When UTC physical therapy students invited Congressman Chuck Fleischmann to campus, the conversation turned to the debt students incur to earn a physical therapy doctoral degree.

Most physical therapy students will take out more than $100,000 in loans by the time they graduate in three-four years.  Thomas Walther is no exception.  He is a second year student with a wife and two children who came to UTC from out of state to be closer to his wife’s family.  Like his fellow students, Walther anticipates a starting salary of approximately $60,000 a year.

Walther is interested in seeing physical therapists added to the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) team, which provides comprehensive health care.  Under the current law, doctors and nurses can get two years of their debt erased if they pledge to work in rural or underserved urban communities under NHSC.  The UTC Department of Physical Therapy and the American Physical Therapy Association support legislation to include physical therapists in the NHSC program.

“Under this loan repayment program, I could recover $30,000 for each year of service,” Walther said.  “This would be a great relief to me, and it would incentivize other students to come to the physical therapy profession.”

Faculty talked about the need to encourage students to choose physical therapy.

“As the population ages, strokes, joint replacement and other catastrophic problems will increase the demand for rehabilitation,” said Dr. Debbie Ingram, UC Foundation Professor and Academic Coordinator of Clinical Education.

Ingram said physical therapists’ salaries will not change, because Medicare and insurance cuts impact graduates’ income greatly.

Fleischmann told the students and faculty he wants to preserve Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

“I don’t want any one profession to shoulder the problem of changes,” Fleischmann said.

The congressman said later he has decided to co-sponsor a bill to include physical therapists in the NHSC program.

“I enjoyed my visit with the students at UTC. The passion about their area of study was inspiring and helped educate me. We need more passion like theirs in this country as we work to solve the problems in front of us,” Fleischmann said.

During the next 10-15 years, the role of the physical therapist will continue in importance, said Dr. Randy Walker, head of The Department of Physical Therapy.  “Upon graduation, all of our graduates have jobs.  They can tell us where they will go to work.  That trend will continue,” Walker added.

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