Therapist Career Outlook

Healthcare jobs in the United States have been growing for decades, and the most recent projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show no signs that healthcare job growth will slow any time soon. In the ten year period ending 2018, approximately 26% of all new jobs will be in the healthcare and social assistance industry, which includes public and private hospitals, nursing and residential care facilities, and individual and family services. The sector as a whole is projected to add 4 million new jobs – that's a 24% growth rate.

These projections shouldn't be surprising. Even during the current recession, healthcare added 631,000 jobs from the beginning of the recession in December 2007 through the end of 2009. An aging population and longer life expectancies have been key factors driving this growth, and they will continue to do so. Additionally, new legislation giving millions of uninsured Americans access to healthcare coverage will also influence the need for healthcare providers.

But "healthcare providers" is a broad term – encompassing everything from home health aides to dental hygienists to neurosurgeons. Where does your occupation fall?

Projected employment growth is "faster than average" for physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists and therapy assistants. Physical therapists andtherapy assistants andaides hold several spots on the BLS list of the 30 fastest growing occupations.

Projected therapy employment growth for 2008-2018:

  • Physical therapists — 30%
  • Physical therapy assistants — 33%
  • Occupational therapists — 26%
  • Occupational therapy assistants — 30%
  • Speech therapists — 19%

Clearly, therapists have reason to feel optimistic about their future job prospects, but that doesn't necessarily mean that therapists are without worry. According to the Career Survey,15% oftherapists who are seeking a new therapy position this year are doing so because of cut backs at their former employer. So while healthcare jobs are on the rise, the job you want may not be the job that is available. (Good thing has more than 30,000 jobs to choose from!) However, the most commonly cited reason therapists are looking for jobs this year is to find a position with more responsibility and growth potential. This is a good indicator that therapists are happy with their chosen profession and ready to take on the additional responsibility that an aging population, longer life spans, and extended healthcare coverage will bring.

Other indicators of a positive therapist career outlook:

  • Nearly three-fourths of our survey respondents expect to be working as a therapist ten years from now.
  • 72% of survey respondents feel personally fulfilled by their profession (though 20% say while they are fulfilled, it is not as fulfilling as it once was)
  • 66% would encourage a younger friend or family member to pursue a career as a therapist. When asked why they would recommend a therapy career, one respondent explained, "Medical professionals are needed all over the world. It's a growing and challenging field that comes with great satisfaction."

Of course not all therapists feel quite so positive about their profession. While only 5% of respondents said they would not recommend a therapy career, an additional 20% answered "maybe" when asked if they would encourage a younger family member or friend to pursue a career as a therapist. Commonly cited reasons for the hesitation were pending healthcare legislation, increasing caseloads, and insurance company red tape. Several physical therapists said that the new DPT requirement would make them hesitant to recommend a career as a physical therapist, saying it would be smarter to spend the time and tuition on a physician career, which would likely demand more money and respect.

The positive comments far outweighed the negative:

  • "Job security and flexible opportunities are the main reason it's a great career."
  • "Very fulfilling; great range of settings in which to practice."
  • "Working as a PT gives you freeedom and cuiltivates one's creativity."
  • "It's a great way to make a contribution, the pay is much better than it once was, health-related professions will continue to be plentiful, you can practice in many venues, you can manage your own hours."
  • "There are problems in the system, but I still feel that OT is a very rewarding career."
  • "Anything in the healthcare industry is the way to go."

Based on these comments (and dozens more just like them), it appears that the majority of survey respondents genuinely love what they do. This rare level of job satisfaction, combined with the rapidly growing number of job opportunities, make it a great time to be a therapist.

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