Unlocking the future of physiotherapy: APA's first Workforce Census

a puzzle with a missing piece. The space where the missing piece should go reads workforce.

Unlocking the future of physiotherapy: APA's first Workforce Census

a puzzle with a missing piece. The space where the missing piece should go reads workforce.

The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) has today released the comprehensive findings of its inaugural Workforce Census, unlocking key information that will inform meaningful reform across the gender pay gap, rural health disparities, and the broader skills shortage within the sector.

‘This biennial census was initiated to provide government and workforce planners with policy insights that will prove key to workforce planning when combined with the strategic drivers needed to shape a more viable workforce,' APA National President Scott Willis said.

In an industry where 68 per cent of the workforce identify as women, the APA's census exposes a gender pay gap that widens with experience, particularly at the expert level, where men earn on average 15 per cent more than women do. This disparity is further amplified in leadership roles, with men more likely to hold management positions.

'The census results underscore the need for systemic change to bring about greater equity within the profession.’

The census further revealed the readiness of physiotherapists, particularly those in the early stages of their career, to practice in rural and remote areas, conditional upon receiving adequate financial incentives.  

This finding suggests a potential solution to the longstanding issue of rural health disparities, highlighting the need for targeted strategies to facilitate physiotherapist relocation and retention in underserved communities.

'Physiotherapy provides a key solution to the rural workforce crisis and our members are ready and willing to serve these communities but lack the incentives and supports.’

'There is a need to provide a dedicated, clear rural pathway with incentivised supports and investments such as those provided to GPs,' Mr Willis said.

Workforce attrition was further investigated, and results show a sharp decline in physiotherapists working beyond mid-career, pointing to a drain of skilled professionals. Key factors driving this trend include inadequate remuneration relative to skill level and mental burnout.  

This shortage is felt acutely in critical areas such as aged care, underscoring the need for strategies to support career longevity and satisfaction within the profession.  

'Physiotherapists serve in a wide array of clinical areas, ranging from musculoskeletal to paediatric to advanced practice care. This diversity not only underscores the profession's integral role in addressing a broad spectrum of health needs, but also highlights the importance of supporting physiotherapists in their pursuit of professional development to cater to the evolving health landscape,' Mr Willis said.

The census shed light on the physiotherapy profession's strong interest in pursuing professional development and career progression. However, concerns about financial investment and time commitments present notable obstacles.  

'The APA is committed to supporting our members throughout their career journey, from foundational skills to advanced practice.'

'The APA is exploring innovative solutions to make professional development more accessible and aligned with the evolving needs of our profession,' Mr Willis said.

The APA's 2023 Workforce Census not only offers a mirror to the current state of the physiotherapy workforce but also a roadmap for the future.

'It's imperative that we tackle these challenges head-on, ensuring fair remuneration, professional development opportunities, and sustainable working conditions for all physiotherapists,' Mr Willis said.

The APA calls upon healthcare stakeholders, policymakers, and educational institutions to join forces in addressing the highlighted challenges.  

'Our workforce is a key pillar of healthcare in Australia, providing essential services that contribute to the physical wellbeing of our communities.'

'By collectively addressing these areas, we can enhance the physiotherapy profession's sustainability, impact on public health, and ability to meet the diverse needs of the Australian population,' Mr Willis said.


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