Supply versus demand: where do we sit right now?

 

There are currently 21 universities across the nation offering 46 programs of accredited physiotherapy education. And this number is growing. This education pipeline is pumping out around 2200 new graduates into the workforce every year. Our overall workforce has grown from 23,301 registered physiotherapists in March 2012 to 33,498 in March 2019. This is an increase of on average 1450 physiotherapists per year at a growth rate of 43.7 per cent over seven years. So where are we sitting now in the supply versus demand continuum? Is it sustainable, and does this fit within one of the physiotherapy industry’s catchcries of best practice?

‘However, in the modern world, where health consumers have choice and readily available information, it is clear that sound clinical skills alone are not enough, no matter what sector we work in.’

How actively involved should the APA be in this area? Before we get into this, another question gaining momentum on many physiotherapy blogs and forums is the notion of graduate work readiness. What skills are required of our graduate physiotherapists to enter the workforce and hit the ground running? Historically, we have anchored this principle around the training of our core clinical competencies, primarily musculoskeletal, cardiothoracic and neurological.

Before we get into this, another question gaining momentum on many physiotherapy blogs and forums is the notion of graduate work readiness. What skills are required of our graduate physiotherapists to enter the workforce and hit the ground running? Historically, we have anchored this principle around the training of our core clinical competencies, primarily musculoskeletal, cardiothoracic and neurological.

However, in the modern world, where health consumers have choice and readily available information, it is clear that sound clinical skills alone are not enough, no matter what sector we work in. So what ‘other’ skills do we want or need graduates to be armed with to succeed? Do we need to arm graduates with business and marketing skills? Do we need an undergrad focus on broader public health policy? Have we accurately debated and determined what skills are missing to better equip graduates?

In working through both of these questions and challenges, we need to be clear on which organisations have jurisdictional control of which areas. The Australian Physiotherapy Council (APC) has complete responsibility for accrediting tertiary education programs in Australia. The universities, with the guidance of the Council of Physiotherapy Deans Australia and New Zealand (CPDANZ), set the curriculum against the practice thresholds and core competencies set by the Physiotherapy Board of Australia (the Board). The Board consults widely, including with the APA, on these thresholds.

While the APA cannot directly control the number of programs accredited, nor the content taught within these programs, we have been actively engaged with the APC and CPDANZ in all areas of graduate work readiness, including facilitating the first jointly hosted student summit in late 2018.

So, where do we sit right now in the supply versus demand continuum? Graduate workforce surveys indicate at least 97 per cent of graduates have gained employment at three months post-graduation. An oversupply of new physiotherapists is, therefore, not supported with this data. The follow-up questions are: what type of facility/practice are they working in, what support mechanisms are provided within these workplaces, and do we have the ideal geographical coverage (eg, rural and remote areas)? The APA Board and management are working continually in this area, and we always value your thoughts.

Email your feedback to national.president@australian.physio.

 

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