How to Become a Physiotherapist in 4 Easy Steps

Updated 15 July 2023

Physiotherapists work primarily with patients living with illnesses or chronic conditions or recovering from injuries or surgery. They have the skills and experience to manage patients' pain and improve their mobility. If you're interested in becoming a physiotherapist, learning how to become one by understanding job profiles, academic requirements, required skills, job opportunities and pay ranges is a good first step. In this article, we discuss how to become a physiotherapist, as well as their job responsibilities, salary and other information about this health care career.

Related: 7 Types of Physiotherapy Careers (With Primary Duties)

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What is a physiotherapist?

A physiotherapist, also called a physical therapist, is a health professional who helps people with injuries or illnesses manage extreme pain, be more mobile and enjoy a better quality of life. Because physiotherapists perform hands-on therapy, they must complete practical training, undergo a comprehensive education program and gain special skills.

What does a physiotherapist do?

Physiotherapists work in the health industry, helping patients with ambulatory and mobility issues live with minimal or no pain. They teach patients how to prevent injuries, manage current conditions and do strengthening exercises. They also perform hands-on physical therapy.

Physiotherapists' responsibilities might include:

  • helping patients improve their functional and physical abilities

  • assessing patients and taking their medical histories to determine and manage agility and mobility issues

  • discharging clients with therapy plans designed to match their goals

  • preventing progressive loss of mobility because of disorders, injuries and diseases

  • designing and changing therapy and treatment strategies using techniques to restore functioning, enhance mobility, reduce extreme pain and prevent disabilities

  • assessing patients' recovery progress and referring clients to other health professionals when necessary

  • promoting an active and healthy lifestyle by developing wellness and fitness plans

  • making and implementing standards for policies and physical fitness practices

  • monitoring the progress of discharged patients in their homes.


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Skills for a physiotherapist

Physical therapists can develop the following skills to succeed in their jobs:

  • Communication skills: Good communication skills can help you ask the right questions to understand patients' challenges. Clear communication also allows you to relieve their pain, set broken bones and teach physical therapy exercises more efficiently.

  • Physical strength: The physical treatments and therapies you perform require agility and physical strength. It's important to be physically fit to spend hours on your feet lifting and turning patients during treatments.

  • Service orientation: Physiotherapists want to help people and commit to enhancing the lives of patients with physical challenges.

  • Organisation: Working as a physical therapist requires you to be well-organised so you can create customised plans for patients.

  • Teamwork: The physiotherapy industry requires health care professionals to work as a team. If you want to be a physiotherapist, make sure you work well with others in this field.

  • Patience: Physiotherapists have the patience to work with patients recovering from extreme pain, wounds and broken bones.

  • Sensitivity: In your role as a physical therapist, you work with patients who experience pain and distress. If they cannot tell how they feel, your sensitivity skills can help you understand their conditions and prescribe the correct treatment.

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What are the program lengths for physiotherapy?

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Typical program lengths for becoming a physiotherapist range from four to five years. A bachelor degree in physiotherapy takes three to four years to complete and prospective physiotherapists must also complete registration with the Physiotherapy Board of Australia to practise as a licensed physiotherapist. Registration typically only takes a few days. The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, or AHPRA, oversees the PBA to ensure quality standards and ensure physiotherapists meet all requirements before practising in the field.

Related: How to Become a Diversional Therapist (With Skills List)

Is the physiotherapy material difficult to master?

Physiotherapy students study many advanced concepts, such as human anatomy, physiology and health planning. The material in your physiotherapy courses challenges your knowledge of these subjects and helps reinforce your basic understanding of how the human body operates and recovers. You also learn about chronic conditions, such as arthritis, and how patients recover from them or alleviate symptoms through physiotherapy. Overall, the coursework is challenging, but your instructors can help you master the material through excellent coursework, tutoring and advice.

Physiotherapist work environment

Physiotherapists typically work in a medical environment at an office, hospital or other medical facilities. Physiotherapists spend much of their time with other people, working closely with patients, primary caregivers and the patients' families to design, implement and analyse treatment plans for chronic conditions and recovery. Physiotherapists typically work full-time and work with simple tools like weights, straps and walking aids.

Physiotherapist salary and job outlook

Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate’s experience, academic background and location.

Physiotherapists in Australia can expect to earn an average salary of about $80,988 per year. According to the Australian government's Job Outlook website, the outlook for physiotherapists is positive, showing very strong growth and about 32,000 currently employed physiotherapists in the country. About 63% of physiotherapists work full time, at an average of around 42 hours per week.

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How to become a physiotherapist

Becoming a physiotherapist requires specific steps to master the educational and technical requirements. These steps include:

1. Get a bachelor degree

Obtain a bachelor's degree to form a foundation of knowledge around some of the core principles of physiotherapy, which can include:

  • anatomy

  • physiology

  • biology

  • chemistry

  • patient care

  • exercise physiology

  • neuroscience

  • psychology.

To enrol in a bachelor's program, which typically takes students three to four years to complete, students must earn a passing score in the ATAR, or Australian Tertiary Admission Rank, test to enter undergraduate studies. The test examines the prospective student's university readiness and scores students on a numerical scale between 0 and 99.95. The average ATAR test score is around 70.00. Universities use ATAR scores to determine if students are a good match for the courses they choose, in order to help you find the right career path for your skills and knowledge.

2. Earn a postgraduate degree

A postgraduate degree helps students build on their foundational knowledge in physiotherapy and master the core concepts of the practice. A postgraduate program in physiotherapy typically takes two to three years to accomplish. Students must have a bachelor degree prior to applying for the postgraduate program and earn a grade point average of 4.5 out of 7 or higher during their undergraduate studies.

Students must also meet the minimum English language requirements for individual programs, as outlined in the program's eligibility summary. Check program requirements to ensure you're eligible and complete your postgraduate degree to earn the opportunity for certification as a physiotherapist.

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3. Register with the Physiotherapy Board of Australia

After you complete your degree, you can register to practise physiotherapy with the PBA. The board oversees the practise of physiotherapy in the country and guides best practices, common policies and helps new physiotherapists find community in the industry. To apply for registration, students must meet all of the PBA's prerequisites. There are several types of registration, each of which includes a fee. These include:

  • General registration: This registration option is for students and professionals who are registering to practise physiotherapy as licensed practitioners. This option's fee is $126.

  • Postgraduate training: This registration option is for postgraduate students participating in job training under the supervision of a licensed physiotherapist. This option's fee is $126.

  • Teaching or research: This registration option is for educators or researchers in the field of physiotherapy. This option's fee is $126.

  • Student registration: This option is for students participating in an approved program of study in the field of physiotherapy. This option's fee is $126.

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4. Meet professional development requirements to recertify

Practising as a physiotherapist requires recertification and continuous professional development. Each physiotherapist must complete up to 20 hours of additional professional development training each year in order to qualify for recertification. Registration occurs on an annual basis, with the renewal period beginning on November 30th and ending on January first. Physiotherapists must meet the PBA's requirements and fees.

Physiotherapists cannot practise until recertification is complete. Registration fees are $148. Registering each year helps ensure that physiotherapists meet the highest standards of education and professional development and provide exceptional care to their patients.

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