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The use of physiotherapy titles standard


This standard aims to improve consumer education and avoid the potential for confusion by the public over the use of Physiotherapy titles used by registered physiotherapists.

There are occasions when the perception by the public and some health professionals may be unclear as to whether the titles being used by individuals mean that person is a registered physiotherapist and/or a physiotherapy specialist. Clarity on the use of the titles for physiotherapists is essential in order to avoid any misunderstanding by the public about the qualifications and registration status of persons using such titles.

The Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 (HPCAA) provides a framework for the regulation of health practitioners in order to protect the public where there is a risk of harm from professional practice. The HPCAA is New Zealand law, and the Physiotherapy Board of New Zealand (Board) is the authority, which oversees its application for physiotherapists.

In the global context, the World Confederation for Physical Therapy (WCPT), which Physiotherapy New Zealand was a founding member, claims exclusivity to the professional names ‘physical therapy’ and ‘physiotherapy’. It further asserts that the professional titles ‘physical therapist’ and ‘physiotherapist’, and all abbreviations referring to these titles (e.g. physio) are the sole preserve of persons who hold qualifications approved by WCPT’s member organisations (WCPT, 2013).


Physiotherapy Specialist

Physiotherapy Specialist is a regulated (protected) title. Physiotherapy specialists are expert physiotherapists who have advanced education, knowledge and skills to practise within a specific area of clinical practice.


The term Physiotherapy Specialist may be used differently in other countries. Other terminology to denote specialisation in an area of physiotherapy may include but is not limited to: advanced practitioner; expert; consultant; and extended scope of practice physiotherapist. These do not equate to Physiotherapy Specialist in New Zealand.


New Zealand law

The relevant legal documents and following subsections pertaining to this standard are:

This states in Key Provisions (Part 1, section 7):

Unqualified person must not claim to be a health practitioner

(1) A person may only use names, words, titles, initials, abbreviations, or descriptions stating or implying that the person is a health practitioner of a particular kind if the person is registered, and is qualified to be registered, as a health practitioner of that kind.

(2) No person may claim to be practising a profession as a health practitioner of a particular kind or state or do anything that is calculated to suggest that the person practises or is willing to practise a profession as a health practitioner of that kind unless the person— (a) is a health practitioner of that kind; and (b) holds a current practising certificate as a health practitioner of that kind.

(5) Every person commits an offence punishable on summary conviction by a fine not exceeding $10,000 who contravenes this section.[1]


  • Physiotherapy Specialist

The scope of practice and qualifications of a Physiotherapy Specialist in New Zealand are gazetted (HPCAA, Gazette Notice, 2012).


1. Code of practice and use of the term(s)

1.1. In New Zealand the titles:

    • Physiotherapist
    • Physical Therapist
    • Physio

along with associated abbreviations and descriptions of physiotherapy, may only be used by persons who are registered, and qualified to be registered, under the HPCAA as physiotherapists with the Board.

1.1.1. A person who is registered but does not have a current annual practising certificate can use the title physiotherapist but may not in any manner imply they are able to currently practice physiotherapy.

1.2. A physiotherapist who has met the requirements of the Physiotherapy Specialist scope of practice may call themselves a Physiotherapy Specialist in one of the nominated categories such as Physiotherapy Specialist – Musculoskeletal.


2.     Physiotherapy specialist

2.1. Only registered Physiotherapy Specialists can use descriptors that state or imply this status, including derivations of the term specialist, such as specialising or speciality.

2.2. The Physiotherapy Specialist can determine how they promote themselves to define their practice within these speciality areas further. The approved categories for registration under this scope are:

    • Cardiorespiratory
    • Pelvic Health
    • Hand Therapy
    • Musculoskeletal
    • Neurology
    • Occupational Health
    • Older adults
    • Paediatrics
    • Pain

The Board can also use its discretion on a case-by-case basis if an applicant wants to apply to be a physiotherapy specialist in an area that is not on this list.


Related resources

Aotearoa New Zealand Physiotherapy Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. (10.5)

Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003. Part 2 section 11&12

Notice of New Scope Practice (Physiotherapy Specialist) * and Related Qualifications. NZ Government Gazette.

Physiotherapy Board Position Statement. New Zealand registered physiotherapists practising in a defined field.

Protected titles (UK)

Policy statement: Protection of title (WCPT)

What are the protected titles in National Law (Australia)



May 2018

This statement is scheduled for review in 2023. Legislative and/or technical changes may make this statement obsolete before this review date.



[1] Sections 1,2 and 5 are the most relevant sections of the Act