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The 3 Biggest Challenges Faced by Physical Therapists

Physical Therapy challengesBy Ian Samuels

Physical therapy can be a rewarding career choice, but it can also involve considerable challenges that require creative ways of leveraging one's credentials in specific roles like physical therapy travel jobs. To get the best out of your time in the physical therapy field, it's important to be familiar with these issues.

Consult this summary of the three biggest challenges faced by PTs and visit Med Travelers to decide whether travel assignments are right for you.

The 3 biggest challenges for physical therapists

1. The demanding pace 

One of the most commonly cited problems facing physical therapists, especially outside of physical therapy travel jobs, is pressure to cram more work and more patients into the smallest possible amounts of time. Lisa Alemi, PhD in Physical Therapy and Certified Athletic Trainer, puts it this way:

" ... decreased reimbursement from insurance companies [is] leading to limited financial growth in the field and increased stress from day to day. Before choosing to stay home with my newborn, I was working as a physical therapist while also managing a clinic of nine employees ... When I was promoted, which meant I had significant more responsibility, I was given less than a 5 percent increase in pay. But my list of duties quadrupled."

Lauren Lobert, DPT, OMPT, CSCS, CKTP, agrees:

"Most PT clinics have their therapists see 3+ visits per hour. It is physically and mentally exhausting, and near impossible to provide quality care to this quantity of patients in this time frame."

The demands are both mental and physical. As Farrah Jiwa of Backs in Action says: "Part of the job as a physical therapist will be to literally offer support to clients as they work toward supporting themselves." Factor in that obesity rates in the adult population exceed 25 percent in all but four states and the level of physical demand being discussed here becomes more obvious.

It's a refrain echoed by one therapist after another. Work in the field is marked by a constant drive for productivity combined with a chaotic insurers market, leading to more and more therapists being pushed to work overtime without proper compensation. There is an impact on workplace community, too, as the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy notes: "PTs with unreasonably high productivity standards have fewer opportunities to work with or talk with their colleagues."

Some physical therapists have coped with these stresses by seeking alternate ways to use their credentials. Physical therapy travel jobs are less subject to these pressures, making them a leading contender for kinds of employment that can stave off burnout.

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2. The debt-to-earnings ratio 

The length of time that physical therapists can be expected to carry student debt is getting harder for people in the field outside of physical therapy travel jobs to sustain. Farrah Jiwa explains:

"Physical therapists must complete at least six years of higher education before they can begin to work in the community. A bachelor's degree and a master's degree are minimum requirements. Part of their education will include working in practical clinic or hospital settings as a therapist assistant so they can gain the experience needed to find a job after graduation. They need to invest several years and several thousands of dollars toward their education."

Lobert describes the results of this succinctly: "It's insane. The salary vs. debt ratio is astronomical. I will be paying student loans off, at $700/month, for the rest of my life. And that's for income based repayment!"

This kind of financial pressure is another factor driving more and more people away from permanent positions and toward physical therapy travel jobs. Travel assignments include housing stipends and other tax benefits, which combined with actual salary compare very favorably with permanent PT positions, enabling people to escape their debt burden faster.

3. Public misperceptions 

Another familiar and important issue for the physical therapy profession, both in and out of physical therapy travel jobs, is public perception. Heidi Jannenga of WebPT, PT, DPT, ATC, says:

"Patients don’t always understand the value physical therapists bring to the table — even after they access our care. It's tragic enough that 90 percent of the patients who could benefit from PT services never see a therapist. And of the patients who actually do make it to PT, only one in 10 complete their full course of care, according to research we recently conducted at WebPT. That means the vast majority of patients are missing out on the optimal outcomes that would enable them to achieve the highest quality of life. On top of that, PTs are missing out on the opportunity to collect the outcomes data necessary to prove the efficacy of our care."

Consumer knowledge of PT expertise and breadth of practice remains shockingly low. DPTs do not take a leading position in public polls as the first choice for dealing with any form of ailment and are still well behind chiropractors as a public choice for treatment of back pain, despite having far more data to back up their profession's efficacy.

Physical therapy travel jobs are as subject to this general condition as other PTs but are in the fortunate position of working in a portion of the industry where the institutions welcoming them do clearly understand their value — as they're often helping in situations where the facility has been getting by with stop-gap solutions — and having put up with those stop-gaps, the clients better grasp their contributions as well.

Physical therapy travel jobs can be a great alternative to permanent positions

It's clear from the above points that physical therapy faces great pressures as a field, but physical therapy travel jobs can be a great way to practice the profession while seeing more of the world and enjoying better-than-median compensation for the sector. Take advantage of Med Travelers' Job Alerts service to find physical therapy travel jobs that will let you explore these benefits.

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