The State of the PT Industry - Part 1

Jul 8, 2019
8 min read
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Physical therapy is changing rapidly, and we have to make those changes work for us instead of resisting.

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The climate of the healthcare industry is evolving. The last seven to ten years have seen massive, industry-wide changes to the technologies used both generally and in patient care as well as to patient and practitioner demographics, and those changes aren’t slowing down any time soon. But these are large scale changes, they won’t hit your practice, right? Well, it turns out, they probably already have. Let’s take a look at the changes up close and what you can do to adapt.

New technology

The development of new technologies is an inevitability, but the technology boom and the age of information have dramatically reshaped the world and the healthcare industry in a number of ways.

People the world over have access to more information now than they ever have before. That accessibility, placed in the hands of our patients, means that they can easily research their own conditions and medications. They can walk into our clinic feeling like they know as much as we do. While this can sometimes be troublesome as a healthcare professional, we can effectively make use of these efficiencies to make our lives much easier.

We have the opportunity to communicate with other practitioners more readily and consistently provide the best possible treatment options. Think about it! Fifty years ago if a doctor developed a new treatment style or perfected a new surgery, the best way to share that information would be to write and publish a paper in a reputable journal, travel around the country (or world), and teach courses to other doctors who were interested in adopting it.

Today, that same doctor can submit their paperwork to as many journals as they’d like, but they can also write their own blog posts, make a YouTube series, and the techniques can be shared in minutes, not weeks, months, or even years.

These are just a few of the ways that new developments in the industry are growing, but how are these hitting your practice directly?

Hiring technology

One of the key things I mentioned above was a massive shift in the way that we communicate with one another. The amazing developments that let us share clinical practices with other healthcare professionals around the world are the same changes that are making hiring that much more difficult.

Before the advent of the internet, how did folks go about looking for a new position? They only had a few options:

  1. Walk into a nearby practice with a resume in hand and ask if they’re looking for a new doctor.
  2. Pull up a copy of the Yellow Pages, pick up the phone, and start calling practices in the area.
  3. Go to as many conferences and industry events as they could and network, network, network.

Job seekers that are on the hunt today can sit down on their couch, pick up their smartphone, and scroll through hundreds of jobs at their fingertips. Today’s job seeker expects their opportunities on demand. You’d be lucky to see one in five hundred candidates walk into your practice to talk to you about an opening.

Our 2019 Physical Therapist Report touched base with 795 PTs across the industry to find out exactly what the current climate looks like. Check out the details here.

Candidates in 2019 are able to network and communicate through social media. They chat with each other on Instagram and Twitter. They form Facebook and LinkedIn groups. They scroll through Reddit and their favorite blogs in their free time. This all boils down to one thing for employers: in order to attract new talent, we have to play their game. And we’re going to have to play their game soon because…

Politics, policies, and retirees

The ACA

It’s impossible to talk about changes to healthcare in the US without discussing the Affordable Care Act. The ACA has made health insurance available for over 21 million patients. If 21 million more people are eligible for care, we’ll need a lot more healthcare practitioners to care for them. Unfortunately, our current reserves are shrinking for two major reasons.

Retiring baby boomers

The baby boomer generation (people born between 1946 and 1964) is beginning to age out of the workforce, and the number of them entering retirement will only continue to increase in the next few years. In order to compensate, new schools are opening across the country to bolster the number of practicing PTs, but they still can’t keep up with the anticipated demand for new professionals. In fact, the APTA projects that the supply of new physical therapists won’t meet the demand until beyond 2025 (the end point of their projection was 2025, and there was still a shortage of 26,560 PTs).

An industry shortage

If there is a shortage of over 25,000 PTs, that means that PTs that are on the search for a new position have their choice of over 25,000 opportunities! Combine this with the fact that the unemployment rate is the lowest it has been since 1969, and a clear image begins to emerge: there just aren’t enough professionals to go around. In order to stand out in the sea of openings, you have to be cognizant of what candidates are looking for.

What are candidates looking for?

Today’s candidates aren’t just looking for a big paycheck or tons of benefits. While those are absolutely still important, job seekers are actively seeking companies with clearly established cultures and a strong sense of branding.

A study conducted by TalentLyft in 2018 found that 75% of candidates will research a company’s reputation and brand before even applying for a job. Attracting the right candidates for your clinic is now just as much about marketing your brand as attracting new patients because in the same way that a patient has their choice of what practitioner to visit, healthcare practitioners have thousands of opportunities to review.

Whether you have a growing clinic or rapidly expanding PT travel company, you'll want to address the emotions of your potential candidates with your company's brand.

Take a moment to imagine yourself as a patient. How do you decide where you’re going to go for treatment? You’ll likely ask your friends if they have any recommendations. Maybe you’ll check out reviews on Google or Yelp. It’s likely that your decision will come down to a few things:

  • Does it feel “right?”
  • Does it feel professional?
  • Does it feel up to date?
  • Does it feel like I will be well cared for there?

At the end of the day, these feelings are part of the practice's packaging. They’re designed to make you feel a certain way about the experience. In the same way that companies like Apple are very deliberate with their product packaging, a practice has to be deliberate in presenting its mission and offerings. Your products are your practice, the services it provides, your practice culture, and the job you have to offer.

Getting started today and learning how to market your practice properly can help you get you ahead of the curve.

Looking to the future

There’s no way we could have accurately predicted the enormous changes of the last decade, and unfortunately, we can’t predict the coming future with 100% certainty either. One key change on the horizon that we can see, however, is the development of telehealth as a viable solution for almost all providers.

The growth of telemedicine is likely to connect directly with the growing gig economy, and we will see large ride share-like services develop where practitioners will be able to see patients at their leisure on a flexible schedule. This means that the pool of candidates available for full-time, in-clinic work will continue to diminish.

As healthcare as a whole comes face to face with these challenges, the only way to come out on top is to get ahead of the curve!

Stay tuned for our second piece in our series as we discuss the costs associated with hiring (and not hiring) your new team member! Feel free to reach out to me here at CovalentCareers or on my social media pages! Before you go, leave your questions in the comments, and we might add them to the series!

About Brett Kestenbaum

As a physical therapist myself, I understand the general struggles of life after graduation, and the importance of focused attention on our patients. As Chief Operating Officer at CovalentCareers, I am afforded the opportunity to connect with thousands of physical therapists around the country. My goal is to improve the accessibility of information and careers for healthcare practitioners. Feel free to message me at any time! Always happy to connect.


Allied Health July 22nd, 2019
The 2019 Physical Therapist Report By CovalentCareers

CovalentCareers conducted a survey of more than 1,400 physical therapists and physical therapy students. Here are the results!