When it comes to allied health careers, there is no shortage of job opportunities in the United States. For example, occupational therapists have an expected growth of 29 percent in the next ten years, while physical therapists’ outlook is upward of 35 percent, and both COTAs and PTAs have an expected growth of about 30 percent. These numbers are enough to persuade any recent high school graduate to begin the path toward an allied health profession.
Despite a phenomenal job outlook and plenty of individuals that desire a career in allied health, this field is facing severe shortages when it comes to hiring qualified occupational and physical therapists. Actually, according to the American Staffing Association, allied health professions are within the top 10 hardest jobs to fill in the entire country.
So, what’s causing this shortage? While there are many theories, many colleges and universities are claiming that the issue could be linked back to selectivity.
What’s the issue with selectivity?
Most times, we can dub selectivity a good thing, especially when the word is referring to applicants for the health care industry; after all, why wouldn’t we want the best of the best taking care of our health?
Well, selectivity becomes negative when you add the word “over” as a prefix, and over-selective is what many college and university programs have become.
A spike in interest of allied health professions has lead to an overabundance of applicants for occupational therapy and physical therapy programs offered at many institutes of higher education. In turn, these programs can typically only select a certain number of students per year, and the high number of applicants allows these schools to be picky, accept only the best, and send the rest packing. But it’s not that there are just a few applicants getting denied, but hundreds of them. The Advanced Healthcare Network reported that one school, who can accept 90 applicants into their occupational therapy program per year, was receiving well over 500 applications.
The issue, though, is that many of these applicants are still qualified, just not deemed in the top 5 to 10 percent. Despite this, many suggest that the rejection causes them to consider a new major at the same school, rather than leaving that institute and applying for a different program.
How to Tackle the Shortage
It’s easy to hypothesize solutions that seem quick and logical, but these answers that seem so obvious aren’t as doable as one might think.
Accepting more students into OT and PT programs will help reduce the shortage of qualified individuals in the field, and many schools have expressed interest in expanding these programs in hopes to accept more applicants. Unfortunately, schools are then faced with the challenges of bringing on new staff, rearranging curriculum and/or adding weekend and evening programs.
Another, more temporary solution is pursuing a travel position. Until higher education programs begin accepting ample amounts of applicants, many occupational and physical therapists travel to underserved areas, where these positions are especially in demand.