Swedish physiotherapists made the need to change their profession's name a theme of World Physical Therapy Day activities in 2013.
Swedish physiotherapists made the need to change their profession's name a theme of World Physical Therapy Day activities in 2013.

Profession gets a name change in Sweden – with a little help from its international friends

Swedish physical therapists have officially changed the name of their profession and its association to reflect its modern status and activity.

In January this year it changed from sjukgymnast (meaning literally gymnastics for sick people) to fysioterapeut (physiotherapy) and the Legitimerade Sjukgymnasters Riksförbund (a name first used in 1943) became the Swedish Association of Physiotherapists (or Fysioterapeuterna).

“The old name was too limiting and not in line with the title used in the rest of the world,” said Birgit Rösblad of the association, pointing out that the name of the profession has been a question of debate for decades in Sweden. But the change was not simple, since the profession’s name is regulated in Swedish law.

After prolonged discussion between the profession and politicians, the law was changed at the start of 2014, protecting the title of both fysioterapeut and sjukgymnast. “Our membership of WCPT has been most helpful for us in this issue,” says Birgit Rösblad. 

The Swedish association was supported in the name-change process by another WCPT member, the Deutscher Verband für Physiotherapie, which oversaw the change of the profession’s name from krankengymnast to physiotherapeut when East and West Germany came together in 1990. West German physiotherapists had long wanted to modernise their job title, but had been unable to do so because of protection of title issues and potential confusion with doctors. 

But according to Eckhardt Boehle of the Deutscher Verband für Physiotherapie, re-unification brought irresistible pressure to change, given that East German physiotherapy  was called physiotherapeut. “We could convince the government to include the change in the unification treaty. That was a great success,” he said. Again, both terms became protected by law.

“We had several discussions about this with our Swedish colleagues, and met with Birgit when we had our WCPT or European meetings. I do think that this is a very good example of how important membership in our international community is.”

Birgit Rösblad said: “The German association shared their experiences of the process and pointed out the importance of getting both the old and the new title protected. We used Germany as an example. We had their law regarding protection of titles translated into Swedish and handed it over to our government.”

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