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What is the Education Pathway to be a Physiotherapist in Malaysia?

Best Route to Become a Physical Therapist in Malaysia

The job of a Physiotherapist can be very satisfying as you have the power to bring physical relief to people who are in pain with hands-on treatment. In addition, you also provide emotional support and self-help strategies that will empower your patients to improve their own health, strength and quality of life.

As the Malaysian population becomes more educated and affluent as well as age, there are more cases of Arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions. With education and a higher income, Malaysians are more open to visiting Physiotherapists to find relief from these conditions.

According to the Malaysian Physiotherapy Association, currently there is an estimated 2,759 practising physiotherapists in the country which is only 0.88 Per 10,000 population. Therefore, there is a demand for more qualified and trained Physiotherapists. So, how does one become a Physiotherapist in Malaysia? What is the education pathway from SPM or IGCSE/O-Levels to be qualified Physiotherapist? In this article, we will answer all these questions and more.

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What is Physiotherapy?

Study Physiotherapy in Malaysia
Study Physiotherapy in Malaysia

Physiotherapists are experts in movement throughout the lifespan – from birth right through to old age. If you have trouble with any aspect of body movement, a Physiotherapist has the expertise to find out why. Their training and expert knowledge of how the body works allows them to help people – whether ill, injured, disabled or healthy – to exercise and to regain or improve their function.

Using knowledge from our extensive scientific background of human anatomy and physiology, Physiotherapists can help to assess, diagnose and treat injuries and conditions that affect people in all ages or to assist a patient to prevent injury in the workplace or sports related.

Physiotherapists use mainly physical means such as exercise, manipulation, mobilisation, massage and electrotherapy to help patients achieve their full potential.  Traditionally, physiotherapy was regarded as rehabilitative and mainly hospital-based, but the profession has always been active in other health care areas and collaborate with doctors and pharmacists. They also review exercise routines, new supplements on the market and physiotherapists have invaluable expertise to offer in educational and preventative roles in the community, the workplace and in private practice in Malaysia.

What is the Qualification to Become a Physiotherapist in Malaysia?

How to Become a Physiotherapist in Malaysia?
How to Become a Physiotherapist in Malaysia?

According to the Malaysian Physiotherapy Association, the Physiotherapy professional entry level education
Minimum qualification required to practice is a 3-year Diploma in Physiotherapy from a recognised university. Founded in 1963, the Malaysian Physiotherapy Association has been a member of World Physiotherapy since 1974 and is part of our Asia Western Pacific region.

However, it is recommended to study at university full-time for 4 years for an accredited Physiotherapy degree. Graduates can then apply for registration with the Malaysian Physiotherapy Association. No additional assessment is needed.

Students who successfully complete their degree  programme will be able to register as an Allied Health Professional and practice as a Physiotherapist. The Allied Health Profession Act (Act 774) was gazette on 18 February 2016 and is estimated to be in force in 2021 with the Physiotherapist in the country registering to the database in 2021. Once this is done all therapist will be given an Annual Practicing Certificate and only allowed to practice PT with this Cert. The Ministry of Health will have by then a full database of all therapist in the country and legislation may start in earnest for the profession. . Aspiring Physiotherapists can continue their education and training as specialists through postgraduate studies.

Physiotherapists are included in the Allied Health Profession Act 774, 14 February 2016 and need to be registered with the Malaysian Allied Health Professions Council: http://alliedhealthmoh.gov.my/mahpc/faq/#.

Who Should Study Physiotherapy?

Physiotherapists look further than anatomy, physiology and pathology to see the person as a whole thinking, feeling, emotional being. Great physiotherapists inspire their clients to live healthier lives.

  • Interest in Biology and How the Human Body Functions
    • Students who have a strong interest in how the human body works and like Biology in their SPM or IGCSE/O-Levels are good candidates to study Physiotherapy. You should have good results in Biology.  From understanding how the respiratory, neurological and musculoskeletal systems affect mobility to mastering the human anatomy, you can certainly find Physiotherapy an intellectually satisfying pursuit.
  • Enjoy Helping People
    • Students who like to help people and desire to see them lead a healthy pain-free life. You are able to listen to people with empathy and try to help them.
  • Enjoy Hands-On Practical Jobs
    • Students who like to move around and prefer practical jobs are ideal to pursue a career in Physiotherapy.
  • Ideal for People who Love Sports
    • Physiotherapy is the closest career to sports that is stable, reputable and have a decent salary. It is a great pathway for students who have a passion for sports. You can treat sports-related injuries as a Physiotherapist.

Why Study Physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy is an excellent career for students who love Biology and sports
Physiotherapy is an excellent career for students who love Biology and sports
  • Able to Help people
    • Physiotherapy can make invaluable changes to a person’s quality of life. Serious health problems like cystic fibrosis and arthritis can be effectively treated with physiotherapy, so having the skills to make this possible is an impressive contribution to society.
  • Highly practical courses
    • A Physiotherapy course include lectures as well as about 1,000 hours of clinical postings throughout your Physiotherapy degree studies
    • Your days will be full of problem-based learning, tutorials and eventually work experience in hospitals or clinics.
  • Real-world work experiences
    • As physiotherapy is a vocational career, universities promise their students clinical placements across various healthcare settings. This gives you the chance to see your learning in action, giving context to all the time spent studying the theory. You’ll graduate well prepared for a career in the field.
  • Pursue a passion for sport
    • Careers in sport in Malaysia are notoriously hard to come by but if you study a degree in Physiotherapy, there is an opportunity for you to find a job in this area. Professional sports teams need their physiotherapists in Malaysia and overseas.
    • You can also work as a sports injury specialist at a private clinic or your own practice.
  • Decent Salary
    • The average salary of a physiotherapist is considerably higher relative to the salary of an employee with an ordinary graduation degree. Graduates with a Physiotherapy degree can work in private as well as government sector with good salary. You could even earn more by running your own physiotherapy clinic.
  • It Changes Lives
    • Physiotherapy helps in transforming the lives of the people in pain. Physiotherapists help people feel different by reducing their pain as well as giving them the confidence to soon become well. You play a big role in changing the lives of people to be become healthier and lead a pain-free life.

What are the Entry Requirements for Physiotherapy Courses in Malaysia?

Foundation in Science
  • SPM/O-Level
    • Minimum 5 credits in Mathematics, 2 science subject and 2 other subjects
Diploma in Physiotherapy
  • SPM or equivalent with PASS in Bahasa Melayu and English and 5 credits in the following subjects:
    • Mathematics
    • ONE science subject (Biology/Physics/Chemistry/General Science/Applied Science); and
    • Any other THREE subjects (including Bahasa Malaysia and/or English if credits)
    • *Having SPM referring to pass SPM with at least pass in Bahasa Melayu and History*
  • Pass GCE O-Level or equivalent with PASS in Bahasa Melayu or English and 5 Grade C in the following subjects:
    • Mathematics
    • ONE science subject (Biology/Physics/Chemistry/General Science/Applied Science); and
    • Any other THREE subjects (including Bahasa Melayu and/or English if obtained Grade C)
  • Certificate (Level 3 MQF) in the field of Health Science with minimum CGPA of 2.75
  • Other recognized qualification of equivalence
Degree in Physiotherapy
  • Pass Matriculation/Pre-University/STPM or equivalent with minimum GPA 2.33 in TWO of the following subjects:
    • Biology
    • Physics/Mathematics
    • Chemistry
  • Pass A-level or equivalent with minimum Grade D in TWO of the following subjects:
    • Biology
    • Physics/Mathematics
    • Chemistry
  • Pass Diploma (Level 4 MQF) with minimum CGPA of 2.75 in related field
  • Pass Diploma (Level 4 MQF) with CGPA less than 2.75 in related field and a minimum of 3 years working experience in the related field
  • Other recognized qualification of equivalence
English Language Requirements
  • MUET Band 3/IELTS (5.5)/TOEFL (550)
  • English proficiency for international student: TOEFL (550)/IELTS (5.5) or equivalent

What is the Duration of the Physiotherapy Courses in Malaysia?

  • Students after SPM or IGCSE/O-Levels can go for the Foundation in Science for 1 year and then enter into the 4-year Physiotherapy Degree Programme.
  • Alternatively, SPM or IGCSE/O-level students may go for the 3-year Diploma in Physiotherapy and then enter into Year 2 of the Physiotherapy Degree Programme.
  • Students who have completed a Pre-University Programme such as STPM, UEC, A-Levels, AUSMAT, SACEi, CIMP, etc may enter into the 4-year Physiotherapy Degree Programme

What Skills Do You Need as a Physiotherapist?

  • Possess an encouraging and motivating attitude
    • Your ability to encourage and motivate your patients will be vital as you become a professional physiotherapist. You should be able to compliment patients as they improve and respond to treatment or therapy.
  • Patience and tolerance
    • There will always be patients who would not listen to your advice, and will barely make any progress. As frustrating as it is, you should never get angry or scold your patient.
    • Always keep calm and explain their condition to them and what they must do to get better. Also, remember that not everyone improves at the same pace.
  • Good communication skills
    • In your practice, you will come across people of different ages, races, cultures, from children to seniors. Therefore, you must be able to communicate your message in a way that they will understand.

What will I Study in a Diploma in Physiotherapy Course in Malaysia?

I will use the curriculum from one of Malaysia’s top Health-care private universities as an example for you to gain insight into what you will study in a typical Diploma in Physiotherapy course.

MAHSA University’s Diploma in Physiotherapy is a 3-year programme for students who have completed their SPM, IGCSE, O-Levels, or its equivalent, and are committed to a future as a physiotherapist, intent on alleviating physical disabilities and improving the physical human condition.

Students learn to manage and avert the problems that affect the physical functioning of the human body, and to maximize the physical body’s movement and agility, with the primary objective of enabling patients to achieve optimal and maximum independence in movement and function. Students learn proven techniques that help manage disorders of the human body for people of all ages.

In addition, Students learn how to provide treatment and care, while rehabilitating patients with physical and psychological deficiencies. Those enrolled in the course will study subjects such as anatomy, physiology, behavioural science, exercise therapy, electrotherapy, kinesiology and also the communication skills that will enable them to effectively interact with and counsel their patients.

What are Some of the Subjects in the Diploma in Physiotherapy Course?

  • Anatomy & Physiology
  • Applied Anatomy
  • Behavioural Science
  • Integrated Language Skills
  • Kinesiology
  • Introduction to Health Care System
  • English for Academic Writing
  • Creative and Critical Thinking
  • Movement Therapy
  • Electrotherapy
  • Physiotherapy Skills
  • Musculoskeletal
  • Cardiorespiratory
  • Neurology
  • Time Management
  • Essentials of Clinical Placement
  • Elective Placement
  • Clinical Practice
  • Paediatrics
  • Women’s Health
  • Sports, Wellness and Fitness
  • Geriatrics
  • Co-curricular Project

What will I Study in a Physiotherapy Degree Course in Malaysia?

Again, I will use the curriculum from one of Malaysia’s best private universities for Physiotherapy as an example for you to gain insight into what you will study in a typical degree programme.

MAHSA University’s Bachelor of Physiotherapy (Hons) is a 4-year undergraduate degree programme that prepares students for a career caring for and rehabilitating patients with neurological, cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal or other debilitating conditions through the use of expert techniques to reduce pain, improve movement and restore muscle control to maximize mobility.

Students will immerse themselves in the study of functional anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, foundation of psychology, physiotherapy rehabilitation, clinical practice and health science research. They will also learn the use of physical manipulation of the anatomy to regulate muscles and nerves, the many exercises that can be performed for specific needs, and the uses of electrotherapy, ultrasound, acupuncture, and hydrotherapy in their rehabilitative efforts.

Upon completion of this programme, students will be qualified to

  • aid and rehabilitate patients with reduced mobility due to muscular, neurological, cardiovascular, or respiratory conditions.
  • diagnose and assess physiological problems and devise treatment plans to improve patients’ mobility.
  • reduce pain and discomfort in patients in their physiotherapeutic efforts; encourage and cheer patients and give them moral support.
  • give sound advice to patients and their families and educate them about the improvement of their situations and the prevention of unwelcome conditions.
  • promote patient health and well being.
  • write reports and maintain records of patients’ treatment and progress
  • manage clinical risks.

In other words, MAHSA’s Bachelor of Physiotherapy (Hons) graduate will be able to perform the demanding tasks expected of a highly qualified physiotherapist.

What are Some of the Subjects in the Physiotherapy Degree Programme in Malaysia?

  • Functional & Applied Anatomy of Musculoskeletal System
  • Communication
  • Professional Development
  • English for Academic Purposes
  • Exercise Therapy & Handling Skills
  • Electrotherapy
  • Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Cardiorespiratory System
  • Clinical Exposure
  • Manual Skills in Physiotherapy
  • Applied Anatomy and Physiology in Neurology
  • Physiotherapy Practice in Musculoskeletal
  • Physiotherapy Practice in Cardiorespiratory Conditions
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Physiotherapy Practice in Neurology
  • Research Methods
  • Youth Development
  • Clinical Practice
  • Physiotherapy Practice in Women’s Health
  • Clinical Reasoning & Evidence Based Practice
  • Community Work
  • Physiotherapy Practice in Paediatrics
  • Physiotherapy Practice in Geriatrics
  • Physiotherapy Practice in Sports
  • Physiotherapy Practice in Occupational Health
  • Research Project
  • Elective Placement

What do Physiotherapists do in Malaysia?

Physiotherapy is a science-based profession and takes a ‘whole person’ approach to health and wellbeing, which includes the patient’s general lifestyle. At the core is the patient’s involvement in their own care, through education, awareness, empowerment and participation in their treatment.

You can benefit from physiotherapy at any time in your life. Physiotherapy helps with back pain or sudden injury, managing long-term medical condition such as asthma, and in preparing for childbirth or a sporting event.

Physiotherapists are highly qualified health professionals who work in partnership with their patients to help people get better and stay well. Physiotherapists also work closely with doctors and other health clinicians to plan and manage treatment. Doctors in Malaysia refer more patients to physiotherapists than any other healthcare profession.

Using advanced techniques and evidence-based care, physiotherapists assess, diagnose, treat and prevent a wide range of health conditions and movement disorders. Physiotherapy helps repair damage, reduce stiffness and pain, increase mobility and improve quality of life.

Physiotherapy extends from health promotion to injury prevention, acute care, rehabilitation, maintenance of functional mobility, chronic disease management, patient and carer education and occupational health. Physiotherapists help people affected by injury, illness or disability through movement and exercise, manual therapy, education and advice.

They maintain health for people of all ages, helping patients to manage pain and prevent disease. The profession helps to encourage development and facilitate recovery, enabling people to stay in work while helping them to remain independent for as long as possible.

What do Physiotherapist work as?

Physiotherapy is a degree-based healthcare profession. Physios use their knowledge and skills to improve a range of conditions associated with different systems of the body, such as:

  • Neurological (stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s)
    Neuromusculoskeletal (back pain, whiplash associated disorder, sports injuries, arthritis)
  • Cardiovascular (chronic heart disease, rehabilitation after heart attack)
    Respiratory (asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis).
  • Physiotherapists work in a variety of specialisms in health and social care. Additionally, some physiotherapists are involved in education, research and service management.

Many Malaysians can benefit from physiotherapy at some point in their lives. While it is well-known that physiotherapists treat injuries, increasing numbers of Malaysians are coming to physiotherapists when they want to take control of their health and stay well. Some of the needs physiotherapists address include:

  • Cardiorespiratory – prevents, rehabilitates and supports people living with, or at risk of diseases and injuries affecting the heart and lungs, such as heart disease or asthma. Physiotherapists help patients prepare for or recover from surgery, and prescribe exercises and other interventions to improve quality of life.
  • Cancer, palliative care and lymphoedema – addresses a range of patient needs, including treating, managing or preventing fatigue, pain, muscle and joint stiffness, and deconditioning.
    Continence and women’s health – manages and prevents incontinence and pelvic floor dysfunction in men, women and children. Physiotherapists work in areas including pregnancy, birth, post-partum care, breastfeeding, menopause, bedwetting, prolapse, loss of bladder or bowel control, and with men living with or recovering from prostate cancer.
  • Supporting older Malaysians – uses evidence-based care to promote healthy and active ageing among older Malaysians. Working in old folks homes and residential aged care settings, physiotherapists help manage or prevent the effects of conditions or risks such as osteoporosis, incontinence and falls.
  • Musculoskeletal – prevents and treats clients with musculoskeletal conditions such as neck and back pain. Techniques include addressing underlying problems, preventing strain and injury, and prescribing exercises and other interventions to promote mobility.
  • Neurology – promotes movement and quality of life in patients who have had severe brain or spinal cord damage from trauma, or who suffer from neurological diseases such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
  • Orthopaedic – helps patients prevent or manage acute or chronic orthopaedic conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and amputations. Physiotherapists also help patients prepare for or rehabilitate from orthopaedic surgery, or another orthopaedic hospital admissions.
  • Occupational health – supports the health and wellbeing of workers, reduces safety risks in the workplace, prevents and manages injuries and diseases, and support workers in returning to work.
  • Paediatric (supporting infants and children) – aims to prevent conditions such as plagiocephally (misshapen head) or support a child’s development such as addressing milestone delays with sitting and walking, clumsiness, or hyperactivity.
  • Pain – manages or prevents pain and its impact on function in patients using a psychologically informed and interdisciplinary approach. Physiotherapists work with other health and social-care professionals to manage pain at the acute stage of an injury or condition, including through identifying psychosocial risk factors that may lead to chronicity.
  • Sports – prevents, diagnoses and treats musculoskeletal and sporting injuries among all types of people, from professional athletes to everyday Malaysians.
    Acupuncture and dry needling – which helps to manage both chronic and acute conditions such as sprains and strains, spinal dysfunction, arthritis and neurological conditions.
  • Aquatic – using a pool, physiotherapists treat patients with a multitude of conditions using hydrotherapy including sports injuries, post-operative and orthopaedic conditions, spinal pain and/or injuries and arthritis. Aquatic physiotherapy is popular for aged care.

About a typical physiotherapy session in Malaysia

A typical session with a physiotherapist is unique to a patient’s needs and their health condition. Treatment also depends on the scope of practice of the physiotherapist.

However, a ‘typical’ session may involve:

  • Assessing and diagnosing the patient’s condition and needs.
  • Working with the patient to set and attain goals—whether that’s maintaining mobility and independence in aged care to running a marathon
  • Developing a treatment or prevention plan that will take into account lifestyle, activities and general health
  • Prescribing exercise and physical aides if required.

Where do physiotherapists work in Malaysia?

Physiotherapists work in a range of settings including in private and public hospitals, their own private practice, community health services, in private clinics, or working with older people in residential aged care facilities. Physiotherapists are also employed by non-governmental organisations and by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry.

What are the Career Options Available for Physiotherapy Graduates in Malaysia?

Some career options for graduates with a Bachelor of Physiotherapy in Malaysia include:

  • Physiotherapist
  • Physiotherapy Manager
  • Clinical Therapist
  • Physiotherapy Specialist
  • Physical Therapy Specialist

There are also employment opportunities in various institutions and organisations such as:

  • Special needs schools
  • Community health centres
  • Nursing homes
  • Home health agencies
  • Corporate or industrial health centres
  • Non-government organisations (NGO)
  • Research centres
  • Sports and fitness centres