Are You Ready for the Future of Physical Therapy?

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If you’re a working Physical Therapist (PT) or getting ready to launch your career in the field, you’ve no doubt encountered employers who increasingly offer low salaries, even to experienced PTs. If you’ve specialized in an area like geriatrics, employers simply see you as more costly to them, not more useful.

DPTs May Result in Less Access Not More

Some senior PTs have expressed the notion that physical therapy as we know it will cease to exist a decade from now. Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) programs have not resulted in more jobs, but only driven up salaries, which has reduced the number of open jobs. Even the APTA (American Physical Therapy Association) acknowledges that by 2020, physical therapy will be provided by DPTs, recognized by consumers and other health care professionals as the practitioners of choice. They predict that this will give consumers more “direct access for the diagnosis of, interventions for, and prevention of impairments, activity limitations, participation restrictions, and environmental barriers related to movement, function, and health.” But the cost of earning a doctoral degree will continue to rise, causing many to jettison this career track.

More Jobs for PTAs

Being primarily a female-dominated field, many employers will close open PT positions by PTs who leave to have children. PTs who stay on will be overloaded with increasingly more evaluations to complete per day, with PTAs doing most of the work. The handwriting’s on the wall. Just look at the job ads—most employers want PTAs not PTs. The PT segment is expected to see less than 12% job growth through 2018. The push is on to see more patients and grind out more evaluations per day. This comes at the expense of good patient care, since many PTs believe they should be given more time to get to know the people they’re helping. So while a large percentage of PTs are currently working in hospitals and self-employed, both segments (staff and self employed) are expected to add fewer new jobs through 2018. The slack in care will be taken up by PTAs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, PTA employment will increase by about 45 percent between 2010 and 2020. David Houle and Jonathan Fleece predict that one-third of hospitals will close by 2020, which puts more pressure on these institutions to be increasingly cost-competitive to survive. Doing that means hiring fewer PTs and more PTAs.  This mirrors what’s happening with physician assistants, who will be asked to take up the physician shortage as millions of newly insured seek medical care under the Patient Affordability Act.  

Evidence-Based Practice Will Gain Momentum

APTA notes that Evidence-Based Practice (the use of evidence to guide clinical decision making) will enhance patient/client management and reduce unwarranted variation in PT services. Evidence-based practice unites today’s best available research, clinical expertise, and patient/client values. It also embraces the best patient/client management, practice management, and decisions related to health care policy. Will this put a premium on DPTs? If so where will they come from?

Are you ready for the future of Physical Therapy? If you’re just starting out, you may want to consider segueing into another specialty.


Image courtesy of Ambro/


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