Physiotherapist - About the job
Physiotherapists work to maintain and promote people's health. They also help restore function and independence when people have a disability or problem caused by physical, neurological (related to the brain and nervous system) or other disorders. Their work covers all ages from small premature babies to the elderly.
Physiotherapists with one to six years’ experience usually earn
$46K-$69K per year
Senior physiotherapists with more than six years’ experience usually earn
$69K-$95K per year
Source: Northern District Health Board/PSA.
Current job prospects
How many people are doing this job?
Source: The Physiotherapy Board of New Zealand Annual Reports 2010, 2011, 2012.
Pay for physiotherapists varies depending on their experience, duties and employer.
Pay for physiotherapists at district health boards:
- New physiotherapists earn about $46,000 a year.
- Physiotherapists can progress in yearly steps to about $66,000 a year.
- With extra duties and responsibilities, physiotherapists can earn from $69,000 to $95,000 a year.
Source: Northern District Health Board/PSA, 'Allied, Public Health and Technical Multi Employer Collective Agreement, 28 October 2011 to 30 April 2014'.
Salaries in private clinics vary depending on the employment contract and the hours worked.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Physiotherapists may do some or all of the following:
- assess and diagnose patients' injuries or functional problems and decide on treatment
- use a range of treatments to reduce pain and improve movement
- plan exercises for patients to improve their strength and fitness
- keep records of patients' progress
- educate people on how to prevent further injury
- help rehabilitate people who have suffered from strokes and accidents
- educate caregivers and family about the patient's physiotherapy programme.
Skills and knowledge
Physiotherapists need to have:
- knowledge of physiotherapy methods and equipment
- a detailed knowledge of the biomedical sciences, including anatomy, physiology and pathology
- an understanding of movement, injuries and disabilities and the aging process
- skill in performing mobilisation, exercise, movement retraining, manipulation and massage techniques
- general knowledge of any medical conditions that may affect the treatment given.
- usually work regular business hours but may also work weekends and be on call
- work at various locations, such as private and public practices, hospitals, with sports teams, rehabilitation centres, community centres, and in patients' homes.
What's the job really like?
Nadia Larsen, Physiotherapist
A family member’s recuperation opened Nadia’s eyes to physiotherapy
“My cousin’s traumatic brain injury put him in intensive care. I saw him go through rehab and pretty much back to normal.
“It opened my eyes to what physios did. I saw them working on his lungs in intensive care, and trying to get him moving when he was getting better. Then they had him in the gym doing all sorts of things and I though, ‘I’d like to do that!’ ”
Exploring career specialities in physiotherapy
“Working as a new graduate in hospital, we have 12 ‘rotations’ [placements] - from intensive care and wards to outpatients and visiting people at home.
“We work in teams with nurses and doctors who are more senior – but you’ve got a senior physio you work under, and they give you a lot of guidance.
“I have done a bit of medic-ing for sports clubs, volunteering. To do sports physio, you often have to do that [volunteer] to start with. It would be cool to be part of a sports team – but there’s something about helping people who can’t walk as well.
"I get a sense of achievement helping people get back to things that are meaningful for them.”
- Working in teams and meeting many different people.
- Wide variety of work.
- Being on-call.
- Some possibly unpleasant tasks such as helping patients expel mucous.
Watch the video below to learn more about working as a physiotherapist or occupational therapist - 6.36mins. (Video courtesy of District Health Boards New Zealand)
Clinton: We’ve brought Andrew along to his local hospital, where he is going to experience a couple of days exploring the work of physiotherapy and occupational therapy. First up, physiotherapy and his mentor is Eti Televave.
Eti: My name is Eti. I understand you’d like to do some physio?
Eti: Cool follow me.
Clinton: Eti and Andrew get straight to work. The patient is Chantal who had an accident while pruning a tree. After a serious fall she has a broken tibia, injured shoulder and a head injury. Eti assesses what physiotherapy is required by a question and answer session.
Eti: And before you had this injury, were you getting around the place using any walking aids?
Eti: Are you in any pain at the moment?
Eti: If you were to rate the pain out of a score of 10, where would you score the pain at the moment?
Clinton: Once the patient has been assessed by Eti, then he decides what equipment is necessary to carry out effective physiotherapy.
Eti: Does that feel OK on your leg there?
Clinton: Time for Andrew to get some hands-on experience.
Eti: So what I’m going to do is, I’m going to get you to put this on the patient, and I’ll guide you through it.
Eti: Just slip it in there…
Eti: A physiotherapist focuses on a person’s physical abilities. Basically, if their physical ability is impaired, we work on correcting it.
Clinton: The gym is an integral part of the physiotherapy area.
Eti: So this is our gym mate.
Andrew: So this is a really physical job, really hands-on?
Eti: It’s really physically demanding. Basically you’re the one that’s making sure the patient is safe, so you take a lot of their weight.
Clinton: Chantal is a trainee physiotherapist.
Andrew: What do you enjoy most about your job?
Chantal (physio): It’s a really rewarding job. It’s really good when the patients walk out the door and they’re just so happy that you’ve helped – either to ease their pain straight away, or just as a gradual process to help them with getting their functions back, like walking or just everyday things.
Clinton: Physiotherapy focuses on patient’s mobility whereas occupational therapy focuses on patients' activities of daily living. Rio is a occupational therapist and as Rio says, physios teach people how to walk again while occupational therapists teach people how to dance.
Rio: Occupational therapists use the term “occupation” to define how people look after themselves, which we call “self care”, work, which we call “productivity”, and leisure activities.
Clinton: Time for Andrew to take Chantal, the patient, out for a spin in her new wheels. It’s important for patients to feel comfortable with carrying out everyday chores.
Andrew: So how is this going to help her when she gets home?
Rio: Chantal has her own little vegetable patch at home and she manages that daily. So this is meaningful to her. It's getting her back into something that she would do every day, as well as giving that shoulder a good workout.
Andrew: So you need to know a lot about the body and how it works every day?
Rio: Yeah, occupational therapy does involve a variety of skills and certainly what you learn at university is your basic human anatomy and how the body works and the brain functions. And the rest of the stuff you really pick up on the job as you go along.
Clinton: But what makes a good occupational therapist?
Rio: I think someone that’s willing to be a part of the team, and to problem-solve creatively with your clients So if you’re good at things like art, like working with your hands, that’s normally a good point and you would be a good occupational therapist.
Clinton: However, occupational therapy is not all about bones and muscles.
Rio: So Andrew, the type of injury that Chantal has had – falling off a ladder – has probably affected her memory. So there is a test we can do called the post-traumatic amnesia test to look at her short-term memory and her long-term memory. Now Chantal, the area of your brain that has been affected and that controls your memory is called the temporal lobe, which is what you see in the front. And I’m going to get Andrew to do a few examples of remembering some pictures to see how you go on that. Is that OK?
Andrew: All right, so there we go, there’s James…
Andrew: …and Scottie. Can you remember those people?
Chantal: I think so.
Andrew: Can you remember who that is?
Andrew: Can you remember who that is?
Andrew: Can you remember who that is?
Andrew: Do you remember who that is?
Andrew: All right, so you’ve got two out of four, so you’re missing out two. What does that mean?
Rio: That probably means Andrew that Chantal does have some issues with memory retention, and it’s a good pointer for us to continue doing some work around getting her memory back to possibly the way it was, so we’ll work on that together.
Andrew: OK cool.
Clinton: Physical injuries can also affect taste, smell and touch. Occupational therapists have tests for all and can help affected patients accordingly.
Andrew: So this is all fun and games, but how does this help her?
Rio: Chantal, since she has had the injury, has lost some of the condition in her shoulder, so the muscles aren't as strong as they used to be. So the action that she is doing now is actually helping to get those muscles conditioned back to their normal function again, which she will need to be able to do everyday tasks.
Chantal: I won!
Clinton: So could this be the job for Andrew?
Rio: I thought Andrew was great. He took on board everything quite well and didn’t need much prompting and he got along quite well with the patient. I think he will be a great OT.
Eti: I think Andrew did really well. He demonstrated good people skills, he wasn’t shy to give instructions.
Andrew: Overall, I found it quite exciting. Occupational therapy I didn’t know much about, physio I knew a little bit about but by the end of the day I knew quite a bit about it. I think physio is the job for me.
Clinton: To become a physiotherapist you need to have a degree in physiotherapy. The Bachelor of Physiotherapy takes four years to complete. You must be able to empathise with people’s physical problems and a good scientific knowledge is a bonus. The Bachelor of Occupational Therapy leads to registration to practice as an occupational therapist in New Zealand and the qualification is recognised throughout the world. The entry requirements are 42 NCEA credits at Level 3 or higher and will take three years' full-time study. You need to be a good listener, a team player and good with people.
To become a physiotherapist you need:
- a Bachelor's degree in physiotherapy
- to be registered with the Physiotherapy Board of New Zealand
- a current Annual Practising Certificate.
Physiotherapist degrees are available from two universities.
- Bachelor of Health Science majoring in physiotherapy (BHSc) from Auckland University of Technology
- Bachelor of Physiotherapy (BPhty) from the University of Otago.
Both courses take four years and consist of a first year studying common health science and three years' studying physiotherapy. Course places are limited and admission is largely based on academic achievement.
- The New Zealand Physiotherapy Board website - information about registration
- Auckland University of Technology website - more about the Bachelor of Health Science (Physiotherapy)
- University of Otago website - school of physiotherapy information
The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children.
- Children’s Action Plan website - overview of restrictions on working with children
- New Zealand Legislation website - information on serious convictions that prevent employment with children
NCEA Level 3 is required to enter tertiary training. Useful subjects include English, biology, chemistry and physics.
Physiotherapists must be:
- supportive and positive
- able to gain people's trust
- good listeners
- understanding of other cultures
- good at planning and organising
- excellent communicators with the ability to work as part of a team.
When you come out of uni you realise there is so so much more to learn once you are in the workforce. You are a better professional if you are willing to learn and do courses.
Nadia Larsen, Physiotherapist
Useful experience for physiotherapists includes:
- working as a nurse aide or physiotherapy assistant
- occupational health nursing
- counselling experience
- other work in the health sector.
Find out more about training
- Physiotherapy New Zealand
- (04) 801 6500 - firstname.lastname@example.org - Physiotherapy.org,nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Physiotherapists are in demand to treat a growing and ageing population.
The number of physiotherapists has gradually, but continually, increased each year since 2006.
According to workforce projections the number of physiotherapists will need to continue rising, in order to maintain the current physiotherapist to population ratio, as the population grows towards 2035.
Physiotherapists work in public and private health organisations
Physiotherapists usually work for:
- district health boards at hospitals or in the community
- private physiotherapy clinics
- private hospitals and doctors' surgeries.
Around a third of physiotherapists are self-employed working in private practice.
- Copeland, J, senior policy and research advisor, Physiotherapy New Zealand, Careers New Zealand interview, June 2013.
- Physiotherapy Board of New Zealand, 'Workforce Supply Projections, 2014-2035: The Physiotherapy Workforce’, August 2014 (www.physioboard.org.nz).
Progression and specialisations
Physiotherapists can do postgraduate training and go on to specialise in many different fields of physiotherapy. They can also move into teaching and research roles, progress into management positions, or set up their own clinics.
Physiotherapists may specialise in a specific area of physiotherapy, such as:
- working with children with disabilities
- sports physiotherapy
- working with people who are recovering from injuries in accidents
- women's health
- occupational health
- neurorehabilitation (related to the brain and nervous system)
- working with people with breathing difficulties.
Physiotherapists who meet defined criteria can apply to the Physiotherapy Board for registration as a Physiotherapy Specialist in a defined area of practice.
Last updated 1 February 2016