Moving for life: physiotherapy in Canada

Find out how to pursue a physiotherapy career in Canada.

‘Keeping British Columbians moving for life’ is the motto that the Physiotherapy Association of British Columbia has taken, and the Association’s membership of over 2,000 British Columbian physiotherapists all work diligently to do just that. Throughout British Columbia, and all of Canada, exists both the settings and the spirit for activity.

Some of Canada’s most productive industries rely on the physical ability of thousands of Canadians: logging, mining and, of course, ice hockey. But to many Canadians recreating is just as important as working, and each province and territory in Canada is a natural playground. British Columbia offers world-class snow sports in Whistler (which hosted some of the the Vancouver 2010 Olympic events), surfing in Tofino (site of the Cold Water Classic Canada surfing tournament), as well as hiking, biking, golfing, boating and a mild climate to match these and many more outdoor activities. And everyone from the commercial fisherman to the recreational tennis player stands to benefit from a well qualified physiotherapist practicing nearby. Physiotherapists do indeed keep their clients ‘moving for life’.

A career as a physiotherapist in Canada promises to be rewarding, whether in a hospital setting or a specialised private clinic, a large city or a rural town. The physiotherapy profession is a valuable component of a healthy society, especially in a country as active as Canada. Physiotherapists have close working relationships with Canadian athletes, whether they’re gold medallists or amateurs.

Becoming a physiotherapist in Canada requires a master’s degree, which students typically pursue after having graduated with a four-year bachelor’s degree. Students who hope to become physiotherapists can come from a wide variety of undergraduate backgrounds, but typically need to have taken courses in anatomy and human physiology, chemistry, physics, psychology and statistics. Once in graduate school, the two-year programme will prepare students for the Physiotherapy Competency Exam (PCE), administered by the Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators - the organisation responsible for credentialing and testing prospective physiotherapists. The PCE consists of a written component, which focuses on the principals and processes of practicing physiotherapy, and a clinical component, which tests candidates on their ability to apply the necessary techniques in a clinical setting.

Successfully completing the PCE is considered by most provincial regulators to be a prerequisite to registration. Once a candidate has passed the PCE, they are eligible to register with their provincial College of Physical Therapists. This registration is not only practice as a physiotherapist, but it also enables physiotherapists to legally advertise themselves as a ‘physiotherapist’ or ‘physical therapist’.

Once practicing, most physiotherapists choose to become members of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association. As the name suggests, CPA is a Canada-wide organisation. Joining CPA gives physiotherapists access to resources at the national level, but members also gain access to benefits and resources at the provincial level. CPA is the parent organisation for ten provincial/territorial associations that support physiotherapists within their respective province or territory. This support includes advocacy, continuing education lectures/workshops, networking opportunities, e-library and librarian assistance, job boards, advice on setting up a private practice, and much more. Just as physiotherapists keep their patients ‘moving for life’, CPA and the mandatory to provincial associations keep the physiotherapy profession moving forward.

If you think practicing physiotherapy in Canada sounds appealing, the best way to find out is to come and visit. There are universities all over the country with physiotherapy programmes, so set up an interview with one and find out what they have to offer. There is something for everyone in Canada - cities with millions of people and towns with just a few; metro areas surrounded by cozy suburbs and rural areas with nothing but natural beauty as far as the eye can see; three different oceans to choose from, mountain ranges, wide open plains, plenty of snow and even a (small amount of) desert. Hope to see you soon!

Jesse Royer
Member Services Manager
Physiotherapy Association of British Columbia