Physical Therapy Workforce Shortage Continues to Grow

For years, the physical therapy community has been warning policymakers that the United States is facing a national shortage of physical therapists and physical therapy professionals. This crisis is particularly acute in rural areas because many physical therapists are concentrated in major metropolitan areas.

Now, a new report confirms that these troubling trends worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A 2023 Definitive Healthcare report, titled “Addressing the Healthcare Staffing Shortage,” highlights data that should have policymakers worried: nearly one in five healthcare workers have quit their jobs since 2020, and research suggests that up to 47% of healthcare workers plan to leave their positions by 2025.

When it comes to our specialty specifically, more than 15,000 physical therapists left the profession between 2021 and 2022. According to the report, this equaled 11% of the physical therapy workforce – representing the largest percentage of the workforce lost when compared to physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and licensed clinical social workers.

We know that physical therapy can reduce healthcare costs, prevent deadly and debilitating falls, and reduce the use of powerful opioids – but this is only possible if seniors are able to access care from a trained physical therapy professional.

Fortunately, lawmakers are aware of the workforce shortage and have taken action to help us grow our profession.

In 2021, Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), Senator Roger Wicker (R-MI), Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), and Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) introduced the Physical Therapist Workforce and Patient Access Act (S. 2676/H.R. 3759), which could strengthen the physical therapy workforce and ultimately help improve patient access to cost-effective care.

If passed, this legislation would create important incentives for more medical professionals to enter the specialty by allowing physical therapists to participate in the National Health Service Corps student loan repayment program. Participating therapists would be eligible to receive up to $50,000 for loan repayment if they commit to serve in a medically underserved or designated health care professional shortage area for two years.

APTQI urges Congress to take swift action to help us expand the physical therapy workforce so we can meet our aging populations’ growing demand for services.