It seems whenever an updated list of careers with growth potential is released, physical therapy makes an appearance somewhere toward the top of the list. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that job growth in the profession is much higher than average for all other occupations. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of jobs in physical therapy is expected to increase by 39 percent while the average for most occupations is around 4 percent.
The expected increase in demand for physical therapists is attributable to a number of factors, including long-term societal changes that will create significant opportunities for those who wish to enter or advance in the field. In other words, physical therapy jobs aren’t going away any time soon thanks to these factors.
An Aging Population
It’s a fact that’s influencing health care across the spectrum these days: the American population is getting older. The Baby Boomer generation (those born between 1945 and 1965) are nearing retirement age, but in general, these older adults are far more active than the generations that preceded them. Physical therapists aren’t just working with those people who want to maintain their forehand on the tennis court or successfully walk 18 holes of the golf course. As we age, issues like stroke or accidents become more commonplace, and physical therapists are necessary to help patients recover and regain some of their strength and mobility after a serious health issue. This increased demand equals increased opportunities for qualified therapists.
Affordable Care Act
While an aging population is increasing demand for services, so is the fact that more Americans than ever before will have health insurance coverage starting in 2014, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. As people pick up health coverage that helps defray the cost of certain medical services, including physical therapy, those who have been putting off certain procedures or therapies are more likely to seek them out, as they are now more affordable. More people needing services means more jobs for therapists.
Demand in Rural Areas
One of the major provisions of the Affordable Care Act is the expansion of health services to rural areas, through nurse-managed community health centers and other facilities. With expanded access to care in these more-remote regions, the need for physical therapy services is bound to grow. Quite simply, patients do not want to travel great distances to receive therapy, thereby creating opportunities for those therapists who are willing to work outside of major metropolitan areas.
Improved Scope of Service
Thanks to medical research, physical therapists have the opportunity to work with patients across a broad spectrum of conditions and diseases. For example, physical therapy is now part of treatment plans for many premature babies, as well as for children with cerebral palsy, motor skills delays and other issues. Physical therapists are no longer simply working with patients who need to recover from a medical event or accident. They are part of proactive recovery teams and have a wider scope of service than ever before. This expanded level of service does require more training, but it also opens up opportunities unavailable in the past.
Alternative to Surgery
Many patients are reluctant to undergo surgical interventions these days. Whether because of cost, a fear of anesthesia or concerns about infection, recovery time or effectiveness, surgery is not always the first choice in treatment. In some cases, physical therapy presents a viable treatment alternative. Some sports injuries, for example, might be more effectively treated with physical therapy than with surgery. Performing strengthening and conditioning exercises for a period of time could produce better results, with less pain and lower costs than other treatments. With cost-cutting a major concern of many insurance carriers and customers trying to manage their deductibles and co-payments, anything that can reduce the burden of health care costs is bound to create opportunities.
Many health care and employment experts predict that physical therapy jobs will remain plentiful for the foreseeable future. For a committed therapist with plenty of education and experience, the employment picture is bright.
About the Author: Amy Bailey is a licensed physical therapist.