Are We in a Medical Education Bubble?

November 05, 2013 by

We have blog repeatedly about DPT education in the past, here, here, and here so I won’t belabor the point. However, this recent perspective in the New England Journal of Medicine caused me to reflect a bit about the implications of rising tuition in PT education on attracting the best applicants into the future. Although the article is specific to medical rather than PT education, I am curious to hear from our readers where they think PTs would fit as line on Figure 1, which is freely available to view here as well (scroll down to the link). My sense is that we’re closer to the family medicine side of the bubble (ie, more likely for the bubble to burst first) but am curious if anyone is aware of any objective data on this.

On a related note, in case you haven’t seen it, this is a very well written piece in the recent PT in Motion by Mary Blackinton at Nova Southeastern University-Tampa regarding her “conversion” from being a skeptic of blended learning to a supporter. It highlights many of the points we’ve made on the blog about blended education but more importantly, touches on the potential pros and cons and dispels many of the typical myths. My hope is that you will take the time to peruse and that we can have a useful discussion on the blog via comments regarding your perspective!


3 Responses

  1. DPT Jason says:

    Erm, our debt to earnings ratio is like 1:1 or more. I paid in-state tuition at a public university and ended up with 72k in debt. Private or out of state tuition would result in a 2:1 debt to income ratio.

    I don’t know if the basic economics of a bubble makes since though. Our case is unique. There is a shortage of PTs, so there is always a high demand. The schools cannot graduate enough to keep pace with demand. There remains a high volume of applicants.

    Reimbursement never goes up, and with the Medicare G-codes as a convenient way to deny coverage, will likely only go down. It is highly unlikely that pay for PTs will outpace inflation, so pay is likely maxed out. So I would guess the economics would come down to what the max amount a student would be willing to pay. That is where I would guess tuition will stabilize.

  2. Craig, DPT says:

    I graduated in 2011 from an in-state DPT program. Including the cost of my Bachelors Degree (which I obtained in 4 years) and the DPT program (3 years to obtain) my total college education costs were $82,000. The same year I graduated the average starting salary of a physical therapist at entry level was $62,000. The creates a debt to earnings ratio of 1.32:1 (132% to compare it to Figure 1 on this graph) which is way off of the charts in a negative trend compared to these other professions. This is obviously a signficant concern for the future of the PT profession. I am now 2 years out from school and still buried under a mountain of college debt. I thoroughly enjoy this profession but have had several serious discussions with individuals that are considering therapy as a career and have strongly advised them to consider this negative debt to income ratio before they pursue this profession.

    Another point to add to the discussion is opportunity cost, which we should all remember from Econ 101 as the cost of an alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a certain action. Attending college for 7 years not only results in educational debt, but 7 years of lost earnings, which with an easy calculation estimate of yearly salary of $50k totals over $350,000. If education for PT’s could return to a focused Master’s degree (that starts as a freshman in college) and in total is 5 years of college – that would save 2 years of lost wages/opportunity cost ($100,000) and save 2 additional years of college costs ($25,000) for a total positive financial trend of $125,000 over the current state most young PT’s are in.

  3. Mike says:

    I’d love to work in Physical Therapy. The education time frame to get the DPT is not an issue at all. I enjoy learning. The debt issue is huge. I’ve posted on here and a number of other sites quite a bit. I’ve spent over 6 years (BS degree plus prereqs) in schooling and I even applied to a couple DPT programs. I decided to pull out. This could have been a bad decision. I’ve been looking to just chock up the money and go for it leaving any sense of financial rationale at the door (I already have 60k of undergrad debt from two degrees). Total debt is at least around 150k if I look to get into this. That is high, but I think the profession is directly in line with me. I’ve been exercising regularly since high school. I enjoy learning about it and enjoy working with the eldery population one on one. I think I’d enjoy this profession.

    So as a current Food and Nutrition Director of a nursing home, I’ve been looking at getting back into PT school. I think I’d enjoy PT. The problem now is these darn prereqs.. A couple may have expired being over 5 years old. I don’t have any more money to be spending taking classes to just apply to PT schools. I have over 130 credits already. A competitive GPA to get into a PT school I think (over 3.6 cumulative).

    The issue of living like a poor man after school isn’t an issue any more.. I’m already doing that. This seems to be the new standard of living in America.. So I guess 150Kdebt with a PT degree would be fine considering I already have 60k student loan debt making 32k/year with little upside potential for salary reimbursement in a field that is undervalued.

    Live a simple life and do what you think you would enjoy doing. The debt is already piled high. So what is some more debt with greater earning potential?

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