Practice Experience Podcast: Improving the PT Labor Shortage

In this podcast episode, we’re taking a hard look at the causes of the physical therapy labor shortage—and some possible solutions.

Mike Willee
5 min read
February 9, 2024
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The rehab therapy profession has spent a lot of time lamenting its labor shortage issues—and not nearly as much energy into addressing the systemic issues at the root of the problem. So how can leaders solve the upstream recruiting barriers that have DPT enrollment dwindling, or address the retention challenges that have talented clinicians leaving for other careers?  

In this episode of The Practice Experience Podcast, WebPT Co-Founder and Chief Clinical Officer Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC, sits down with JeMe Cioppa-Mosca, Senior Vice President at HSS Rehabilitation and Performance to discuss what steps the industry can take to get the physical therapy labor shortage under control. 

In examining the therapist labor shortage, Heidi and JeMe discuss: 

  • how academia is failing—and being failed,
  • how to find the right providers to fit your culture, and 
  • what today’s clinicians are looking for to give them job satisfaction.

Episode Highlights

On the Awareness Problem that’s Shrinking the PT Pipeline 

JeMe: We also have an issue of lack of awareness of physical therapy as a profession. If you ask a middle schooler or a high schooler, they'll talk about nursing. They'll maybe talk about being a physician assistant or being a physician, but rarely will you hear anybody talk about becoming a physical therapist.

On the Lack of Preparedness Among Recent Grads

JeMe: I feel that especially with COVID, the therapists are not graduating as strong as they did pre-COVID... I don't feel that the students are coming out so prepared. I do think that part of this is related to COVID. I think that factor will be prevalent for the next few years as the graduating classes come up and hopefully get shifted. But I don't feel like they're as properly skilled as they should be.

Heidi:  Just like onboarding to any new company, any new clinic, there should be this onboarding period of mentorship and getting this new person integrated into your company, your organization, to understand the lay of the land, how things are done. But the clinical skills level should be something that's standardized.

On the Lack of Awareness of PT Among Students—Particularly Underrepresented Groups

Heidi:  They don't even aspire to be a doctor of physical therapy. Like the doctor of anything seems a little bit out of reach because they don't really see as many folks that look like them in these areas or have never been exposed to PT.

JeMe: The concept of physical therapy in general, at the high school and middle school level is not a term or a word or a profession that is just common. It's just not common. And I think we as a profession would do ourselves good in really focusing on that subset of the population. Because without that, it is the catch-22. The schools are not getting the applicants that they need.

On the Need for Different Career Ladders

JeMe: There's not just one career ladder that everybody has to get onto, which is important, right? Because it's important to have staff clinicians who want to better themselves clinically, but maybe they don't want to go into executive management or leadership. They're happy just treating patients, which I always loved in my practice. You need those folks that just love being with their patients every day and they want to just get better in understanding how to help each one of them, whether that's through improving their outcomes, right, or utilization of care, like some of those real clinical milestones that we are all looking at.

On Why Money Alone Can’t Address Retention Problems

JeMe: It's not just about paying people. Don't get me wrong; everybody wants to be paid well. Cash is king, and people like money. But that's only one small snippet. And if you look at any surveys on engagement, one of the things that is least popular on why someone is engaged is their salary. It is about everything else. It's about the work environment. It is about feeling valued. Salary's kind of neutral.

Listen and subscribe to The Practice Experience Podcast:

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