October 29, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
Idaho State University
University of Delaware
Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions
American Physical Therapy Association
School of Medicine and Public Health
Jan Kretzschmar: The ability to motivate and work in a team.
Jan Kretzschmar: The ability to empathize with patients and make them feel special.
Jan Kretzschmar: Anything related to assessments.
Jan Kretzschmar: Leadership qualities.
Dr. Evan Papa Ph.D.: We do not anticipate that the coronavirus will have any negative impact on our students' ability to acquire gainful employment. In fact, it might actually increase opportunities in physical therapy, as the COVID-19 virus has significant effects on the cardiorespiratory system and physical functioning, at least acutely.
Dr. Evan Papa Ph.D.: Our field is very broad and so the day-in and day-out routines for physical therapists vary by the settings they occupy. However, they're work won't change because of the coronavirus pandemic. Our vision is to transform society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience. That remains in effect and is actually heightened by the effects of pandemic.
Dr. Evan Papa Ph.D.: For most physical therapists income potential is driven by payers (insurance). Most payers follow what the federal government is doing with Medicare reimbursements, so it would take legislative action to increase earning potential for those in our field right now.
Adrienne Pinckney PT, DPT, Cert. MDT: For new graduate physical therapists (DPTs) entering the job market, it appears that their options, pertaining to the type of healthcare/rehab setting in which they work, may be a bit more limited than what we witnessed prior to the pandemic. In general, physical therapists can be found in almost all healthcare settings (inpatient acute care hospitals, inpatient rehab facilities, skilled nursing homes/facilities, outpatient clinics, athletic facilities, home care, and many more). Because of the effects of the pandemic on inpatient settings and their patients (hospitals, rehab facilities, nursing homes), we're seeing these effects play out in terms of staffing. Many inpatient facilities, especially acute care hospitals, are not necessarily hiring new graduate physical therapists at the same rate that they were prior to the pandemic. These inpatient facilities have now been forced to focus on recruiting experienced physical therapists in these settings (if they have any hiring needs at all).
The result is that more new graduate physical therapists may be starting their careers in outpatient PT clinic settings or skilled nursing facility settings, as compared to what we have seen in past years, as these facility types appear to be hiring new graduates at the greatest rate among all types of rehab facilities as of late.
Additionally, early on when the pandemic began in spring 2020, new graduate PTs expressed concern about coming into a job market having to compete with experienced PTs who had either completely lost their jobs or been furloughed due to the pandemic. What we saw by the end of 2020 is that new graduates were able to secure employment opportunities; however, these opportunities might not always be one of their top choices in healthcare settings (i.e. some new graduate PTs may want to work in a hospital or inpatient rehab setting, but are only able to secure employment in an outpatient orthopedic or skilled nursing facility setting).
There are also trends in the type of PT employment available based on geographic location in the U.S. This, in and of itself, is no different than before the pandemic; however, these trends are now also affected by the COVID-19 infection rates in these geographic regions. For example: In a state or region where, historically, securing a job in an acute care hospital setting was a rather reasonable expectation, PTs now see that the most abundant job opportunities in this same region may be in outpatient orthopedic facilities or skilled nursing homes.
Adrienne Pinckney PT, DPT, Cert. MDT: Even in light of the pandemic, I believe that entry level physical therapists (DPTs) should avoid taking a gap year after graduation (unless extreme personal circumstances warrant this decision). Licensed physical therapists are essential healthcare workers and are critical to the spectrum of care and recovery of all patients with a myriad of conditions and injuries, including COVID-19. As such, although PTs may not find jobs in the healthcare setting of their top choice, they will not have trouble finding employment in the United States.
If an entry-level DPT has to take a gap year for whatever personal reason, I strongly recommend that they make every effort to seek out PT mentorship and remain connected to the PT world through trying to be physically present in some capacity in a PT/rehab setting (either as a volunteer, PT aide/tech in a facility, administrative support . . . something) or even in any type of facility related to health & wellness (fitness center, wellness center, etc.), in an effort to stay connected to patient care and exercise their observation, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills as a PT clinician. Taking a year off can be very detrimental to passing the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), which is required for PT state licensure (if the individual doesn't take the exam immediately after graduation), as well as detrimental to their overall skill set as quality physical therapists.
Adrienne Pinckney PT, DPT, Cert. MDT: Be patient and remain open-minded about the type of setting in which you begin your career. Seek out PT mentorship both in the clinical setting/practice area that you start out working in and in the clinical setting/practice area that you aspire to work in (if it's not the same as where you start your career). Many experienced PTs around the country welcome the opportunity to serve as mentors for the next generation of physical therapists. Use resources, including your former professors of your DPT program, as well as the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), to find and reach out to mentors in your desired practice area. Seek to learn something new every day of your PT career for the rest of your lives and be patient with yourselves and with those whom you serve.
Department of Biology
Dr. Todd Roach D.C.: My best advice to new graduates would be not to lose focus. There are a lot of "shiny objects" in healthcare that can be distracting. It doesn't matter if you open your practice or start working for an established tradition; there are many distractions when it comes to attracting and fulfilling patient needs. Find what you are passionate about (i.e., sports rehab, pain control, headaches, etc.) and focus on your message and talents.
Dr. Todd Roach D.C.: There has always been a lot of technology in treatment modalities, but I think the most significant advances will be in patient communication and retention. There is so much information available, but it is hard to sort through. As chiropractors, we can do a lot more for patients by addressing lifestyle and nutrition, and in-office treatments. I believe the advances will help patients outside of the office, assist them to "outside" of the office.
Dr. Todd Roach D.C.: Starting salaries, fresh out of school, can vary depending on the desire to be an associate doctor in an established office or to create a practice. As an assistant doctor, there is usually a base monthly salary (typically $30k - $50k, in my experience) with the opportunity to increase that salary, based on the amount of revenue generated in practice. Successful associate doctors may also be able to negotiate some ownership in the existing rule. This is usually the most lucrative situation when someone is just out of college. This is also a great way to learn the aspects of a business which aren't covered in school. Starting a practice from scratch is a long road. There is a steep learning curve for most graduates, and it could take months to establish a stable income finally. Once the practice starts moving and becomes successful, there are more benefits and higher income opportunities.
Dr. Jeff Lau Ph.D.: I think an employer best answers this question. However, graduates from professional/clinical rehabilitation science programs would be wise to highlight all clinical and internships that emphasize learning experiences with patients. Specialty training with specific populations, cutting edge equipment or training programs, and unique settings can help an applicant stand out.
Dr. Jeff Lau Ph.D.: Technology will have a significant impact on the delivery of rehabilitation services. From examination and assessment techniques to interventions that utilize new technologies, new graduates enter the field prepared to be more effective and efficient than ever before, providing rehabilitative services. They will have access to the most current information via mobile devices, document electronically, and share information through connected databases that help chart progress, apply evidence to treatment approaches, and assess individual and community level outcomes. Even the mode of delivery, through options like telehealth and virtual visits, has started to improve access to patients who may have had limited access to critical rehabilitative services before and will continue to improve as technology advances each day.
Dr. Jeff Lau Ph.D.: I believe there will be a lasting impact of the pandemic on graduates. Feedback from our students and instructors indicates that it has already changed their perspectives on patient care limitations and possibilities in some ways. The epidemic has forced providers to become more creative in providing services to patients and re-evaluate how and why they practice the way they do. It has encouraged practitioners to prioritize rehabilitative services and delivery of those services in unique ways, and many are discovering that some of the new ways of providing care, which they thought at the onset might be temporary, may lead to more efficiencies, better outcomes, and increased accessibility to underserved populations.
Anita Bemis-Dougherty PT, DPT: We anticipate physical therapists will continue to offer patients the option of telehealth appointments long after the pandemic is over. Telehealth was an option pre-COVID, but its use has grown exponentially since March. During a telehealth appointment, a physical therapist can take a patient history, examine an individual's movement and make recommendations for a plan of care or modifications to the plan of care, which may include individualized exercises. A physical therapist (or physical therapist assistant, under the supervision of the PT) can also observe how patients interact in their environment and provide education to caregivers. An e-visit is different than a telehealth appointment. An e-visit is a discussion around a clinical decision that would otherwise be given in an office setting. In addition to e-visits, many payers, including Medicare, permit physical therapists to provide and bill for virtual check-ins, remote evaluation of video/images, and telephone assessment and management services. CMS has proposed to permanently allow PTs to furnish and bill e-visits, virtual check-in, and remote evaluation of prerecorded image and/or video beginning Jan. 1, 2021. For information, . visit APTA's Telehealth webpage
School of Medicine and Public Health
Physical Therapy Program
Amy G. Schubert and Lisa Steinkamp: It is likely that there will be an enduring impact of COVID-19 on everyone, graduates included. One thing that we're finding is the importance of physical therapy for the early mobilization of patients who are hospitalized and recovering from COVID-19. This is a virus that may very well have long-term effects, which we may very well be addressing in our profession for a long time. Also, some employers are looking for new employees to take on non-traditional clinic schedules with varying hours to accommodate clinics being open more hours/day and days/week to decrease the volume of patients in the clinic at one time; this may be something that becomes more of a new norm. Employers may also consider continuing more flexibility in work schedules to allow for a better work-life balance long-term. Telehealth options have moved from the back burner to the front burner, and graduates have had to quickly learn how to navigate virtual means of interviewing and treating patients. Telehealth will likely become a regular part of the practice and will facilitate treatment for patients who have traditionally faced barriers to scheduling in-person appointments.
Amy G. Schubert and Lisa Steinkamp: The baby boomer generation continues to impact the need for Physical Therapists, both to provide care to those in that generation, as well as to fill the roles of PT's who are ready to retire. There may be a higher demand for Physical Therapists in areas where this need is greater. Also, rural areas of the United States tend to have a greater need for healthcare providers, as a whole.
Amy G. Schubert and Lisa Steinkamp: COVID-19 fast-tracked the rollout of telehealth efforts. The use of telehealth, as well as virtual visits, will likely continue to grow in the area of Physical Therapy, and healthcare in general.