US Physical and Occupational Therapy Employment Trends

by Howard Gerber on September 20, 2010

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Think there’s no future in healthcare? Notice it’s getting harder to find staff and healthcare professionals?

If you were to glance at a list of the country’s hottest jobs, you may get a surprise. Healthcare practitioners such as chiropractors, physical therapists, and occupational therapists now make up 42% of jobs within the industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They also say healthcare-related jobs make up 10 of the country’s 20 fastest growing jobs[i].

Even CNN Money made note of the significant growth in this area. CNN Money recently reported physical therapists are expected to see a growth of 27% over the next 10 years. Marc Goldstein, senior director of research for the American Physical Therapy Association was quoted as saying, “All of our projections show that the demand for PT will continue to increase.”[i] The same trend is happening across the country.

Washington Physical and Occupational Therapy Job Markets 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington’s 3,840 physical therapists make an estimated $35.43 per hour and $73,600 annually while occupational therapists make slightly less at $68,610 annually and $33.09 per hour.

Washington suffers from a sharp increase in demand in addition to a shortage of workers. In August of 2009, NWJobs published this statement from Claude Ciancio, President and COO of Apple Physical Therapy

“It’s no longer as enticing as it used to be. It’s actually a little harder to get people as interested in being physical therapists because of the financial realities.”[ii]

California Occupational and Physical Therapy Employment Trends

California’s physical therapists are the fifth highest paid in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with an hourly mean wage of $40.26 and an annual mean wage of $83,740, particularly those in Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura and San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City. Occupational therapists have a similar trend with $82,610 annual mean wages and $39.72 hourly mean wage, which is the highest wage available for this position.

According to SimplyHired.com and Indeed.com, physical and occupational therapists were the top two jobs in the state. No surprise considering the UCLA Health System in Los Angeles is the third largest employer in the state. Kaiser Permanente (Healthcare), Medical Connections, Sutter Health, and Hospital Jobs Online are all in the state’s top ten list of job listers.

Texas Employment Trends In Physical and Occupational Therapy

Employment in the physical and occupational therapy industries experienced a steady decline for much of 2009 in Texas, but the state has had a 17% increase in job openings in the last few months. Included in this increase is a significant jump in both physical and occupational therapy job listings. In fact, these numbers doubled from March 2009 to May 2009.

Occupational therapists are the fifth highest paid in the country with an annual mean wage of $78,470, a mean hourly wage of $37.72, and only an average number of workers currently employed in the state. This provides plenty of room for growth remaining in the state, particularly with the promise of great wages. Unfortunately, it also means a number of healthcare facilities are experiencing a shortage of workers that appears may only get worse.

Physical therapy employment growth has ballooned in Texas. While it started at around 125% growth in January 2008, it experienced a surge in August of that year, reaching 600% growth in August 2009. These numbers have receded some, but with a mean hourly wage of $39.91 and an annual mean income of $83,020, it still holds appeal for workers.

Physical and Occupational Therapy Job Trends In Georgia

After suffering steep declines from February 2010 to March 2010, physical therapy and occupational therapy have recovered somewhat and are now holding steady, according to SimplyHired.com. Physical therapists in the state make an estimated $36.79 per hour and $76, 530 annually while occupational therapists have a mean hourly wage of $33.29 and $69,250 annually.

This puts these jobs at the middle to the lower end of the pack in comparison to other states, but when put into perspective with other jobs in Georgia, it’s still an excellent wage with plenty of opportunity. For example, those working in offices of other health practitioners make a nationally hourly mean wage of $36.42 and $75,760 annually.

Florida‘s Employment Trends In Occupational and Physical Therapy

In January 2006, Indeed.com reported steady numbers for physical and occupational therapy in Florida, with only occupational therapy showing a small gain of approximately 30%. These jobs continued to show steady growth in the state until January 2010 when both positions experienced a huge spike in growth. 

Physical therapy job growth reached 330% and occupational therapy had an 850% increase in job growth, leaving employers scrambling for help. This made it one of the hottest states in these industries for the month, but it also means finding reliable help was near impossible.

Pay and the average number of people applying for these positions has made it a great opportunity for those looking for work, but not quiet as easy as other states to attract qualified help. Physical therapists receive an hourly mean wage of $38.30 and a mean annual salary of $79,670. For occupational therapists, the numbers are slightly lower with a mean wage of $35.14 hourly and $73,090 annually.

Occupational and Physical Therapy Trends In North and South Carolina

For the most part, the Carolinas have experienced a general decline since December 2008 according to both SimplyHired.com and Indeed.com. Both have had a spike of interest in the last few months, but along with the impending shortage and increase in need, they should continue to show relatively steady growth.

Of the two states, North Carolina offers physical and occupational therapists a higher mean wage. For example, North Carolina has a mean wage for occupational therapists of $33.80 hourly while South Carolina pays out just $29.15. For physical therapists, North Carolina pays out $0.94 more hourly than South Carolina. However, North Carolina also employs almost double the employees in these fields than South Carolina.

New Jersey‘s Employment Trends In Occupational and Physical Therapy

The fourth highest paying state for physical and occupational therapists, New Jersey has also experienced a steady increase in employment growth for these industries, experiencing up to 1,000% growth in April of 2009 before starting to decline. This means employers are facing high employment costs in addition to a shortage of workers, putting even more strain on an over-burdened system.

As for pay, New Jersey’s occupational and physical therapists receive a mean hourly wage of $38.48 and $40.28 respectively. This is to be expected considering New Jersey is the most densely populated state with the second highest median income in the country.

Why the Increase In Demand?

Our continually aging population contributes most to our current healthcare woes. With more and more Americans joining the adult population, we’re breaking bones, having accidents at work, hurting muscles, and generally suffering more injuries than ever before. As we get older and the baby boomers reach their senior years, this will only increase, adding to the strain on healthcare facilities. We haven’t even considered the increased risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, falls, and other injuries that can require years of therapy.

Education and certification also becomes a factor. Because positions like physical and occupational therapy require degrees and certification before you can work as a professional, it has put this job out of reach of many household budgets. Schools are increasing the number of students they take annually, but need is far outgrowing our country’s ability to train individuals.

A change in belief systems has also increased the demand for services. Instead of medications, health professionals are looking for natural ways to get better results. They have also found the results are higher quality and appear faster using therapies.

Bottom line: physical and occupational therapy as well as other positions in the healthcare industry will continue to grow well into the future. This is wonderful for those looking for work in these fields, but these trends don’t bode well for facilities looking for skilled workers. It’s not all doom and gloom, however.

Employers have several creative options when filling vacant positions. Some are simply closing when they don’t have enough staff while other are hiring or outsourcing more assistants and aides to take care of smaller jobs, limiting workloads for physical and occupational therapists.

Outsourcing help for on-call and weekend times can give regular staff some relief and eliminate the need to fill those positions. With the demand employment in these areas continuing to rise and no relief in sight, employers will need to continue finding alternative solutions for now and well into the future.

The ideal solution for filling vacant occupational and physical therapy positions depends on your facility and needs. Contact us to find out more.


[i] CNN Money, October 12, 2009, “Most Job Growth

[ii]Physical Therapy Students Face New Hurdles — But An Excellent Employment Outlook“, NWJobs, August 27, 2009


[i] Bureau of Labor Statistics, Career Guide to Industries, 2010-11 Edition

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