Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems – Student Loan Debt in PT

NYABeZAwmLhFWLw-800x450-noPad This recent blog post from Alicia Jeffrey struck a nerve and was a good reminder of the lurking bad news behind what is otherwise generally good news in DPT education, primarily a robust applicant pool and growing demand for physical therapy in light of the aging population and health care reform. The lurking bad news is namely student debt. Take a few moments to read Alicia’s post and head back over as her comments inform today’s guest post. I’ll wait on you to get back.

Virtually everyone agrees tuition increases can’t be sustained, but the reality is that few to no one will do anything about it until the supply and demand for DPT education shifts. In the interim, the Oregon delegation to the APTA House of Delegates (HoD) along with several co-sponsoring states have proposed motion RC 11-16 to charge the APTA with investigating the effects of student loan debt upon our profession as well as developing and implementing a viable plan by June 2018. Alan Fredendall is a 2nd year DPT student at the University of Michigan-Flint who reached out for our help in supporting and gaining recognition for RC-11-16, and we are delighted to do so. His guest post with more information is pasted below. A group of students led by the Arizona PTA student SIG are launching a campaign to promote the motion across social media as well as gather signatures through a petition that will open Monday morning (5/23/2016). They have student reps from almost every state who will be contacting as many PT and PTA schools as possible to ask for signatures and letters to state Chief Delegates to take to the floor of the HoD. The primary focus is asking APTA to look at securing low student loan refinancing rates as a membership benefit similar to what the American Dental Association/Medical Association/Chiropractic Association offer for their members (as low as 1.9% APR).

It’s always good to see students get involved, especially on issues like tuition debt that pose a significant threat to the viability of attracting the best and the brightest over the next decades to come.



We are inundated with stories about student loan debt these days. Over 70% of Americans carry some form of student loan burden upon graduation with the numbers only increasing as time progresses. In 2006, the combined student loan debt across the country was $481 billion which has jumped to $1.32 trillion at the end of 2015 (Federal Reserve, April 2016). You can watch the debt grow by about $3,000/second with this cool graph:


This debt burden has impacted the physical therapy profession as well. The curriculum during school limits the ability to work and pay tuition out-of-pocket as is common in undergraduate programs which is magnified by the full year/3-semester model of entry-level DPT programs. In addition, most schools follow a model where the last two semesters of school are dedicated to full-time clinical rotations whereby students pay full tuition to their university while being unable to work during the week. Weekends are often spent studying for the NPTE. Many solutions have been proposed to address student loan debt within our profession but none have been put into serious motion, until now.

The Oregon delegation to the APTA House of Delegates has proposed motion RC 11-16 to charge the APTA with investigating the effects of student loan debt upon our professional as well as developing and implementing a plan with solutions by June 2018. Many options have been suggested including investigating the possibility of reducing or eliminating tuition during clinical rotations or having schools reimburse clinical instructors through a variety of means with the end result being an increase in new grad salary. However, I believe we should look to our colleagues for an example to follow to help mitigate student loan debt. The American Dental Association, American Medical Association and American Chiropractic Association all offer student loan refinancing through private lenders as a membership benefit to students and new grads. Currently, they all have secured rates as low as 1.9% APR which is significantly lower than the federal Direct PLUS loan rate of 6.84%. Refinancing of this magnitude could save new PT grads almost $30,000 on a debt burden of $100,000. In addition, the APTA should continue to advocate for inclusion of PTs into the National Health Service Corps which offers $50,000 of loan repayments in exchange for a 2-year commitment at an approved site. This payment is made at the beginning of the 2-year service program to reduce interest payments. Recipients can extend their service beyond 2-years for additional repayments. Currently, only physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, dentists (DMD/DDS), dental hygienists and mental health providers are approved for the program.

In the next few weeks leading up to the House of Delegates meeting in Nashville (June 6-8), a group of highly motivated students will be reaching out to state delegates and leaders in the profession to voice our support for RC 11-16. A petition exists so that students and PTs can sign their name to voice support for RC-11. Our goal is to reach at least 1,000 signatures by the House of Delegates meeting. In addition, you can support us by using the hashtag #VoteRC11 on Twitter and changing your Facebook profile picture with a special tile we have made. We still need student or new grad representatives from the following states (DE, HI, IA, KA, LA, MA, MD, MS, MO, NE, NH, NM, NY, OK, OR, RI, TN, UT, VT, WY & the PTA caucus) to join us in ensuring we reach delegates in every state. Please join us in spreading the word and building support for RC 11-16 so that we can address this important issue for the good of our profession. You can contact Rachel Jermann, SPT at [email protected] to get involved. She can also be reached on Twitter @RJGotAGoni.

Alan Fredendall is a 2nd year DPT student at The University of Michigan-Flint. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter @AlanFredendall

7 responses to “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems – Student Loan Debt in PT

  1. Michael H says:

    One place to start as well with reduction in costs of school is the amount we actually get paid. Not just in insurance premiums etc but look at the average salary for a PT in the federal system. A GS 11 at the VA is what is typical for a PT, to get to a GS 12 takes a huge effort and many years and even then, it is still a struggle to get more than a few therapists at that level. We could also start by having the APTA lobby on our behalf for increased GS levels for therapists to keep seasoned and skilled therapists from seeking out private jobs and depriving veterans as well as DOD/IHS patients of quality practitioners. Make PT at the entry level a GS 12 and you’ll see more high quality applicants. The effect may not be a lot on therapy as a whole, but it is one place to start.

    Not to mention that 10 years working for the feds paying your loans at the income based level makes them go away…

    But I agree as a whole, costs of education are outrageous.

    1. John Childs says:

      Thanks for your comment, and I certainly don’t disagree. It is incumbent upon us to demonstrate our value as part of the overall health care team. Simply “marching for wages” (and I am not insinuating that’s what you’re suggesting we do) won’t cut it. We have to be able to tell our story in a way that both demonstrates return on investment and resonates with stakeholders.


  2. Ron Masri says:

    Fantastic post..speaking as an individual delegate of VA…we are all aware of the student debt issue an know a change needs to be made…I think this will have no problems getting support in the house…it will be intersting if the schools will come together and look at this and see if the third yr can be changed and pay clinical instructors or sites. I am glad this is still being talked about and something needs to be done. Great stuff and if there’s anything I can do while at the house for this RC PLEASE let me know.

    1. John Childs says:

      Thanks, Ron. Good luck next week in Nashville!

  3. Kelly says:

    I would not argue this information, however, one thing that I am seeing is an evolutionary change in PT.
    With the ever changing health care environment, PT is poised to become more of a significant player. Personally, in my own clinical system, PT is now being looked at as mid level providers similar to PA’s and NP’s. As healthcare continues to be more about saving money in a ACO model and not a fee-for-service model, we will become more and more important. Gone are the days where neurosurgeons were the money makers for the system, now they are being viewed as cost liabilities. It cost a system (or insurance) significantly more to perform a surgery than it does to get the same (or better) outcome through conservative measures.

    So, I see PT poised on the door step for something much bigger. The cost of education is still too high, however, our pay will likely rise significantly in the future as we prove our worth.

    1. Awesome points Kelly. PTs should definitely be considered autonomous mid-level providers!

    2. John Childs says:

      We all certainly hope you’re right!


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