What Is a Physical Therapist vs. a Physiotherapist?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 22, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you're looking for a career in health care and want to help patients recover from injuries or illnesses that affect their physical health, you might explore the job titles physical therapist vs. a physiotherapist. These two titles are interchangeable terms for the same role, and these professionals are responsible for the same tasks. Learning more about this role and why the terms are different can help you decide whether it's a career path you're interested in pursuing.

In this article, we explain the different uses of the terms physical therapist and physiotherapist, discuss what these professionals do, offer steps you can follow to become one, and answer frequently asked questions about the role.

What are the differences between a physical therapist vs. a physiotherapist?

The terms physical therapist vs. physiotherapist can be used interchangeably in some countries, as they refer to the same role. In Canada, Australia, and Ireland, physiotherapy is the more well-known term, while the United States uses physical therapy. In countries where the terms are often used interchangeably, there can sometimes be some subtle differences between them. Physiotherapy typically uses a more hands-on approach to treat patients with pain from recent injuries, disabilities, or illnesses that impact their function and movement. They may use manual therapy, like joint manipulation or soft tissue release.

Physical therapists may use a more exercise-based approach to treat the same patients to strengthen their muscles and improve balance to reduce their pain. Despite this minute difference, most professionals in the industry can choose to identify as either a physical therapist or physiotherapist, typically depending on their location and employer.

Related: Top 15 Careers in Therapy (With Duties, FAQs)

What does a physiotherapist do?

Here are some of a physiotherapist's main responsibilities to help you understand the role better:

  • assess patients' conditions to develop unique treatment plans

  • work with patients who have physical challenges due to illnesses, disabilities, or injuries

  • educate patients and family members on how to implement treatment plans

  • learn about patients' medical history

  • guide patients through exercises

  • teach patients how to use assistive devices

How to become a physiotherapist

Here are the steps you can follow to become a physiotherapist:

1. Get a bachelor's degree

The minimum requirement to become a physiotherapist is a master's degree, but to get one, you first need a bachelor's degree. There are no bachelor's degrees in physiotherapy but you can take relevant courses that allow you to meet the prerequisites master's programs have, such as pathology, biomechanics, physiology, and anatomy. It typically takes four years to get a bachelor's degree.

2. Obtain a master's degree

Once you get your bachelor's degree, you can apply to an accredited university to get your Master of Physical Therapy or Master of Physiotherapy, both abbreviated to MPT. The title of the degree you earn depends on the university you attend, but qualifies you for the same roles. During your master's program, you may complete a clinical placement that allows you to gain hands-on industry experience. It typically takes two years to get a master's degree.

Related: What Is a Physical Therapy Doctorate and Do You Need One?

3. Prepare for the physiotherapy competency exam (PCE)

To become a licensed physiotherapist, you need certification from the regulatory body in your province or territory. To obtain this, you pass the physiotherapy competency exam with the Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators (CAPR). The exam is a computer-based test that assesses your industry knowledge, skills, and abilities. It may ask you questions about data interpretation, clinical problem-solving, physical examinations, ethics, and treatment techniques. It's important to prepare for the exam as you pay a fee every time you take it.

Related: 8 Steps for Writing a Cover Letter for Physiotherapist Roles

4. Apply for provincial or territorial licensure

When you pass the physiotherapy competency exam, you can apply for your license with the regulatory board in your province or territory. Contact your local regulatory board to learn more about this process as the licensure requirements may vary depending on your province or territory. There may be additional fees associated with applying for your license.

5. Update your resume

When you have the necessary credentials, you can start applying for physiotherapist jobs. To do this, you need an updated resume that reflects your skills, experience, and knowledge. Start your resume with your full name and contact details in a header. This quickly shows employers who the document belongs to and makes it easy for them to contact you for an interview if they're interested. You can also include your credentials in your header to show employers you're qualified to be a physiotherapist in your province or territory.

Next, include a professional summary that quickly tells employers why you're the best fit for the position. Outline your work experience after that, which can include any relevant internships, volunteer work, or professional experience. You can include details about your clinical placement if you have no other physiotherapy experience. Then, include a list of skills you have that the employer is looking for in a candidate. Assess the job posting to determine which skills to include.

Related: How to Draft a Physical Therapist Assistant Resume

6. Prepare for the interview

If your resume impresses employers, you may receive an invitation to interview for a physiotherapy position. To improve your chances of receiving a job offer, it's important to prepare for the interview ahead of time. One way to do this is to research questions the hiring manager may ask you so you can prepare your answers. This can help you feel more confident during the interview. Interviewers typically ask a mix of general and role-specific questions to get to know you and assess your industry knowledge. Here are some examples of physiotherapy interview questions a hiring manager may ask you:

  • What areas of physiotherapy do you excel in?

  • What are the symptoms of nerve pain?

  • What equipment do you use to treat patients?

  • How would you treat a patient with back pain?

  • Why did you want to become a physiotherapist?

  • What is the most common injury you have experience treating?

Related: 11 Jobs for Physical Therapists and Their Primary Duties

FAQs about physiotherapists

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions you may have about physiotherapists:

What types of physiotherapists are there?

Physiotherapists may specialize in a particular field, such as:

  • pediatric physiotherapy

  • sports physiotherapy

  • neuro physiotherapy

  • pelvic floor physiotherapy

  • orthopedic physiotherapy

  • women's health physiotherapy

  • vestibular physiotherapy

  • concussion physiotherapy

  • ICU physiotherpay

  • geriatric physiotherapy

  • musculoskeletal physiotherapy

  • cardio-respiratory physiotherapy

Related: 14 High Paying Medical Jobs with Little Schooling Needs

What skills and attributes does a physiotherapist use?

Here are some skills and attributes a physiotherapist may benefit from developing:

  • Communication skills: Physiotherapists can use their communication skills to discuss diagnoses and treatment plans with patients and their loved ones. They can also use their written communication skills to create and maintain patient files.

  • Patience: Patients who need physiotherapy may require treatment for an extended period. This means it's important for physiotherapists to be patient to help patients work through their pain.

  • Time-management skills: Physiotherapists typically see multiple patients a day, so having good time-management skills is important. This allows them to adhere to their schedule so patients aren't waiting long for their appointments.

  • Problem-solving skills: Patients approach physiotherapists with a problem they must solve by creating tailored treatment plans. Physiotherapists can use their problem-solving skills to assess each patient to find the best solution for their injuries, disabilities, or illnesses.

  • Physical stamina: Physiotherapists spend most of their shifts standing, walking, or helping patients try different exercises and movements. To do this effectively, it's important that physiotherapists have good physical stamina so they can reduce the risk of injuring themselves.

  • Interpersonal skills: Physiotherapists typically work physically close with patients, so having good interpersonal skills can help them make patients feel more comfortable. It can also help them develop strong professional relationships with patients of any background, which can foster trust.

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

What is the work environment of a physiotherapist like?

Physiotherapists typically work normal office hours, Monday to Friday, from nine to five, but may work evenings and weekends to accommodate their patients. They may work at hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, or rehabilitation centres. Some physiotherapists may even freelance and visit patients in their homes. Physiotherapists spend most of their day standing or helping patients complete certain exercises to improve their mobility. They may have their own office where they update patient files and conduct research to stay up-to-date with industry trends.

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