House Votes to Boost Physical Therapy Graduates to Meet Demand

Amendment offers debt relief to PTs working in areas of need

ALEXANDRIA, VA, February 8, 2008 — Physical therapists (PTs) who choose to work with children, adolescents or veterans would be eligible to apply for student loan forgiveness under legislation approved Thursday, February 7, by the US House of Representatives. Rep Joe Sestak's (D-PA) amendment to the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007 (HR 4137) authorizes the US Secretary of Education to forgive a portion of qualifying student loan debt to PTs practicing in areas of national need.

"According to the American Hospital Association, physical therapists represent the occupation for which the greatest percentage of vacancies exists in our hospitals across our nation, at 11.4%. This is at a time when the demand for physical therapists' employment is projected to grow 27% within 8 years, even as 58% of our hospitals were reporting in 2006 that therapist recruitment is more difficult than the year before," said Congressman Sestak. "I believe it is imperative we add physical therapists into the 'areas of national need,' to ensure the Secretary of Education has direction to provide loan repayment forgiveness to boost the number of graduates of physical therapy programs, who provide critical services to children, adolescents, and veterans."

The amendment authorizes the education secretary to forgive up to $2,000 in Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) and William D Ford Direct Loan (DL) debt per year of full-time employment in an area of national need, with a maximum of $10,000 over 5 years of service. PLUS Loans borrowed on behalf of a dependent student are exempt. HR 4137 already included loan forgiveness for speech-language pathologists, early childhood educators, nurses, medical specialists, and child welfare workers, among others, but failed to recognize the profession of physical therapy. Members of the House and Senate will meet in conference to finalize the legislation.

"This amendment provides valuable incentives to enter the profession of physical therapy and help meet the high demand for physical therapists that exists across the nation," said American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) President R Scott Ward, PT, PhD. "Physical therapists often begin their careers with significant levels of student loan debt. Offering forgiveness will help enhance physical therapy availability for children, adolescents and veterans, and provide lasting health benefits in these areas."

Physical therapists are health care professionals who diagnose and manage individuals of all ages, from newborns to elders, who have medical problems or other health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives. Physical therapists examine each individual and develop a plan of care using treatment techniques to promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability. Physical therapists also work with individuals to prevent the loss of mobility by developing fitness-and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles.

The American Physical Therapy Association (www.apta.org) is a national organization representing physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, and students nationwide. Its goal is to foster advancements in physical therapist education, practice, and research. Consumers can access "Find a PT" to find a physical therapist in their area, as well as physical therapy news and information at www.apta.org/consumer.

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