The basics
Study abroad : Subject Guides

How to become a physiotherapist / physical therapist

What is physiotherapy? How much do physiotherapists make? What does a physiotherapist do? Here, we answer all of your questions about this field.

share image

According to IBISWorld, a global leader in Industry Market Research, the physical therapy industry grew by 3.3% from 2014-2019 in Australia alone! In the US, the Department of Labour’s Bureau of Labour Statistics has projected that the industry will grow by 39% by 2020. 


What could explain the growth in demand for physical therapists? Here are some possible explanations…


  • Increased recognition of the importance of the profession
    Physical therapy is a relatively recent development: in the UK, for instance, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy was formed by four nurses in 1894, while in the USA formal recognition of the discipline did not come until 1914 when Reed College in Portland, Oregon awarded degrees to ‘reconstruction aides’ (an early term for physical therapists / physiotherapists in the USA).


  • While the importance of physical therapy has always been recognised, it is sometimes commonly associated with solely being used to treat things like back pain or sporting injuries, but this couldn’t be further from the truth – and the growing demand for those working within the profession reflects this!


  • Aging populations
    It is predicted that by 2050 combined senior and geriatric global population will number some 2.1 billion people. Old age brings aches and pains, and ensuring a happy, healthy life requires being active and exercising. Physical therapy is a way of making this possible for elderly people.


  • Rehabilitation is increasingly necessary
    As modern medicine means that surviving serious illnesses and injuries is much more possible than ever before, managing pain and rehabilitating those in recovery is increasingly important. The development of drugs treating those with HIV / AIDS, for example, means that many HIV+ people can now live happy, healthy lives, but the drugs that make this possible can have side effects that require the treatment of physical therapists.


  • ‘Brain Drain’
    With many physiotherapy graduates in the developing world choosing to leave their home countries to work in places like the US and Canada, demand for physical therapists is especially high in developing countries. This also means however that scope for careers in physical therapy in the less developed world is much higher, and perhaps even more rewarding.


However, we might explain the growth of demand for those in the physical therapy profession, it’s clearly there, and it means that studying to become a physical therapist / physiotherapist is an excellent option for those who want to work in a globally in-demand profession, but how do you begin?


Physiotherapy / Physical Therapy: Quick Questions


Before you start to look into your options for pursuing a career in the field, here is a quick FAQ to make sure you know exactly what it is that a physiotherapist / physical therapist does.



What is physiotherapy / physical therapy?
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapists in the United Kingdom defines physiotherapy as the practice of helping to “restore movement and function when someone is affected by injury, illness or disability.” This means using methods including exercise and massage to help patients recover from injuries or cope with pain they might be experiencing.


Where do physiotherapists work?
Once you have become a physiotherapist, options for employment vary from working within public health, owning your own practice, or working with a sports team or organisation that requires the support or assistance of a physical therapist.


What makes being a physiotherapist rewarding?
Compared to other roles in the medical profession, being a physiotherapist can be relatively low stress: hours are flexible and you won’t be on call around the clock. Physiotherapists also get to see the active, positive changes they are making in a patient’s life over the course of their treatment. It is also very well paid, with a median salary of USD 81,030 in the USA, for example.


What are some negatives about being a physiotherapist?
Becoming a physiotherapist can be very costly and may lead to a large amount of student loan debt, particularly in places like the USA where you may be studying for as many as 6 or 7 years. It is also a physically demanding job which will require you to be active and healthy in order to be able to give patients the treatment they require.



How long does it take to become a physiotherapist?
Typically an undergraduate physiotherapy degree will require three to four years of full-time studying, however this does not guarantee being able to practice professionally as a physiotherapist. Indeed, as with any medical professional roles there are more steps that need to be taken after graduation. In the US, this may take as many as six to seven years.


Is a degree all you need to become a physiotherapist / physical therapist?
No. A degree in physiotherapy / physical therapy (or in some cases in the USA, kinesiology) is not enough to guarantee that you will become a practicing physiotherapist / physical therapist. You will need a bachelor’s degree, a doctorate, an accreditation from a professional body, and in some cases a license to practice. This is why pursuing a career in physiotherapy / physical therapy can be both time consuming and very expensive.


What additional skills are required to be a good physiotherapist / physical therapist?
As with any career in the medical profession, care and empathy is as important as scientific knowledge: physiotherapists / physical therapists work with people who are suffering, and thus it is important to be able to empathise and show them respect as they go through their treatment. The role also requires a great degree of patience, as you may be dealing with patients who are ambivalent to their treatment initially.


Where can you work as a physiotherapist / physical therapist?
Physiotherapists / physical therapists can work in a variety of settings, whether in public health at hospitals or surgeries, for private organisations, or through establishing their own practices, an increasingly common option.


Where can you study Physiotherapy / Physical Therapy?

If you think you'd like to study physiotherapy / physical therapy in order to pursue a career in the field, there are around 350 institutions worldwide offering degrees to help you on your way. We've picked a few you might want to consider:


  • The University of Bradford in the UK offers an MPhysio in Physiotherapy (Sport and Exercise Medicine), which aims to equip students with the skills and knowledge required to practice Physiotherapy in a sports and exercise context, for example working with a football team, while also training students to be able to work in more traditional physiotherapy settings. It is a four-year programme and students are able to take a number of placements during their time studying, including at the University's Physiotherapy and Sport Rehabilitation Clinic.


  • At University College Dublin in Ireland (an increasingly popular place of study for international students) the BSc (Hons) in Physiotherapy (Graduate Entry) offers students "over 1,000 hours on supervised clinical education in hospitals and clinical centres throughout Ireland and abroad" and is accredited by the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists, meaning students gain professional accreditation as part of their studies.


  • In the USA, studying kinesiology (the study of body movements) is a common path to a career in physiotherapy / physical therapy, and San Jose State University in California offers a BS in kinesiology which is "particularly recommended for those students planning postbaccalaureate study in physical therapy, chiropractic, or other related graduate programs."


  • With the growing demand for physiotherapists / physical therapists in Australia, it is a good option for study abroad students, and a degree like James Cook University's Bachelor of Physiotherapy is an ideal course for anybody wishing to eventually practice Physiotherapy in Australia. It is unique in offering experience in 'rural and remote health settings', for example working with Aboriginal Australians, and is accredited by the Australian Physiotherapy Council.


You can begin your journey into the physiotherapy / physical therapy profession by finding the right course for you here.

Must read

article Img

Why study law: Top 10 benefits of becoming a lawyer

What do Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto, Barack Obama and Mahatma Gandhi have in common? Interestingly, they are world leaders who studied law. One of the oldest academic fields in the world, a law degree is a highly regarded qualification and promises great career opportunities.   For some, to study law is to uphold justice, a noble call that is most commendable (and the world needs more of them); nevertheless, law is not just for lawyers or in the

article Img

What are professional degrees?

When evaluating your study options and doing your research you’ll probably have come across qualifications that are categorised as professional degrees. Perhaps you’re not entirely sure what this means or what differentiates such programmes and courses from academic degrees. You may also be asking yourself if they have a particular impact on your career trajectory. We take a closer look at professional degrees for you and examine what they’re all about.