The physical therapist labor market has recently noted higher rates of turnover and job vacancies. An understudied factor contributing to these trends in the profession is job satisfaction. The profession continues to experience relatively low wages compared with other health professions, and graduates of Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) programs face increasingly high student debt. This study used the labor-search model as a conceptual framework to understand associations between job satisfaction, income, and educational debt. The purpose of this study is to observe the financial and workplace factors that are associated with higher levels of physical therapist job satisfaction.
Data from 4764 physical therapists in one state were captured retrospectively through the state’s licensure renewal process from 2014–2020. A random-effects panel analysis, with job satisfaction as the dependent variable, was used to evaluate the relationships between job satisfaction and income, educational debt, and a variety of work-related factors.
Job satisfaction was negatively correlated with educational debt, number of hours worked per week, and some practice settings. Conversely, job satisfaction was positively correlated with the expected age of retirement. The percentage of time spent in research and administration was also positively correlated with job satisfaction, though additional research in this area is needed to draw meaningful conclusions on this association.
The results support the conceptual framework, which suggests that early career physical therapists, motivated by high amounts of educational debt, may choose more financially advantageous practice settings and increased working hours to the detriment of job satisfaction.
High levels of job satisfaction among physical therapists are correlated with low levels of educational debt, working 45 hours or less per week, a longer time horizon until retirement, and practice settings other than home health and skilled nursing facilities.