Study: Student Debt Increasing Factor in DPT Decisions

student debt of physical therapists

Paying back loans forcing students to make challenging choices in education

A study by Dr. Steven Ambler, DPT, of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO indicates that students are having to choose between high levels of debt and career opportunities as it pertains to the pursuit of a DPT.

Dr. Ambler’s small study examined the cases of recent graduates (less than five years removed from graduation) of U.S.-based DPT programs. He found that respondents have a debt-to-income ratio of 197 percent, or more simply, the average debt level is equivalent to two years’ salary, a number that surpasses the debt level of other professionals such as physicians and veterinarians. 

“The purpose of this study was to identify the debt profile of entry-level physical therapists and explore relationships between the student debt and clinical practice setting choices,” read a manuscript. “The growing student debt of physical therapists entering the workforce, coupled with the growth in projected need, raises concerns about where and how entry-level physical therapists will practice, and if these choices will be affected by their debt burden.”

The most frequently reported level of debt was just over $100,000, a factor compounded by the fact that the average survey participant reported a salary just over $69,000. Some 57 percent of respondents indicated that student debt was affecting their decision as to where to practice in their careers. 

Admittedly, a small study (86 total participants) doesn’t tell the entire story, but the study underscores growing concerns in the world of healthcare and physical therapy that student debt is impacting the entry of talented students into the field. 

“Student debt may be a barrier overall to practice and career choices in physical therapy,” read the conclusion.

SOURCE: APTA, Oxford Academic

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