The Debt Burden of Entry-Level Physical Therapists

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


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. Objective: The purpose of this study was to identify the debt profile of entry-level physical therapists and explore relationships between student debt and clinical practice setting choices. Methods: This study utilized a cross-sectional survey design to identify debt profiles and explore relationships between student debt and the clinical practice choices of entry-level physical therapists. Results: The mean debt-to-income ratio based on the total reported educational debt was 197% (93%). The most frequently reported debt range for doctor of physical therapy (DPT) debt and total educational debt was $100,000 to $124,999. Despite the setting itself being rated as the most important factor (83%), 28% of participants reported debt as a barrier to their desired practice setting. In addition, when considering job choice overall, 57% of the participants reported that their student debt has had an effect on their decision. Limitations: This study is limited by its small sample size, originating from 1 state, and being taken by convenience from a special interest group. Data were collected via an anonymous survey, which increases the risk of selection bias. In addition, there are further personal, family, and institutional characteristics that were not collected in this study, which may influence the interaction between student debt and clinical practice choices. Conclusion: The results of this study suggest that practice setting choice may be affected by physical therapist student debt, and student debt may be a barrier overall to practice and career choices in physical therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)591-599
Number of pages9
JournalPhysical therapy
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 17 2020


  • Academic Physical Therapy
  • Health Care Education
  • Higher Education Finance
  • Student Debt


Dive into the research topics of 'The Debt Burden of Entry-Level Physical Therapists'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this