New Report Shows Thousands of Physical Therapists Left the Workforce in 2021

About 22,000 physical therapists left the healthcare workforce in 2021, according to a new report from Definitive Healthcare. This trend represents yet another example of America’s worsening healthcare workforce shortage. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts about 15,400 openings for physical therapists each year, on average, over the next decade. Many of those openings result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as retiring.

Supporting current and future physical and occupational therapists will be critical to ensure patients’ continued access to care.

The workforce shortages affecting all corners of the healthcare system result from high rates of physician burnout and pandemic-related stressors. Additionally, many healthcare providers are on the verge of retirement or will be near that age soon. These compounding labor issues directly affect patients’ access to quality physical therapy.

Overall, the report found that nearly 334,000 physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other clinicians—including physical therapists—left the workforce in 2021, raising healthcare costs and straining the already overstretched healthcare system.

This labor shortage will only be exacerbated by the deep, across-the-board Medicare reimbursement cuts to physical and occupational therapy providers set to take effect in January. These cuts, when combined with previously implemented and future proposed reductions, will total nine percent from 2020 to 2024. This is the latest in a series of Medicare cuts to physical and occupational therapy services that have been implemented over the last decade.

In order to remedy these cuts, Representatives Ami Bera, MD (D-CA) and Larry Bucshon, MD (R-IN) introduced the Supporting Medicare Providers Act of 2022 (H.R. 8800). APTQI joined 100 other stakeholder groups in a letter to the bill’s sponsors expressing support for the legislation.

Passage of this legislation is critical to stabilizing physician and specialty practices, keeping physical therapy office doors open, and ensuring Medicare beneficiaries’ continued access to the high-quality care they need.

Take action today to show your support and ensure all Americans can access quality physical therapy services.