Editor's Note

Tomorrow's ATPs

road through forest


At this year’s International Seating Symposium (ISS) in Pittsburgh, Mark Schmeler, Ph.D., OTR/L, ATP (and director of ISS when it’s in the United States) shared sobering statistics about this industry:

  • The average age of today’s ATP is 52. The age of the average American worker is 42.
  • 3.4 percent of the industry’s ATPs retire each year; the incoming rate of ATPs is 1.8 percent.
  • The complex rehab technology (CRT) industry is growing at a rate of 4.8 percent per year.

Those numbers confirm what you probably long suspected. The CRT industry is growing, but it’s losing more ATPs than it’s gaining.

In addition, the industry is losing the expertise of those veteran ATPs, especially if they leave without being able to pass on their experiences and hard-won knowledge to the next generation. So where is tomorrow’s ATP going to come from?

For most of its still-young life, seating and wheeled mobility has gained professionals largely by word of mouth or happenstance. Youngsters followed parents into this field, or learned about CRT because someone close to them used a wheelchair. OTs and PTs found their way here despite most degree programs offering just a few hours of formal seating and mobility education. Some ATPs entered the industry as repair techs, were intrigued by what they saw, then studied for the ATP exam.

More universities now offer assistive or rehabilitation technology certificates and degrees, and more providers now offer mentorships to support employees who want to become ATPs. But are these career paths visible and fruitful enough to bring in ATPs in the numbers that will be needed?

At Mobility Management, we’ll be talking to stakeholders to get their opinions on the future of ATPs: how to recruit them and how to pass on decades of expertise that will otherwise be lost. We’ll also offer stories on CRT fundamentals in addition to higher-level clinical stories, to be sure that entering ATPs have plenty of resources to call on.

And of course, we’ll keep championing the CRT industry and the clients and families it serves.

The professional path you’ve chosen isn’t the easiest one. It’s full of funding fights. It’s a path that keeps evolving as technology and medicine change, a path that, despite all your advocacy efforts, is still greeted by a polite “What exactly is it that you do?” at family functions. Nevertheless, it is a path that is critically necessary to people with disabilities. It’s a path to be proud of, and to the best in this business, it’s a calling.

This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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