While in my second year of physical therapy school, one of my professors said that the majority of us will not be able to earn $90,000 until we’re at the end of our careers and we can forget about earning 6 figures unless we pick up extra hours, a second job or start a business. This was back in 2012 and it was a disappointing reality check considering how much a doctorate degree in physical therapy costs. How well did his predictions hold up?
Nearly 10 years later and salaries have increased! Though, you could argue that salaries have actually decreased or stayed stagnant due a inflation.
The Median physical therapy Salary
Based on data from the bureau of labor statistics (BLS), most physical therapists across the United States are earning $91,000.
Wage estimates For Physical Therapists
|Hourly Wage||$ 30.54||$ 36.23||$ 43.75||$ 50.99||$ 60.95|
|Annual Wage (2)||$ 63,530||$ 75,360||$ 91,010||$ 106,060||$ 126,780|
Even so, $90,000 is still out of reach for many physical therapists, especially if working in school systems or in outpatient facilities as profit margins are much lower. For those earning $100,000 or more, they are likely working in high cost of living areas, working in home health or travel therapists.
This leads me to my next point.
Factors that Influence physical therapy salaries
The reality is, like many professions, your salary will depend on a number of factors
1. Geographic location
Generally, states with higher costs of living such as New York, Nevada, and California will have higher salaries that range from $92,000 to $108,000. Of course, more rural areas may sometimes offer higher compensation depending on if there is enough demand.
2. Type of setting or employer
You may have a vision of where you want to work after graduation, but the typical pay ranges in certain settings may not align with your expectations. To ground your expectations, speak with your network of colleagues who are willing to share their compensation.
Schools, hospital based outpatient facilities and low volume private practices will pay the least, followed by inpatient acute therapy and high volume private practices, the highest paying settings are generally skilled rehab facilitates, home health care and travel therapy.
3. Number of available work hours
Obviously the more hours you work, the more you earn.
On average, lawyers work 50 hours per week. Based on data from the BLS, they earn a median salary of approximately $127,000.
What would happen if a therapist making a median salary of $91,000 worked an extra 10 hours a week earning $50/hour as a PRN therapist? They would bring home an extra $26,000 bringing their gross earning to $117,000!
That being said the opposite is true. If there is no one who wants your service, you have no work. During the peak of the covid-19 pandemic, I learned that PTs, while being essential, were not urgent. As a result, myself and many of my colleagues had their hours cut or were completely laid off forcing us to pivot.
4. Position or Title
Rehab managers and directors will typically earn more than their staff, but may also be putting in many hours off the clock. Those higher level positions may also come with bonuses that aren’t available to staff PTs.
Some employers will have clinical ladders as a means for promotion and growth opportunities within the company. However, it often comes with responsibilities such as helping to onboard staff, provide presentations and staff education, and other administrative tasks that may fall outside your interest. You will want to make sure your new responsibilities align with your career goals and lifestyle.
5. Years of experience
Some employers may compensate you solely based on years of experience and merit does not factor into the equation at all. That being said, after 5-10 years, you may not be making much less than someone 20 or 30 years out. This is because of the relatively low income ceiling and the other factors discussed.
Another reason is because most health care companies are reimbursed through insurance which pay based on a fee-for-service model. Reimbursement rates for rehab therapists has steadily be declining. Thus, further lowering the income ceiling.
6. Specialty or advanced certifications
The primary reason physical therapists get certified in certain areas of practice like orthopedics, geriatrics, or women’s health, is because they are passionate about it and want to upgrade their skills. It sounds crazy, but advanced certifications does not guarantee higher pay. However, some employers may require it to advance to the next level on their clinical ladder along with agreeing to more responsibilities as discussed above.
It may also be a required credential if looking into working in academia, specialty clinics, or it can open doors to research projects. Specializing has potential to indirectly increase your income, but it’s not the driving force for becoming certified. Any extra income is really the cherry on top.
Can physical therapists make 6 figures? it depends
With some tweaking of the modifiable factors: Where you work, how often you work, and what you do at work, it is possible for PTs to earn a $100,000 or more.
In some settings such as outpatient and schools, it would be harder to reach this number due to lower profit margins. With that being the case, the quickest way to earn more would be to pick up many extra hours elsewhere.
SNFs, home health care and outpatient PT are all places I have done PRN work with while working full time. Doing so allowed me pay off my student loans relatively quickly and is helping me get closer towards my financial goals. Just do not sacrifice your sanity and intended career path for the purpose of more money.
In the end, what you make isn’t as important as what what you keep. What I believe to be more attainable is to learn how to save and invest. In time, the elusive 6-figure income will matter less and may even come naturally.
If you want to check out how I plan on doing this, you’ll want to review my investment policy statement.
Art is the founder of Flexcents, a blog created in 2018 to help others reach their fitness and financial goals through sharing insights as a physical therapist, personal finance nerd, and self-directed investor.