Physiotherapist

Physiotherapists care for people of all ages, helping them to recover their range of movement following an injury or illness. They also help disabled people improve their health and quality of life through exercise and manual therapy.

To work in the NHS, physiotherapists must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

My name is Sheena Courtney and I'm a Physiotherapist, working in cardiac rehab.

I'm a rotational Physiotherapist, so I spend about 8 months in a different department, before moving on to the next.

So, we work with patients after they've had an event with their heart. It might have been a heart attack, they might have had surgery on their heart, they might even have had a heart transplant.

Patients typically come to our cardiac rehab for about 10 weeks. Often folk are quite nervous about exercising after having had a cardiac event, so we try and help patients exercise safely, so they might not be doing the stuff you and I would maybe do in the gym. We don't want them to be out of breath, bringing pon any chest pain symptoms or anything like that.

We have the exercise bikes here that we can help patients to use during the class or during a warm up or cool down. We've got the different weights as well. We've got steps, so patients can perform step ups and we also can check patient's blood pressures and check their heart rate as well, using a monitor.

When I was at high school, I didn't really know what I wanted to do for a career. I was really interested in biology and especially human anatomy, so Physiotherapy stuck out.

I did a bit of work experience while I was at school at a school for children with Cerebral palsy. I would go along there a couple of times a week and work along with the Physios there. It was amazing how rewarding working with these children - the improvements that they saw.

I think the patients that I work with here in cardiac rehab really motivate me. They really brighten your day. You can have a real laugh with them. We have a lot of fun in the classes and it's amazing to see how they improve over time.

You do get a lot of satisfaction leaving work if you've had a great day and patients have been improving and exercising well, or they've reached that goal, they've reached that target they set themselves.


Starting your career

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
  • Maths
  • English

A Foundation Apprenticeship in Social Services and Healthcare, taken in S5 or S6, could help you gain new skills and valuable work experience.

Find out more about apprenticeships at apprenticeships.scot.

Work placement

If you’re at school or thinking of changing career, doing a work placement could help you when applying to college, university or for a job in healthcare. You’ll learn new skills, improve your knowledge and discover what it’s like to work in the health service. Find out how to apply for work experience with the NHS.

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 an HND in Applied Sport Science.

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

Three universities in Scotland 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.

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

For more information on related further and higher education courses, search My World of Work. You should check specific entry requirements before applying.

The role

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.

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

What you’ll do

Some of the typical tasks of a physiotherapist include:

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

Top skills

You’ll need these skills:

  • caring for people
  • working in a team
  • communicating with people
  • problem-solving skills
  • persuading and motivating people
  • observation skills

Who you’ll work with

Physiotherapists work independently or in multidisciplinary teams with other healthcare professionals including:

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

Working environment

You could work in:

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

Useful information

To work as a physiotherapist in NHSScotland, you’ll need to:

Did you know?

There are over 55,500 registered physiotherapists in the UK and over 2,900 working in NHSScotland.

Learning and development

The professional body for physiotherapists in the UK is the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP). You can become a member once you’ve qualified as a physiotherapist.

During your career, you'll have to keep your skills and knowledge up to date with Continuing Professional Development (CPD). The CSP provides courses, conferences and seminars where you can exchange ideas and update skills.

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.