Physical therapists and physical therapist assistants perform invaluable work. Without them, patients would struggle to regain function in post-surgical rehab. Many would live with ongoing pain, making it nearly impossible to live a normal life.

Although the number of recent physical therapy graduates has risen somewhat, the industry still suffers from a serious physical therapist shortage. Issues such as poor work-life balance, student debt, and burdensome administrative tasks have contributed heavily to this staffing shortage.

Understanding the Physical Therapist Shortage

According to one study, as many as 22,000 physical therapists may have left the field in 2021. Losing that many physical therapists has dealt a major blow to patients seeking care from PT clinics. And as baby boomers age, staffing shortages will continue to have a detrimental impact for the foreseeable future.

Before your physical therapy practice can learn how to combat the shortage in the physical therapy market, you must first understand its causes.

Causes of the Shortage

Why exactly are there fewer therapists? The primary reasons are as follows:

  • Larger corporate entities push productivity over work-life balance. Stress and burnout can drive physical therapists to small practices or cause them to leave the field entirely.
  • COVID-19 had a huge impact on physical therapy, nursing, social work, and other healthcare services. According to health data analyses, thousands of healthcare professionals left their jobs from 2021 through 2022.
  • Becoming a physical therapist requires a doctoral accreditation process, and many PT students graduate with significant debt. The thought of going into debt for a physical therapy doctorate can scare many would-be physical therapists away from college.
  • Physical therapist salaries may not keep up with the cost of living. This is especially true at private practices and clinical sites in rural areas. Nationally, physical therapists earn a median salary of $97,720 per year. Median annual wages can be thousands less in rural locales.

The Impact of Physical Therapist Shortages

Perhaps the biggest outcome of the physical therapist shortage is the impact on patient care. Patients must wait longer to get a physical therapy referral to PT practices, resulting in poorer health outcomes.

The physical therapy workforce shortage also puts a bigger burden on other healthcare providers and Medicaid services. Healthcare costs increase because instead of getting care in outpatient settings, patients may need to turn to hospitals and inpatient clinics.

Innovative Solutions To Combat the Shortage

Is there any hope for recovery from this physical therapist shortage? Thankfully, yes. Check out these PT shortage solutions.

Education and Training Incentives

Universities can make it easier for students to access their school’s program for physical therapy. They can do this by offering virtual classes in addition to providing hands-on instruction. Colleges should also allocate more tuition dollars to incentives for physical therapy students. For instance, many schools help graduates of PT programs find a job at a private practice or outpatient clinic.

Training healthcare professionals is a wonderful way to retain physical therapists. Consider offering a continuing education physical therapy program for employees.

Utilizing Technology and Automation

Mind-numbing administrative burdens can push physical therapists to leave the field. Practice management software, such as Weave, eliminates many tedious tasks so workers can focus on physical therapy services instead.

Policy and Reimbursement Changes

Reimbursement rates for Medicare patients could dissuade some from entering the physical therapy field. An improvement to Medicare reimbursements at private equity-backed firms would go a long way toward attracting candidates.

Weave: A Tool for Efficiency and Engagement

Weave is the definitive healthcare tool for physical therapy practices. Features include:

  • Online appointment scheduling
  • Automatic appointment reminders
  • Texting and team chat capabilities
  • Email marketing
  • Insurance verification

Weave eliminates burdensome tasks so physical therapists can focus on what they do best: helping patients.

Battle the Physical Therapy Workforce Shortage With Weave

The physical therapist shortage may be disheartening, but it’s not all doom and gloom. By working together, colleges and private equity firms can address the physical therapy workforce crisis and make the field appealing again.

Want to do your part in fighting physical therapy staffing challenges? Try Weave! Our software can save physical therapists hours per week, freeing them to spend more time with patients instead. Get your free demo of Weave today.


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