What’s an Exercise Physiologist?
An exercise physiologist (commonly referred to as an EP), is a university qualified allied health professional that has been extensively trained in the implementation of safe and effective exercise prescription and intervention for people with acute, sub-acute or chronic medical conditions, injuries and disabilities.
How does an EP gain (and maintain) accreditation?
To gain accreditation, an individual must:
- Graduate from a minimum 4 years of study in an accredited tertiary course meeting the AQF requirements for Level 7 that leads to bachelor degree qualifications
- Meet the professional standards for exercise science, leading to accreditation as an Accredited Exercise Scientist (AES)*, including 140 hours of practical experience for the purpose of undertaking an exercise intervention to improve health and fitness, wellbeing or performance, or focus on prevention of chronic conditions
- Meet the professional standards for exercise physiology, including 360 hours of practical experience with clients with clinical conditions (eg. cardiovascular, pulmonary, metabolic, musculoskeletal, neurological)
AEPs are dual accredited, holding the foundational accreditation of AES in addition to their AEP status.
To maintain accreditation, an EP is required to:
- Hold and maintain a valid first aid and CPR certificate
- Hold and maintain appropriate professional indemnity insurance
- Complete an annual continuing professional program comprising 20 points per annum
- Uphold the governing bodies Code of Professional Conduct and Ethical Practice
Who can an EP work with, and in what setting?
Due to their tertiary training and understanding of human physiology, EPs can work with people across a range of pathologies, including but not limited to:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Metabolic disease
- Neurological diseases and injuries
- Respiratory conditions
- Mental health
- Musculoskeletal injuries and conditions
Because EPs can work with people across such a vast range of pathologies you will often find them working in the following settings:
- Medical centres
- Allied health centres
- Sports teams
- Occupational rehab
What is the role of the EP within these population groups and settings?
Ultimately, the EPs role is very broad and can often be hard to define, however, the common theme across all pathologies and settings is the prescription and delivery of exercise based interventions to improve the health, functional mobility, recovery and independence of their clients so that they can engage in activities of daily living at home, work and in the community.
Simultaneously, EPs work hard to educate and empower people so that people can begin to self manage their health outcomes and conditions to prevent a decline in health status.
An EPs approach to this will change for every person they work with to ensure that all interventions and prescriptions are client centred and specific to the situation at hand.
That sounds like what a Physiotherapist does - what's the difference?
It is certainly true that there are some areas of overlap between the roles of physiotherapists and exercise physiologists, however, there are several key differences separating the professions.
The biggest difference comes back to the education received at university. The training of a physiotherapist has a heavy emphasis on the diagnosis and assessment of disease, injury and disability states within the body. Therefore, Physiotherapists tend to be more active within the acute phase of injury. Alternatively, EPs have a greater emphasis on increasing functional mobility and quality of life over a longer period of time, they therefore tend to be more active in the chronic phase of disease and injury.
The other key point of difference between physiotherapists and EPs is how hands on the professions are. Physiotherapists, by virtue of their education, tend to be more hands-on in their treatment, often using massage and mobilisation to treat their clients. EPs are typically more hands-off, treating their clients through exercise interventions instead.
Ultimately, it is often not a matter of picking one over the other, but employing both professions together in a collaborative approach to deliver the best possible outcomes.
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