Physiotherapists help people regain movement and function after they have been affected by an injury, disability or health condition. They also give advice on how to prevent injuries.
Physiotherapists usually earn
$58K-$86K per year
Senior physiotherapists usually earn
$87K-$119K per year
Source: Te Whatu Ora/DHBs, 2022.
Pay for physiotherapists varies depending on experience and responsibilities.
Physiotherapists working for Te Whatu Ora Health NZ (former DHBs)
- Qualified physiotherapists usually earn $58,000 to $86,000 a year.
- Senior physiotherapists who supervise staff can earn $87,000 to $119,000.
Pay for physiotherapists working in private practice depends on their experience and the success of their business.
Sources: Auckland Region District Health Boards/PSA, ‘Allied, Public Health, Scientific & Technical Multi Employer Collective Agreement, expires 30 June 2023’, 2022; and District Health Boards/PSA, ‘Allied, Public Health, Scientific & Technical Multi Employer Collective Agreement, expires 30 June 2023’, 2022.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Physiotherapists may do some or all of the following:
- assess and diagnose patients' injuries or functional problems, and decide on treatment
- use a range of treatments to reduce pain and improve movement
- plan exercises for patients to improve their strength and fitness
- keep records of patients' progress
- educate people on how to prevent further injury
- help rehabilitate people who have suffered from strokes or accidents
- educate caregivers and family about the patient's physiotherapy programme.
Skills and knowledge
Physiotherapists need to have:
- knowledge of physiotherapy methods and equipment
- knowledge of the biomedical sciences, including anatomy, physiology and pathology
- understanding of movement, injuries and disabilities, and the ageing process
- skill in performing exercises and techniques that increase movement and flexibility, and reduce pain
- general knowledge of any medical conditions that may affect the treatment given.
- usually work regular business hours but may also work weekends and be on call
- work at various locations such as private and public practices, hospitals, sports training grounds, rehabilitation centres, community centres, and in patients' homes.
What's the job really like?
Making a difference
"Physiotherapy is a rewarding career where you can help people get their mobility and independence back," says Laura Haime.
"I’d wanted to be a doctor but when having physio for my back injury I got interested in physiotherapy. I realised I could still make a difference in someone’s life and have better work-life balance."
Building knowledge with a broad range of physiotherapy
After graduation, Laura worked in a private clinic treating patients with musculoskeletal (bone and tissue) and spinal injuries.
She then moved to APM – a company offering a variety of services. "I see patients with concussion, do sports physio for the New Zealand wheelchair rugby team, and take group exercise classes for people with neurological disorders like autism.
"If you can get experience in the types of physio that interest you, it gives you a good foundation."
Communication and problem solving essential
Laura says you often have to look beyond a person's injury to help with their recovery. "It could mean asking questions about their life, such as whether they need assistance at home.
"It can also be challenging getting some patients to do their exercises, so there's a lot of problem solving.
"My goal is to have my own business, so with my colleagues' guidance I’m getting as much experience and knowledge as I can."
Senior Physiotherapist video
Aroha Montgomery talks about life as a senior physiotherapist – 2.01 mins.
and I'm a senior physiotherapist at a private clinic in Auckland.
A day in the life of my job looks different depending on the day.
There's the patient side of things,
when we are in the clinic or in the gym and the admin side of doing
the actual paperwork. We change the towels in between each patient.
There's a lot of washing to do.
My favourite thing in my job is being able to understand how that injury is
limiting that person and what they would like to be able to get back to that
they're not currently doing now, and then seeing them get back to doing that.
And sometimes even setting goals higher than what they thought.
It looks like a mess and then it'll all come right.
So the base here of physio is usually 1 year,
and then the degree itself is another 3 years.
How fast you progress depends on how much you put into it.
I sort of liked being in the clinic,
so I started doing this and then just played sport myself on the side.
The hard parts of my job,
you're taking on the things that are contributing to the injury.
Sometimes that can be quite hard going.
It's not uncommon with healthcare professionals to kind of get compassion fatigue.
So you have to look after yourself and make sure that you have your own hobbies
and interests in things you do that you enjoy outside of work. So this is an
example of what your spine looks like without all of the muscles and stuff
attached on top of it.
And probably one of the things I wish people knew about physio is that we can't
magic your pain away,
but your nerve endings and things like this that come out of the side are the
ones that are responsible for giving you pain signals.
And so a lot of our job is just about to educate why these signals are being
sent. It's not a great way of life for someone to sustain a knee injury and they
never get back to running.
You want them to be able to do what they were able to do beforehand.
And that's part of our job is to educate people on,
maybe that's not possible now, but if you work through these steps,
you can get to that.
To become a physiotherapist you need a Bachelor of Physiotherapy.
Physiotherapy degrees are available from Auckland University of Technology (AUT), University of Otago, and Wintec.
All courses take four years and consist of a first year studying health science then three years studying physiotherapy.
- Auckland University of Technology (AUT) website - Bachelor of Health Science (Physiotherapy)
- University of Otago website - Bachelor of Physiotherapy
- Wintec website - information about the Bachelor of Physiotherapy
The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children.
NCEA Level 3 is required to enter tertiary training. Useful subjects include physical education, health, biology, chemistry, physics and maths.
Additional requirements for specialist roles:
To specialise in a particular area of physiotherapy, such as working with older adults, you need to complete a:
- portfolio assessment
- practical clinical assessment
- panel review with The New Zealand Physiotherapy Board.
Physiotherapists need to be:
- supportive and positive
- able to gain people's trust
- able to work well in a team
- good listeners and communicators
- able to relate to people from a range of cultures and backgrounds
- good at planning and organising.
The main thing you need as a physio is communication. Good physios can relate to people from all walks of life.
Useful experience for physiotherapists includes:
- work as a nurse aide or physiotherapy assistant
- occupational health nursing
- work as a personal trainer
- other work in the health sector.
Physiotherapists need to be reasonably fit and healthy as they treat injuries and diseases using physical methods such as massage, movement and exercise.
Physiotherapists need to be registered with the New Zealand Physiotherapy Board and have a current Annual Practising Certificate.
Find out more about training
- Physiotherapy New Zealand
- (04) 801 6500 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.physiotherapy.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Shortage of physiotherapists
Physiotherapists are in demand to treat a growing and ageing population.
As a result, physiotherapist appears on Immigration New Zealand's long-term skill shortage list. This means the government is actively encouraging skilled physiotherapists from overseas to work in New Zealand.
According to the Census, 4,482 physiotherapists worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Demand for physiotherapists across a range of areas
Many graduates find work in clinics specialising in sports and musculoskeletal injuries (which relate to bones and tissues such as muscles and tendons).
However, demand is also high for physiotherapists to treat patients with other health conditions such as cardiovascular (heart) and neurological (nervous system) conditions. Graduates who want to gain skills in treating these conditions should look for work in hospitals, or private businesses that offer a wide range of opportunities in community rehabilitation.
Physiotherapists work in public and private health organisations
Physiotherapists usually work for:
- private physiotherapy clinics
- district health boards at hospitals or in the community
- private hospitals and doctors' surgeries.
About a third of physiotherapists are self-employed and work in private practice.
- Immigration New Zealand, Green List, April 2023, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Leaman, A, 'Wintec Responds to Physiotherapist Shortage', 24 August 2018, (www.stuff.co.nz).
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 'Occupation Outlook: Physiotherapists’, accessed December 2020,(occupationoutlook.mbie.govt.nz).
- Physiotherapy Board of New Zealand, 'Annual Report, 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020', 2020, (www.physioboard.org.nz).
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Physiotherapists may progress to:
- work in managerial positions
- work in teaching and research roles
- set up their own clinics.
Physiotherapists may specialise in areas such as:
- cardiorespiratory – diseases of the heart and lungs
- hand therapy – elbow-to-fingertip injuries
- musculoskeletal – injuries to bones and connective tissues
- neurology – disorders of the nervous system such as autism
- occupational health – promoting health and wellbeing at work
- paediatrics – helping children with a physical disability
- working with older adults – helping to increase movement and prevent or fix injury
- helping people to manage chronic pain – for example, from arthritis
- sports injuries.
Last updated 16 June 2023