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A Physiotherapy Career: What is it Like to Work as a Physiotherapist?

by Catherine Rodie Blagg
Posted: September 23, 2019

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There is a common misconception that physiotherapists mainly work with professional sportsmen and women. We watch big sports matches on the TV and frequently see physio’s running on to the field to treat an injury.

What are the opportunities for Physiotherapists?

But while sports physiotherapy is one area of practice, there is a lot more to the profession than you might imagine. There are currently over 26,000 people working as physiotherapists in Australia.

So aside from working with professional sports people, what other opportunities are there for newly qualified physiotherapists?

Marcus Dripps has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Australian Physiotherapy Association since 2007. He is a Clinical Advisor to the Transport Accident Commission and Worksafe in Victoria, and an Advisor to the Australian Commission on safety and quality in Healthcare.  He says that one of the great things about this profession is the breadth of opportunity. “There are so many different ways to play a role in helping people maximise their functional ability".

Physiotherapy Specialisations 

Dripps notes that there are a range of different clinical disciplines that physiotherapies can specialise in such as muscular skeletal care, sports medicine, neurological physio, cardio/repertory, paediatrics, neurology and occupational health.

In addition to this you also have a range of settings in which physiotherapists can work, “there are public hospitals, public health care and then the private sector,” explains Dripps.

1) Physiotherapists working within the muscular/skeletal area tend to treat people that have had orthopaedic surgery. “These physios will be getting people up and about after their surgery and getting them on the road to recover. They’ll also look at what support they’ll need at home and begin the re-bap process,” Dripps explains.

2) Another traditional Physiotherapy role would be working with people who had neurological treatment, for example, people who’ve had strokes, or people with Parkinsons. “These patients tend to come into the hospital via the emergency room, but once they’ve been medically managed and stabilised they still have a long rehab pathway ahead of them,” says Dripps.

Responsibilities of a Physiotherapist

Dripps notes that the average day for a physiotherapist in these settings is working with patients on traditional exercise programs as well as looking at their daily functions such as walking, standing, climbing stairs and getting around obstacles.

Physiotherapists also work with patients in intensive care, maintaining and improving movement. “In essence, they are getting people ready for the next phase of their care - getting them up and about when they are recovering,” Dripps explains.

Another hospital department in which physiotherapists play an active role is emergency. “These physios really help to take the pressure off the medical team at the front of the hospital by managing the muscular and skeletal conditions and simple fractures that come in,” says Dripps.

Essentially these physiotherapists are freeing up the medics so that they can concentrate on more critical emergency patients. “The physios do a great job in that environment looking after the more routine basic breaks, casting, x-raying,” notes Dripps.

Improving the quality of life 

Physiotherapists working in community practice or a private practice work with patients that have been referred by their doctor or people that have realised that physiotherapy is something they need. According to Dripps the lions’ share of patients coming through the door will be presenting with muscular skeletal injuries, sporting injury or recovering from a minor fracture of break.

Dripps says that one of the great things about working in this type of environment is the variety. “You never know who will be walking through the door next. One minute you might be working with a clerical worker who is experiencing neck pain that is bothering them at work, then you could be working with a pregnant woman experiencing pelvis pain then you could get a local footy player who has sprained his ankle.”

Dripps notes that regardless of what area a physiotherapist chooses to work one of the key attributes they will need is a genuine desire to help people. “In order to meet patients’ needs you need to be able to understand what their life looks like,” he says. “You need to have a natural curiosity about people.”

Are you interested in becoming a Physiotherapist? Check out our other resources on Allied Health and you can start carving your path to a career as a physiotherapy assistant!


Catherine Rodie is a freelance writer, blogger and tea lover. Her work has appeared in Sunday Life, Good Weekend, Daily Life, SMH Life & Style, MiNDFOOD and many more. In her free time she writes a blog about modern motherhood and the life that comes with it.

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