot of candidates to choose from so can afford to be picky.

“Just” academic qualifications may not be enough and you may have to work on other aspects of your life which show initiative and involvement in the life of the community. This means things you choose to do which you do not have to, such as extra study, service or activities. They may show leadership, proactivity and persistence, giving the picture of a rounded person who has lots of parts to him or her.

Evidence of other ‘life skills’

As well as having the ability to cope with the academic demands of an honours degree course, admissions tutors look for evidence of other qualities and skills in prospective students:

  • communication, helping and caring skills
  • sensitivity and tolerance
  • ability to use initiative
  • potential to undertake an intensive course of study
  • reliability, honesty and trustworthiness
  • enthusiasm, dedication and determination

Good presentation of yourself, and persistence

Good presentation of yourself is vital as many people deciding on your future will have a very short time of contact with you. You need to impress them suitably in a short time.

Polite, correct and well-written letters make a lot of difference, as sub-standard efforts are immediately obvious. While you may need to be persistent on the ‘phone at times, remember the people at the other end are fielding hundreds of calls at certain times of the year.

Application forms need to be carefully filled out and attention paid to what exactly is asked for, with appropriate documents and payment.

If you should go for interview then a conservative appearance will help persuade the listeners and lookers that you are person who could be trusted with the welfare of often vulnerable people.

Good social skills are obvious and the absence of them gives immediate cause for concern. Are you familiar with meeting people in positions of influence over you? You can practice your style with others you may know, who will often be happy to give advice.

A tip for those applying…about SPORT


Sports physiotherapy is a very small part indeed of the physiotherapy spectrum. Most physios work in other clinical areas and never have any sports experience. If you are very keen on sports, be aware of a few thoughts:

  • In your training, you will very likely do no sports-related work, but have to cover many clinical areas. As a junior physiotherapist in the NHS (the biggest employer by far), sports physiotherapy is uncommon.
  • Admission tutors may look unfavourably on an application which concentrates heavily on sports, or on a very sports-oriented view in interview. This is because physiotherapy is so much more than this and very diverse.
  • On a personal note, sports contestants are perfectly worthy of attention, but are healthy and highly able individuals. Aren’t there more worthy challenges in those who must face significant illness, disability and adversity?

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