Careers advice

How to become a physiotherapist in NZ

Is there anything more rewarding than helping people return to doing what they love?

Us Kiwis are a pretty sports and fitness loving bunch. From the rugby pitch to the hiking trails, we enjoy pushing ourselves and staying in shape. However, with sports, come sports injuries, so there are plenty of physiotherapist job opportunities to be had.

Life as a physiotherapist is all about helping your patients stay fit and healthy, and allowing them to do the things they love. It doesn’t get much more rewarding than that, right? All the while, you’ll get to work with one of the most fascinating and complex structures in the world, the human body.

So, if you’re hoping to embark on a career as a physiotherapist, what do employers want to see? Check out this quick guide to find out more.

How to become a physiotherapist in NZ - the qualifications

You need a university qualification to become a physical therapist in NZ. Most often, people will take a health-science programme, and there are several tertiary institutions in the country that offer specific physiotherapy courses - AUT, Waikato Institute of Technology and Otago.

All of these courses are four years long, and once you graduate, you can either move straight into the world of work, or study at postgraduate level.

Once you’re qualified, it’s a legal requirement to register with the Physiotherapy Board of New Zealand and to hold an Annual Practising Certificate (APC) if you want to work as a physiotherapist here. You’ll only need to do the initial registration once (unless you decide to cancel your registration and later return to the profession), but you’ll need to update your status on the registration for every year you intend to practise physiotherapy.

You'll need to get a university qualification to work as a physio in New Zealand.

How to become a physiotherapist in NZ - the skills

1. Science knowledge

This will grow from your studies, but you’ll need to stay up-to-date with the latest research relevant to your field of work in order to offer the best possible help and advice to your patients.

As well as reading journals and studies, Physiotherapy New Zealand is a national organisation that offers a range of services to physios who register with it, including education and advocacy. Networking with other physios is another great way to learn more about the profession and keep on top of new research.

2. Physical fitness

You’ll frequently find yourself performing demonstrations of exercises that you want your patients to complete as part of their recovery. While some of these will be fairly basic, many will require a degree of fitness - often including balance and core strength. As such, you’ll need to have a decent degree of physical fitness yourself in order to provide effective demonstrations that your patients can repeat.

3. Interpersonal skills

Amidst all the technical knowledge you require, it can be easy to forget that physiotherapy is a very people-centred profession. This means, to be an effective physio, you’ll need:

  • Great communication skills: a huge part of your role will involve listening and extracting key information from your patients around the physical problems they’re experiencing. You’ll also need to be able to clearly explain treatment options, and put people at ease with the methods you think will be most effective.

  • Empathy: as well as physical pain, injuries that stop people working or doing the things they love can have profound emotional impacts on people. You’ll need to be able to relate to this, and help your patients work through all elements of their treatment journey.

  • Patience: there’s no hard-reset option when it comes to fixing the human body, and it may take time for you to locate exactly where a problem is stemming from. This will require patience on your part, but also you’ll need to instill patience in the patient so that they stay the course and ensure the problem is resolved.

  • Teamwork: in many ways, good physio-patient relationships involve an ability to work like a team. After all, you’re both striving towards the same goals, and you’ll need to work together in order to get there. A huge part of this is building up a rapport between the two of you, and your patient being able to speak openly about how things are going.

Interpersonal skills are core attributes of an effective physio.

4. Critical thinking

A lot of the time, you’ll find yourself playing detective as you try to hunt down the source of a niggle. This can be made harder, often, if a patient has already decided that they know the source themselves, and simply want you to ‘treat’ the problem.

While, of course, you’ll need to bear a patient’s history in mind and listen to what they’re telling you, you’ll need to be able to think critically for yourself to assess the best course of action.

5. Time management

As you’ll likely be seeing several clients every day, you’ll need to be able to do all of the above, while also managing your time to the minute in order to ensure that every patient is seen and appointments run to schedule. Of course, it’s also crucial that none of your patients feel rushed out the door at the end of their appointment.