Physiotherapy is a healthcare profession that works with people to identify and maximise their ability to move and function fully. Functional movement is a key part of what it means to be healthy. This means that physiotherapy plays a significant role in enabling people to improve their health, wellbeing and quality of life.

Physiotherapists primarily work with people to help with physical problems which affect movement.

I’m Lorna. I’m a Physiotherapist. I work with adults with learning disabilities in the community. It’s a very rewarding job.

Some people are, what we class as profoundly, physically and emotionally disabled. And others are very able to walk about and have active jobs and things like this.

The environments that I see the patients in can vary. I often see them in their own homes, day centres, or gyms and also I’ve seen patients in hydrotherapy pools.

We help patients manage their conditions, whether it’s a long-term condition or a short-term condition, by educating them and showing them what can be done. Helping them understand what’s happened to them in the first place, often can help people improve and to give them an idea of how much they can push themselves to get better.

I was very quiet when I was at school. I think physiotherapy as a degree teaches you to be a bit more outgoing. You need to be interested in people, but you do need to be calm.

Working with adults with learning difficulties, there can be people who have very profound physical problems that are long standing in nature. There are some challenges. A learning disabilities person might not necessarily be able to tell you where they’re in pain.

I think when you see that you have made a difference, that you have helped, that things are settled for a while and you look and think “well, I helped make that happen”, it can be very satisfying.

Physiotherapists deal with human function and movement and help people to achieve their full physical potential. They use physical approaches to promote, maintain and restore wellbeing. 

You'll treat people who have many different types of conditions such as:

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

In NHSScotland, you may work in hospitals where you're needed in nearly every department. In intensive care, for example, you're needed for round-the-clock chest physiotherapy to help patients breathe fully. You may also work in:

  • health centres
  • patients' own homes
  • nursing homes
  • day centres
  • schools
  • outpatients' departments

Physiotherapists use a range of equipment such as gyms, hydrotherapy and high-tech equipment for specialist therapy.

You may work alone or in a team alongside health and/or social care professionals. Depending on where you work, this could include occupational therapists, GPs, health visitors, district nurses and social workers. You may also supervise the work of physiotherapy support workers.

To work as an Physiotherapist, useful skills will include:

  • good observational skills
  • strong communication skills
  • willing to work alone or in a team
  • patience and empathy
  • commitment to the wellbeing of clients
  • professionalism and an excellent work ethic

Useful abilities include

  • the ability to work with people with different lifestyles and backgrounds
  • the ability to motivate others
  • The ability to explain treatment plans to patients

To practice as a physiotherapist, you must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). To register, you successfully complete an HCPC-approved degree in physiotherapy.

In Scotland the following universities offer 4-year full-time undergraduate programmes in physiotherapy:

The minimum academic entry requirements for these degree courses vary, but most universities in Scotland require SQA Higher AABBB grades, including English and two science subjects. A pass in National 5 grade A – C in an additional science subject is also required.

You will also need to show that you have an understanding of physiotherapy and an aptitude for caring for others. It is a good idea to spend some time with a registered physiotherapist to gain work experience.

Entry requirements vary depending on the university, college or provider. You are advised to contact each individual provider to find out its specific entry requirements.

Specific entry requirements, including other accepted qualifications, are provided on each university website. To apply for a physiotherapy programme you must use the UCAS application process.

You can visit the HCPC website for a full list of approved educational institutions and physiotherapy programmes across the UK.

Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP) – Access to Health and Biological Science (SCQF Level 6)

This programme is for adults returning to education, perhaps changing career or seeking to gain the equivalent university entry qualifications needed for a physiotherapy undergraduate programme. There are no formal entry qualifications, but applicants should have a good standard of general education and have been away from formal education for a minimum of 2 – 3 years.

Successful completion of the course could lead to:

  • A degree in physiotherapy by applying to universities that participate in the SWAP partnership programme
  • HNC Applied Sciences

Please visit the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP) website for more information.

Postgraduate study

If you already have a relevant degree and healthcare experience, you can take a postgraduate diploma or masters in Physiotherapy. These courses usually take two years. The HCPC website provides details of approved postgraduate programmes in the UK.

You'll have to keep your skills and knowledge up to date with continuing professional development (CPD). The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) offers many courses for CPD.

In NHSScotland, physiotherapists start on band 5 of the NHS Agenda for Change (AfC) pay system. You may choose to specialise in a particular area of practice such as sports injuries, critical care, care of the elderly or working with children or cancer patients.

You could also move into management, either within physiotherapy services or general management at band 6, 7 or 8. As head of a physiotherapy service, you would be responsible for a team of staff.

Find out more information from these professional and regulatory bodies:

Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC)

The HCPC is an independent, UK-wide regulatory body responsible for setting and maintaining standards for health, psychological, and in England; social work professionals. It maintains a public register of qualified professionals and works to improve industry standards and education. Visit the HCPC website to find out more.

Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP)

CSP is the professional body and trade union for physiotherapists, students and support workers in the UK. It aims to promote high quality patient care through education, campaigning and by supporting advances in research. Find out more on the CSP website.