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Postgraduate Physiotherapy: A Guide

If you're considering a postgraduate degree in physiotherapy, this guide will give you the key information you need to know about taking your studies to the next level.

What is Physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy is the practice of aiding injured, ill or elderly people to restore their physical health and movement whilst catering to their individual needs and circumstances.

Although physiotherapists are often thought of in the context of sports injuries, their work is much wider. Post-surgery rehabilitation, strokes, injuries, obstetrics, gynaecology, movement, posture, neurological conditions, learning difficulties and mental illness are just some of the areas that demand good physiotherapists.

Treatment ranges from exercise and movement with the use of techniques such as therapeutic movement to exercise therapy, massage, manipulation, electrotherapy and hydrotherapy.


Course Types

There are, broadly speaking, two kinds of courses at postgraduate level for those wanting to study physiotherapy. The first is accelerated, ‘pre-registration’ courses for those who did not study the subject at an undergraduate level. The second is the more specialist MSc or PgDip/cert courses in specific areas of the subject, aimed at people who have completed an undergraduate degree in physiotherapy either recently or in the past few years.

Jennifer Duthie, the education advisor at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists highlights the importance of physiotherapists constantly updating their skills and knowledge: “They must demonstrate a continuing professional development; regular training and a furthering of knowledge are not optional.”


1)  Accelerated or pre-registration

This course essentially encompasses the essential areas of physiotherapy, normally covered in a three-year undergraduate programme, meaning the course is intense and qualification focused.

This covers Anatomy and Physiology, focusing on joints: the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves and blood supply of each joint. It also addresses the ways to assess a patient’s condition in both subjective and objective terms and of course; treatment.

This course allows you to practise, (registration) as the courses are accredited by the HCPC.  Some are also accredited by the chartered society of physiotherapists (CSP).

UK universities that offer this ‘pre-reg’ option


What do you need to get on to a pre-registration course?

Although it varies from course to course, the main requirements are a degree in a ‘relevant’ subject and work experience. This could be a biological science; biology, human biology, anatomy, sports science, medical science are some examples or ‘behavioural’ science; psychology, neuroscience etc. 

However, academic qualifications, as with many postgraduate programmes, are not the be-all and end of all admissions.

Personal qualities, work experience and a proven interest in pursuing a carer in physiotherapy are all important to securing a place on a competitive course.

The NHS says that those hoping to pursue physiotherapy at an undergraduate level should hold at least some of the following qualities and skills: sensitivity, tolerance, helpfulness, good communications skills, the ability to use initiative and work as part of team, reliability, trustworthiness, enthusiasm, dedication, and determination.

So although you are at a different stage in your education and may have studied similar subjects, remember these basic principles when maximising the potential of your application.


Bursaries & funding

The NHS pays for the course fees and offers a bursary for living costs depending on whether you live with your parents or away from home and whether you are going to study in London or elsewhere.


What kind of job can you expect to find after qualifying?

There is a very wide range of work within the physiotherapy profession. After your initial clinical experience, you may choose to specialise in a specific area that interests you. Specialist areas include community, sports medicine, orthopaedics, obstetrics, private practice or with the elderly.

NHS careers: “Most newly qualified physiotherapists will work in the NHS and undertake a rotational role of three-four months at a time in different specialities. During this time you will also undertake on-calls and weekend work. Once you have completed a pre-registration programme in physiotherapy and have registered with the HCPC you will normally be in a position to apply for jobs. Job vacancies for physiotherapists and physiotherapy assistants/clinical support workers are advertised in a range of places. Most NHS trusts will advertise their vacancies. Some will also advertise in trade journals and on trust websites.”


Salary and career progression

According to the NHS; salaries in the private sector are similar to those in the NHS, where the starting salary for a Band 5 job currently stands at £24,214. To find out more about salaries and the different ‘bands’ see the ‘Agenda for Change’ Pay Rates.


NHS Jobs

Newly qualified physiotherapists work typically 37.5 hours a week and are offered 27 days annual leave. Night duty and weekend is assigned on a rota basis and may be required, not excluding new staff.

Physiotherapists can be based in hospitals, health centres, clinics or GP surgeries and may need to visits patients at home. However they are not confined to traditional places of healthcare, they are often needed in education, sport, leisure and event industry, which means they could be in schools, gyms or nursing homes.


Private and/or Self Employment

The Chartered society (CSP) advises two years of experience and further training before embarking on this path. Private practices offer ample opportunities in the same fields and some physios aim to set up their own practice or become ‘freelance’, depending on commitments and their career direction.


Official bodies

To practice as a physiotherapist, you must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). In order to register with the HCPC, you must successfully complete an HCPC-approved programme in physiotherapy. All pre-registration and acceleration courses are approved by this body.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy is the UK’s professional, educational and trade union body with more than 51,000 members, including chartered physiotherapists, physiotherapy students and support workers.

Membership includes liability insurance and representation. Jennifer Duthie says: “It would be in their interest to join, they benefit from a professional journal, regular policy and campaign updates.”


Case Study

Jennifer Adims, a physio at West Middlesex University Hospital, currently on a rotational placement. She studied sports therapy at London Met for her undergraduate degree and then for the PGdip pre-registration physiotherapy course at Teeside University.

Really, I have always wanted to be a physio. I was sporty from a young age. Sports therapy focuses on musculoskeletal, but I wanted to branch out to get a better foundation, as musculoskeletal is just one aspect of physio-there’s respiratory, neurological and women’s health and even paediatric physiotherapy.

I needed a good 2:1 and a load of experience. I spoke more about my experience in my interview than I did my qualifications. You don’t necessarily need all your work experience to be with a physio, chiropractors or other complementary medical practices will stand you in good stead. I worked as a personal trainer, at Waltham forest, the London Irish rugby club and Chingford rugby club and also at a care home.

My favourite aspect of the postgrad course was the clinical placements; it’s the best experience to replicate the real working world. If you can crack on with that, the course is definitely for you.


2)   Specialist courses

Specialist courses range from broad titles such as ‘advanced physiotherapy’ or ‘sports injury’ to more specific areas, such as ‘hand therapy’ or ‘stroke rehabilitation’.

View some of these courses here

As mentioned above, these courses are designed to further your knowledge or help you to specialise in particular area or technique of physiotherapy.< /p>


Entry requirements

Most specialist MSc and advanced physiotherapy courses require a physiotherapy qualification, registration and experience in either the field of the prospective course or in physiotherapy in general.

However, it varies from course to course so browse courses to see the specific requirements for specific programmes you may be interested in.


Related Reading: Familiarise yourself on applying for a postgraduate course here


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