What might the future hold when it comes to demand for physical therapists (PTs)? According to the latest models developed by APTA, that depends on several factors, including the rate at which PTs leave the profession over the next 7 years.
The association has just released the results of its latest adjustments to predictions of supply and demand for PTs through 2020, and while 2 of 3 possible scenarios show a healthy growth in demand, changes to demographics, health insurance use, and projected supply of PTs may make that growth less dramatic than earlier reports suggested. A third scenario contemplates the possibility that by 2020 there may actually be a slight surplus of PTs—about 1,500 over demand.
The APTA Workforce Task Force makes adjustments to projections each year. According to the report, the differences between the 2012 and 2013 projections are mostly due to 3 factors: a lower rate of US population increase than projected in 2012, a lower percentage of insured people than projected last year, and an anticipated increase in the supply of PTs. The lower demand numbers mean that if PT attrition rates are 1.5% or lower, supply could meet or even slightly exceed demand by 2020.
Most projections show physical therapy as a growing profession, with projected unmet demand ranging from 13,638 to 27,822, depending on the attrition rate of PTs over time. The APTA Workforce Task Force now uses 3 projected attrition rates—3.5%, 2.5%, and 1.5%. When balanced against PT workforce rates that include a projected 4% growth in graduates, a 1% increase in candidates who pass the licensure examination, and a steady flow of international PTs who pass the exam, the number of licensed PTs is projected to rise from about 176,000 to between 203,000 and 232,000 by 2020. The supply and demand data are part of a suite of resources on the physical therapy workforce available on APTA's website.
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