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Part 4: Physical Therapy Job Trends: PT Education

We are excited to bring you the fourth part of a five part series from Trent Casper, MPT covering physical therapy – present and future.

This week we reveal part four and invite you to share your thoughts and opinions with us.

PT Education

The physical therapy profession is in the process of transitioning to a clinical doctorate as the entry level for physical therapists.  The duration of education for the clinical doctorate has in general added one to two semesters of education before clinicians are eligible to sit for the examination overseen by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. 


This added time to qualify to be a therapist has created an effective shortage on the supply side.  This situation is summed up in a report by Lisa Huddleston, “Health Council Releases Annual Vacancy/Age Report and Nursing Demand/Supply Study,” April 20, 2009 addressing therapy needs inCincinnati,Ohio.

At the moment, however, job security for all physical therapists still appears to be solid. According to a report released last week by the Greater Cincinnati Health Council (using data from 28 hospitals in the tri-state area), physical therapists have an average vacancy rate of 13.5% (up from 9.3% in 2007)…., and PTAs and COTAs have vacancy rates of 13.1% and 14.7%, respectively. The report claims that changes to physical therapy education requirements are part of the vacancy problem. “Because physical therapists are now required to have a doctorate degree, Greater Cincinnati will experience a lack of graduates during the transition.”2

The challenge with the shortage in therapists due to education transition and other factors is that universities naturally respond to the effective shortage by increasing enrollment.  This is necessary to meet the demands for patients needing care but will ultimately likely lead to an abundance of therapists at some point in time as the Baby Boomers become less prevalent, demand for therapy diminishes and universities are slow to lower enrollment due to an associated loss of revenue.

The American Physical Therapy Association is trying to stay out ahead of this situation having organized a task force to look at therapy needs from 2010 to 2020.  Their model takes into account various supply and demand variables including education where the APTA estimates a 4% growth rate of graduating therapists from 2010 to 2020.3

As pricing pressure continues to be downward on healthcare services, and therefore likely also on therapist salaries, and the cost of the education to become a physical therapist increases with the change to a doctoral level entry degree, the return on investment question may begin to loom larger in the minds of those who may be considering a career in physical therapy.  As part of the consideration of going to a doctoral level entry degree the APTA should also consider the need to get paid residencies similar to physicians to make the prospect of becoming a PT more realistic.

Part 1: Physical Therapy Job Trends: Physical Therapy – What Can We Expect For The Future?

Part 2: Physical Therapy Job Trends: Payer Changes

Part 3: Physical Therapy Job Trends: America’s Aging Population

Subscribe to the MSOC Blog to catch the next part in this series as soon as it’s available.

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