Top 11 Skills Needed to Become a Physiotherapist

Illustration of a physiotherapist working with a female patient

Physiotherapy is one of the most rewarding careers to choose from in a labour market that many say is devoid of meaning. You are truly making a difference, whether you are working with a premature child whose physical development is slow or you are helping an adult who is learning to walk again.

Like every other occupation, being a physiotherapist has its own series of challenges that can be hard to handle. But once you do overcome these hurdles, you will feel immensely rewarded.

Do you think that you are capable of becoming a physio and succeeding in this career?

It is not a position for everyone, as it entails a lot of physical energy, mental frustrations and long hours. In addition to holding the right qualifications, you also need to possess a diverse array of top skills that will enable you to do your job well. This is imperative because patients – young and old – are depending on you to ensure they can move their bodies, whether it is balancing or moving a toe.

That said, we have compiled a list of the top 11 skills you will need to pursue a career as a physiotherapist.

Do you have what it takes?

1. Motor Skills

A physiotherapist’s main objective is to work with patients and their motor skills, the movements and actions of their muscles.

Each session concentrates on the development of gross or fine motor skills. The former works on the movement of large muscles to perform big tasks, such as balancing, crawling and walking. The latter requires the use of smaller muscles to complete smaller functions with your fingers, hands and toes.

The physiotherapist must possess successful motor skills with maximum precision and minimal energy consumption. Typically, it would be best for a physiotherapist to be physically fit and active and maintain plenty of stamina.

2. Communication Skills

Sure, you will primarily work with your body, but it is just as essential to work with your mouth. Indeed, communication plays an integral role in your sessions with all clients because you need to convey what you need to do, how to correct errors and the many exercises that need to be done before the next appointment.

It should be noted that communication also involves writing. At the end of each session, you will write a series of instructions, tips and must-have items to ensure the patient can remain active without the presence of a physiotherapist.

3. Interpersonal Skills

In recent years, a lot has been said about the younger workforce lacking interpersonal skills. These are the variety of behaviours and strategies people use to interact with others effectively and efficiently.

For physiotherapists, it is a critical skill to have, mainly because you are working with all kinds of people. Since you will be close to the patient for an extended period, you need to be on good terms, and they need to trust you.

But what are examples of interpersonal skills? Here are a few:

  • Responsibility
  • Dependability
  • Leadership
  • Motivation
  • Active listening

4. Observational Skills

Observation is another attribute that anyone becoming a physio needs to possess because you observe people in order to gain valuable information.

So, with this skill, you can put together an appropriate evaluation of attitudes, movements, objects and other issues relating to the client. Not everyone is the same, so observing the uniqueness of every patient can allow you to tailor your physiotherapy programme to their needs.

5. Science Acumen

A physical therapist career requires many years of science-focused education. Embarking upon this career will mandate a bachelor’s degree that emphasises anatomy, biology, chemistry and physiology. Some physiotherapists will go the extra level and enrol in either postgraduate or continuing education classes that study biomechanics, neuroscience and pharmacology.

But the job consists of more than just moving the patient’s body. You also need to analyse data, perform measurements, run calculations and use reason to diagnose patients and record outcomes. So, there are courses that offer coursework in subjects like data analysis, physics and anatomical structures.

6. Physical Awareness

Being a physiotherapist does not only mandate the knowledge of how the body can and should move; it also entails the ability to understand when the body does not move.

For instance, one aspect of an assessment is placing your hands on different parts of the patient’s body and requesting the client complete various types of movements. This allows you to know where the movement limitations are located or where there have been improvements.

To attain a physical awareness skill, you need two things: knowledge of the human body and a heightened sense of touch.

7. Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking is a unique skill because it is both attained and inherent. In physiotherapy, critical thinking is the act of analysing and evaluating a situation to offer suggestions, judge circumstances and come up with a treatment plan. Moreover, physiotherapists need to perform the exercises that are recommended to every patient to ensure that it is the right action for the particular client.

Is there such a thing as critical thinking development? Yes! There are courses that specialise in this area, and it is a worthwhile investment to enhance your analytical and judgement attributes.

8. Time Management

Every client is allotted a specific amount of time, typically one or two hours. This means that you will need to pack a lot into a single session, from asking and answering questions to performing exercises to coming up with a treatment plan. Indeed, you cannot waste a single minute, so managing your time is essential to being a successful physiotherapist.

Put simply, you cannot waste 15 minutes talking about Simon’s Cat.

9. Organisation Skills

Are you an organised person who is precise and can keep track of all appointments? Or do you find that you lose a lot of tools and you cannot seem to locate paperwork? Either way, physiotherapists have no excuses for being disorganised.

An organisational skill is critical to succeeding in the field. Remember: your work is not done once patients leave the office or when you leave their homes. You must still update client files, maintain a schedule and manage records.

You could get into legal trouble if you lose documents, so perhaps that is enough motivation to be organised.

10. Creative Thinking

It might not seem like it at first, but you need to be creative in physiotherapy. Because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to working with clients, you will have to devise a personalised treatment plan that fits the personality and physical condition of each patient.

Yes, some people will be harder than others, so you need to be clever in coming up with a strategy that you know the person will execute. As you will inevitably learn, there will always be 1 difficult, surly and uncouth patient for every 10 great individuals!

11. Work Ethic

The data suggest that the average workweek for physiotherapists is 40 hours., which is completed throughout the week depending on your employer. But physiotherapists typically perform more than 40 hours once you factor in out-of-office communications with patients, filling in paperwork, creating treatment plans and coordinating with other team members.

Suffice it to say, physiotherapists need a tremendous work ethic, because the position demands constant attention – physically and mentally.

Physiotherapists help the world keep moving.

With a blend of scientific knowledge, interpersonal skills, as well as creative and critical thinking, you can help stroke sufferers learn to walk again, babies learn to crawl and accident victims to regain their balance. It is one of the few employment opportunities that can survive any economy and will be in even greater demand as baby boomers age.

If you have the professional skills needed to fulfil the demand and you’re in the middle of a job search, then physiotherapy might be the right line of work for you.

What other skills do you think are needed to become a physiotherapist? Join the conversation down below and let us know.