Shadowing a Doctor

February 9, 2015

Physiotherapist or Occupational therapist? Many people use the two terms interchangeably and that confusion is understandable as physiotherapists and occupational therapists both work with patients who have mobility restrictions caused due to injuries or disabilities.  However, while both practitioners do hands-on rehabilitative work and there are several similarities in their job duties, the two professions are distinctly different. A physiotherapist focuses on improving mobility and function in patients whereas an occupational therapist focuses on helping their clients live as independently as possible.

Which speciality would you like to pursue – physiotherapy or occupational therapy? Understanding the similarities and differences will help you make a more educated choice.

Physiotherapist Job Description

Physiotherapy focuses on treating a specific part of the body that has suffered a torn ligament or fracture or undergone any kind of trauma that has impaired its mobility. Physiotherapists work primarily with individuals recovering from such injuries. They use a combination of massage, exercise and other specialised techniques to improve function and mobility and prevent further injuries and long-term dependence on medications.

As a physiotherapist you can expect to do the following:

  • Identify existing injuries or disabilities that are limiting patients’ movements
  • Use exercises, massage and other techniques to alleviate pain and boost patients’ mobility and muscle strength
  • Develop a customised health and wellness programme aimed at preventing existing and potential injuries
  • Make recommendations that help foster a more active lifestyle

Occupational Therapist Job Description

Occupational therapy focuses on helping people live as independently as possibly by assessing and improving their functional abilities. There are two aspects to this speciality:

  • Restoring movement and mobility in basic actions such as standing, sitting, walking and getting in and out of bed
  • Restoring basic functions such as holding a spoon, using a comb, getting dressed and going to the bathroom

Occupational therapists do not usually use manual therapy or techniques to treat a patient’s injury directly, as a physiotherapist does. Instead they may introduce assistive equipment or recommend environmental modifications that help individuals to carry out their daily activities after an injury or if they have any type of physical impairment that restricts their mobility. In this speciality, the emphasis is on the practical aspects of helping individuals do the things they need and want to do so that they can live life to the fullest.

As an occupational therapist you would be responsible for the following:

  • Helping patients master daily self-care tasks and basic living skills
  • Recommending assistive equipment depending on the patient’s limitations
  • Supporting patients with cognitive issues such as memory loss

Overlap Between Physiotherapy And Occupational Therapy

Physiotherapists and occupational therapists both undergo extensive training in anatomy and the musculoskeletal system resulting in both professionals having highly advanced and specialised knowledge about musculoskeletal injuries and rehabilitation.

Both specialists work in similar environments including hospitals, private speciality clinics, adult day care centres and schools where they would typically be part of a multidisciplinary team consisting of physicians, nurses, speech-language pathologists and social workers.



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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives, and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.