The acute hospital setting is characterized by short patient stays that demand efficiency and effectiveness in patient care.

Physical therapists need in depth knowledge, the ability to read medical charts, understand differing and often complex conditions, communication skills to engage with multidisciplinary teams, assessment skills, evaluation skills, and various other abilities.

But how do physical therapists feel about working in acute hospital settings where it can be intensive and require higher levels of attention?

Let’s find out.

Are PTs Attracted To Work In Acute Settings?

Forty percent of highly trained PTs do not want to work in acute settings. In fact, the environment tends to attract around 17% of novice therapists with less than 3 years experience, while only 7% of highly qualified people actively sought work in these positions.

Given the environment, the turnover rate is approximately 20%, which is one of the highest turnover rates in allied health.

For organizations, this turnover rate results in significant costs and administrative burdens. In a recent review, researchers sought to understand the experience of PTs working in acute hospital settings, what obstacles they faced and what strategies might prove effective for overcoming these obstacles to attract and keep more PTs on over the long term.


Organizations that foster strong communication, teamwork and relationships form the cornerstone for work in acute hospital settings. Being acute and intensive, interpersonal relationships are made stronger and generally PTs enjoy the reward of working in multidisciplinary teams.

Overall, the relationship factor is a positive influence on their choice for working in this setting.

Experiences-of-Physical-Therapists-in-Acute-Hospital-Settings Experiences of Physical Therapists in Acute Hospital Settings


Environment on the other hand was shown to have a negative impact in many cases.

Operational demands, limited staff support, staff shortage, increasing workloads, stress and overwhelm, regulations, funding limits, and even the organizational culture in these settings can all be prohibitive.

In many instances, PTs indicated that these operational obstacles often limited their ability to make the most effective clinical decisions, and this leads to lack of professional autonomy, discontentment and lack of commitment.

Lack in Scope of Practice

It was also apparent that this could be due to the lack of understanding in the role of PTs in patient care and just how much PT services can be extended into patient care in the acute setting. Therefore, definition on scope of practice and the role of PTs could minimize issues and increase professional autonomy.

According to another study, “there appears to be little information describing the distinctive knowledge and skills that physical therapists use in the care of patients in the acute care setting.”

It was established that PTs do form a very important role and contribution to these settings. Especially in making an important contribution to setting effective intervention goals for acute stroke, acute musculoskeletal conditions, and in treatment of acute disorders in older people.

However, physicians, nurses and specialists are often unaware or uneducated about the roles of PTs and the influence their services can exert on patient outcomes.

What about you? Have you experienced issues with relationships, environment or scope of practice in acute hospital setting where you work?