Don’t use it if you’re not ‘entitled’


Graduating with a physiotherapy qualification approved by the Physiotherapy Board of Australia (PBA) entitles the holder of this qualification to call themselves a ‘physiotherapist’ or ‘physical therapist’. This title is protected and there is legislation to prohibit anyone from holding themselves to be a physiotherapist if they are not appropriately qualified to do so.

As physiotherapists, we all know that having the right to call ourselves as such was no walk in the park, and we would not tolerate anyone who does not hold the appropriate qualifications advertising themselves as a physiotherapist.

In addition to it being an offence, it places members of the public at risk should they engage with such a person, believing them to be a physiotherapist.

Members of the profession who have completed formal postgraduate training or commenced a pathway to becoming either a Titled/Member, Registrar or Fellow of the Australian College of Physiotherapists are likewise proud of their achievements and the recognition that comes with their endeavors.

If then, as physiotherapists, we would not tolerate a person who is not qualified calling themselves a physiotherapist, would we not be upset when a colleague uses titles or adjectives that may imply they have superior qualifications or expertise when they might not?

In addition to regulating the use of the title ‘physiotherapist’ or ‘physical therapist’, the National Law does not allow the use of the word ‘specialist’ and associated words (eg, specialising) to refer to a registered practitioner, unless they are a ‘specialist’ recognised by the National Law (as awarded by the Australian College of Physiotherapists)—it is a protected title.

The PBA, however, recognises the established history of physiotherapy specialisation achieved through the Australian College of Physiotherapists Clinical Specialisation Training Program.

By exception, the PBA allows the following tier 2 (APA titling) or tier 3 (APA specialisation) titles awarded only by the APA and the Australian College of Physiotherapists to APA members who meet the requirements:

Tier 2 titles awarded by groups are:

  • APA Animal Physiotherapist
  • APA Cancer Physiotherapist
  • APA Cardiorespiratory Physiotherapist
  • APA Continence and Women’s Health Physiotherapist
  • APA Gerontological Physiotherapist
  • APA Lymphoedema Physiotherapist
  • APA Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist
  • APA Neurological Physiotherapist
  • APA Occupational Health Physiotherapist
  • APA Paediatric Physiotherapist
  • APA Pain Physiotherapist
  • APA Palliative Care Physiotherapist
  • APA Research Physiotherapist
  • APA Sports and Exercise Physiotherapist.

Those who have achieved APA titled status may only use the following format: J Brown, APA Neurological Physiotherapist.

For tier 3 titling, the Australian College of Physiotherapists confers Fellowship by Specialisation in the following disciplines:

  • Cardiorespiratory
  • Gerontology
  • Musculoskeletal
  • Neurology
  • Occupational Health
  • Paediatrics
  • Pain
  • Sports and Exercise
  • Women’s, Men’s, and Pelvic Health.

Those members achieving specialisation status may use the following format: P Smith, Specialist Cardiorespiratory Physiotherapist (as awarded by the Australian College of Physiotherapists in 20YY).

The word ‘expert’ isn’t protected. The APA does not believe that using the word ‘expert’ implies the person holds the protected ‘specialist’ title; however, it may be misleading to members of the public.

There is some evidence to suggest that members of the public do not yet fully understand the implications of titling by physiotherapists (Cooper et al 2016). Implying expertise may raise false expectations with the public and may risk breaching AHPRA advertising regulations.

If deemed to be doing so, it could ‘create an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment’ (AHPRA).

As a profession let us recognise, respect and reward our peers who have continued along the lifelong learning pathway to College membership or fellowship. It is their right to promote their achievement using approved wording.

William Shakespeare wrote: ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.’ While Romeo couldn’t change his name to achieve his goal, we as APA members can.

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