Retaining School Therapists

Although Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists and Speech Language Pathologists make up a tiny part of a school’s total staff and often provide coverage for more than one building in a district- staffing school therapists can be a challenge that requires a great deal of an administrator’s time. Some school districts supply pediatric PT, OT, and SLP’s who are available to supply coverage for all the schools in their district.  Yet individual administrators must fill in the gaps when the district doesn’t provide coverage. They may also find themselves working in a system that doesn’t have district support. Therefore, many school administrators find themselves staffing school therapists without much guidance on recruiting and retaining school therapy professionals.

Recruiting School Therapists
For a PT, OT, or SLP who enjoys working with children, working as a therapist in a school setting is a highly desirable job. In fact, 59% of all Speech Language Pathologists choose to work in the school setting.  In response to myPTsolutions 2016 therapist interest survey results, school physical therapists gave the following reasons for choosing to work in a school setting: improving their work – life balance, convenience for raising a family, good benefits, and because they enjoy working with children.

School Therapist Staffing Shortage
With all this going for working as a school therapist, you would think there would be a surplus of therapists just waiting to fill the next opening in your school system. However, competition from higher paying jobs in outpatient clinics, hospitals and skilled nursing facilities makes finding and keeping pediatric therapists a difficult job. Therapists who only work in a school limit their career options to the pediatric population. Therapists who want to maintain a broad range of career options need to find ways to work in a variety of settings in order to develop technical skills, such as performing swallow studies and other treatments that are unique to hospital or geriatric populations.

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Burnout contributes to the shortage of school therapists, as well. Unfortunately, many school therapists encounter stressful work environments created by inadequately resourced special education departments, disrespectful parents and students, unrealistic expectations of the number of students a therapist can effectively see in a day or a year, oppressive documentation requirements, and isolation from other therapy professionals.  Combining these conditions with the idealistic nature of most therapists who work extremely hard to succeed, despite obstacles, creates a perfect storm for therapist burnout. In fact, burnout is probably the #1 factor that leads school therapists to look for work in other settings.

To counteract these forces, school administrators must find ways to make sure that the positives of working as physical or occupational therapist or a speech language pathologist in their school outweighs the negatives that come along with the territory. In listening to many school therapists, myPTsolutions has found that schools which intentionally incorporate the following three principles into staffing school therapists will gain a reputation for being a desirable place to work. As word of their desirable school culture gets around, instead of a staffing shortage, these schools begin to experience the opposite dilemma: multiple applicants and difficulty deciding which applicant to hire.

3 Keys to Recruiting and Retaining School Therapists
Administrators can definitely compete with other job offers that might steal their therapists away by applying the following principles to their interactions with school therapists.

  1. Understanding School Therapists
  2. Communicating Respect
  3. Retaining School Therapists

Just click on the link to read the article that meets your area of greatest interest. These additional articles give specific examples of ways to improve the staffing of your school therapy team members.

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