Introduction from Brett Kestenbaum PT, DPT
Imagine the clear oceans of Australia, the scenic coastlines of Italy, and African Safari’s filled with exotic animals and danger around every corner. I bet you didn’t imagine a life where experiencing all of this was possible as a physical therapist (or as a physiotherapist as you will be called around the world)! Working as an international travel physical therapist is a subject not often covered in detail, or just in general really (if it has, please let me know so I can share the resources with others).
Honestly, I have never done international travel physical therapy, but I received a lot of interest in the subject from NGPT readers, so I spent a lot of time trying to do research for you.
I looked online for hours and have tried contacting the World Confederation for Physical Therapy dozens (yes dozens) of times with no return contact except for a whole lot of SPAM mail. After a long search I ran into a physiotherapist from Australia named Glenn Ruscoe. Glenn has extensive experience with international regulations and a history of word travel as a physiotherapist. Glenn is on a mission to help bring the world of physio and physical therapists together through education and the new .physio domain name extension. Oh, and by ran into I mean we got acquainted on Twitter.
Glenn wrote this article to begin the education process on what international travel as a physical therapist looks like and how to get started.
Working Internationally as a Physical Therapist
Not long after graduating my wife and I were keen to travel before settling down to family and careers, so we set off on a one-year working holiday world tour.
First stop was Africa where I took a three-month locum job in private practice in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare. Every weekend and the odd week off we explored the country in a car lent to us by my employer. The highlight was a four-day canoe safari down the Zambezi River. For the fourth month, we traveled throughout South Africa.
As the weather cooled, it was time to head North, so we spent two months touring Western Europe. Then to the United Kingdom and 2 x month-long locum jobs in hospital outpatient departments in Wales and Northern England. Again every weekend was spent touring the countryside.
Chasing the sun we jumped on the back of a truck for a two-month overland tour across Europe to the Middle East where we spent most of our time exploring the sites of Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. The final leg of our journey was spent in Israel working and traveling.
While there were many great adventures, the absolute highlight of our year was working. Getting to meet, mix and network with the locals provided us great insights, cultural experiences that tourists don’t get plus access to the local currency. Further benefits included learning new clinical skills and sharing our knowledge.
Working internationally as a physical therapist takes organizational effort. Below is some advice to help you on your journey.
Language fluency is essential for communicating with your patients and in some countries your work visa, and/or physiotherapy registration will require it. So to make your life easier target the countries of your native tongue otherwise you may need to sit an examination to prove yourself. If you’d like to learn
2) Working Visa
To work in another country, you will need a working visa, which is very different to a tourist visa. You must apply for a working visa well before your departure. The national governments usually have plenty of information on their websites about the process of securing a working visa. Search online for the country name and the terms ‘working visa’.
Working without the appropriate visa can lead to fines, imprisonment and deportation; definitely not recommended.
To practice, you will need to be registered by the local Registration Board. The local registration board can be a National Board as in the case of United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, or a State/Provincial Board as for the United States and Canada. Needless to say, countries with National Boards allow for greater travel opportunities however some countries with State/Provincial Boards have automatic recognition across their borders.
As an extraordinary example of international co-operation, physiotherapist registration in either Australia or New Zealand allows you to work in both countries.
Registration is not a simple process, so some preparation is likely. It could take up to twelve months of back-and-forth to demonstrate that your competency meets their standards. Copies of your education transcript will be required, as well as evidence of your work history and current registration of ‘good standing’ in your home jurisdiction. You may get lucky and be considered competent with just this information, or you may need to provide a portfolio or undertake an exam, written and/or practical.
For information on physiotherapy regulating authorities visit the International Network of Physiotherapy Regulating Authorities or search online for the jurisdiction in which you wish to work and the terms ‘physiotherapy registration.’ Sometimes it can be easier to get a higher level overview of the entire process in that jurisdiction by searching on the website of the Physiotherapy Association or sending them an email asking for advice.
4) The Job
Lastly, but sometimes third or even second in the process, you will need a job. The best way to get a job is by knowing someone who has a job, which can be difficult internationally. To access physiotherapy clinic owners from around the world, you need to go to where they are. The good news is that many of them are online on LinkedIn and Twitter. Just connect with as many as you can, do some research on their websites about where their clinic is located and put the word out that you are looking for work around certain dates. You will be amazed at what opportunities come back. This system has the advantage of you both having a chance of getting to know each other before committing to anything.
Alternatively, you could search online for the terms ‘physiotherapy jobs’. There are a number of physiotherapy job websites online. And some Associations offer job advertisements.
When negotiating the job don’t forget that you will need accommodation and transport. Let you future employer know as they may be able to help with advice or even build it into your remuneration package.
Glenn Ruscoe is a Specialist Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist from Perth, Western Australia. Glenn is a past Chairman of the Physiotherapy Registration Board of Australia and in his clinic has employed physiotherapists from all around the world. Glenn is actively advocating for a united physiotherapy profession through the .physio domain name initiative.