Personal statement advice: physiotherapy

Writing a personal statement for physiotherapy? Find out more about what will impress admissions tutors, and why talking purely about sport is a no-no.

You'll impress them by reflecting on your experiences and understanding of the profession, talking about how you've demonstrated relevant skills, and by showing your awareness of the breadth of what physiotherapists actually do.

That's what admissions tutors told us when we asked them what they're looking for – here are some more of their dos and don'ts.

For more personal statement advice, see our article on how to sell yourself in your statement.

Show you know what physiotherapy involves

This is a competitive field. To have a good chance of being selected you will need to demonstrate a realistic understanding of the role, and show that you’re 100% committed to it. It’s important to show that you’ve researched the career – the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy is a good starting point. You should also back this knowledge up with your experience – but what experience?

Firstly, experience of observing or at least talking to physiotherapists is highly desirable. It’s even better if you can do this in more than one setting, whether it’s in hospitals, private practice, GP surgeries, schools, residential homes, sport centres, or clubs or out in the community. Although it’s increasingly difficult to obtain formal work experience, try to plan ahead and use your initiative to secure this in time.

The next best thing is general experience or voluntary work in any health or care setting. Take the opportunity to observe how staff communicate and interact with people, especially vulnerable individuals such as children, the elderly, or people in distress.

What to include in your statement

There is no one-size-fits-all way to structure your personal statement, but here are some pointers:

Check what specific universities want

Some universities provide information about their selection criteria on their website, and some actually score your statement against those criteria. It may give you a handy framework to base your statement around.

Explain your motivation

Why do you want to be a physiotherapist specifically? How did you arrive at the decision that it’s the right fit for you? Convey your enthusiasm and determination. Don’t just say you want to be in a caring profession – be specific!

Show you understand the scope of physiotherapy

There’s a tendency for some applicants to be drawn to the profession through their passion for sport, with a view to becoming a sports physiotherapist. But the reality is that you will probably work with a range of patients with a wide variety of conditions, not necessarily sports-related.

This partly explains why one admission tutor's top personal statement tip was 'don’t mention sport!' It’s important to realise that sport isn’t representative of the profession as a whole. For instance, sports physiotherapy is predominantly concerned with musculoskeletal conditions in patients who are likely to otherwise be healthy and motivated.

So do show what you’ve learned about the diverse range and backgrounds of patients you will be treating or the kinds of situations these patients may also be dealing with. Reflect on the challenges this creates for the physiotherapist, such as how to motivate patients to manage their own long-term recovery when they are also having to cope with other conditions, illnesses, or struggles (such as depression, dementia, or family circumstances).

Reflect on the skills and qualities required

Don’t simply list what you saw in any experience or placements – they want to know how what you observed changed your perceptions or understanding.

Similarly, it’s not how much experience you’ve had that matters, it’s the quality of your insights and how you reflect on them.

Referring to your own experience as a patient may also be helpful, but only if you’ve gained a real insight through it.

Demonstrate that you have these qualities

The final piece in the jigsaw is to provide evidence of how you’ve personally demonstrated some of the important qualities you’ve observed.

Pick out your key observations and be explicit in explaining the links with your own skill set. For example, ‘on placement I noticed that physiotherapists needed skill X... I demonstrated skill X myself when I...’

Physiotherapists have to talk to, collaborate with, and counsel people, so do include how you’ve demonstrated these ‘softer’ caring, helping, or listening skills (this can be in or outside of school).

Other relevant qualities to talk about might include problem-solving, coping with pressure, being non-judgemental, leadership, and working in a team.

Values based selection

We spoke to a member of the admissions team at one of the universities who score your personal statement against their selection criteria. One of her key messages was that they assess your suitability for the career as a whole, not just the course.

In fact, some of the heaviest weightings in their scoring criteria are linked to the six core values of the NHS Constitution. So make sure you’re familiar with the NHS Constitution, and that you’re able to demonstrate behaviours of your own that align with these core values.

Mention any ambitions

This isn’t essential but, if you have a clear view of the direction you want your career to take, blend this into your statement too. This could be in the opening, the middle, or as a concise concluding sentence.