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Could a postgraduate physiotherapy course be for you?

James Davis

Careers Commentator
Physiotherapists are invaluable for treating and alleviating musculoskeletal issues, among many other things. With the right postgraduate course, you could enter the field.

Physiotherapy can be highly rewarding for those with the patience and discipline to learn all there is to know. Fortunately, postgraduate courses are designed to effectively deliver the required knowledge so that graduates can enter the workforce and apply their knowledge in practical, clinical contexts. This article will thereby ask four questions, the answers to which could help you understand if this is a field for you.

  • What does physiotherapy entail day-to-day in a professional context and what’s required academically?
  • What are the job prospects like?
  • What’s the salary like?
  • What are your study options?

What does physiotherapy entail?

Day to day, physiotherapists assess the problems their patients are having by listening to their problems, hypothesising what might be wrong and testing these hypotheses. It’s a profession consisting of much empathy and conversation each day. It also requires a great deal of organisation, as physiotherapists must juggle many different, varied cases at once. Communication with your peers as well as clients is integral to achieving sizeable patient development and recovery.

Postgraduate physiotherapy courses provide both the technical and interpersonal knowledge required to enter the field, often containing units in topics like:

  • Foundations of physiotherapy
  • Fundamentals of communication, exercise and movement
  • Fundamentals of examination and measurement
  • Theory, practice & research: upper limb/ lower limb/ lumbar spine/ etc (separate units)
  • Cardiothoracic physiotherapy
  • Neurological physiotherapy

To enter a postgraduate physiotherapy course, applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree in a cognate health discipline. Unlike many other postgraduate courses, these can also require you to have completed units in psychology, statistics, human physiology and anatomy in prior undergraduate study. Unfortunately, there really aren’t any alternate methods of entry aside from going back and getting a bachelor’s degree that meets all these requirements. Even the graduate certificates are designed strictly for practicing physiotherapists.

Overall, this is a profession for people with a great deal of empathy and respect for people. Physiotherapists are required to take on the burdens and troubles of hundreds, maybe even thousands of people over the course of their career. So, it takes a significant combination of resolve and personability to succeed and that isn’t even taking the rigorous study into consideration!

What are the job prospects?

Physiotherapy is listed among the Australian government’s list of Medium and Long Term Strategic Skills, which we’ve touched on in our student visa article. This means the government deems it in short supply, which theoretically means higher job prospects. However, we’d still urge you to be cautious and make sure you take up tangentially related part-time work/ volunteering during your studies to improve your chances of employment. After all, unlike a field such as medicine, there is no clearly defined guaranteed internship/ employment path. That said, Australia’s ageing population will have need of more physiotherapists in the near future.

What’s the salary like?

According to Payscale Australia, physiotherapists in Australia make AU $64,691 on average per year. This can range between $51,605 starting out to $93,805 when more senior.

Where and how can I study it?

There are several methods of study for aspiring physiotherapists, all of which serve fairly different purposes. Bear in mind that graduate certificates and diplomas are almost exclusively for registered, practicing physiotherapists and are meant as supplement to, not replacement for, fundamental physiotherapy training. With that said, the following are some popular methods of study:

  • Graduate certificates take six months of full time study to complete, or up to one year part time. This makes them a succinct way of boosting your qualifications and specialising in a particular area. Take the Graduate Certificate in Physiotherapy (Paediatrics) from the University of Melbourne, for instance. This provides a nice and tight curriculum consisting of paediatric physiotherapy theory, units in clinical paediatric physiotherapy and the submission of a learning portfolio to cap it all off. If you’re a busy physiotherapist looking to specialise in a short time, this is a great way to do it.
  • Graduate diplomas are pretty similar and serve the same purpose, but take one year of full time study or two years part time to complete. The primary advantage of this is the chance to take some electives that can broaden your knowledge further, or even branch out into something completely new. The Graduate Diploma in Neurological Rehabilitation from ECU is one such opportunity.
  • Master’s degrees are the primary way of getting qualified to practice as a physiotherapist, offering all the fundamentals you need coupled with a research project. Using the Master of Physiotherapy Studies from UQ as an example, students can expect to learn the foundations of physiotherapy, health promotion and population health, treating the discrete parts of the human body and then undergo an enlightening project approved by a supervisor. If you’re not currently a physiotherapist but want to be one, you’ll likely want to go in this direction.
  • Doctorates are for those who wish to gain comprehensive knowledge of the field while also furthering it. To this end, students in doctorates will take on highly extensive original research, often culminating in a research thesis between 70,000 - 100,000 words, or as separate published works in what is known as a PhD by publication. To learn more about the latter method, you can read our article on it here. Similar to the master’s project, this too is supervised on paper, but in reality you’ll be fairly independent. Prestigious courses like the Doctor of Physiotherapy from the University of Melbourne are an ideal choice, providing a gateway into the academic side of physiotherapy.

Hopefully this has given you greater insight into what physiotherapy’s about, or if you’re already a professional, what you could gain from further study. Wherever you choose to go and whatever course suits you best, we wish you all the best!