You probably didn’t get into the therapy business to become rich. You did it because you enjoy helping and healing people—and that’s the way it should be. But even if money isn’t your main motivation, it should still be somewhere on your radar. So, here are a few things to keep in mind as you contemplate compensation.
1. Experience, geography, and industry matter.
As with most professions, salaries for physical therapists vary widely based on a therapist’s number of years in the industry. However, a therapist who falls somewhere in the middle of the pack—not fresh out of PT school, but not quite a seasoned vet, either—should expect to earn a salary somewhere near the national mean (according to 2019 US Bureau of Labor Statistics data, that number is $90,170).
That being said, it’s important to take these figures with a grain of salt because additional factors such as geographic location and type of therapy facility also affect salary. For example, the average PT salary in the nation's top-paying state, Nevada, is $108,550; by contrast, the average salary in the lowest-paying territory, Puerto Rico, is $45,120. In terms of top-paying industries, it’s not all that surprising that physical therapists who work in spectator sports earn the most at $106,210 annually, but therapists who work in other residential care facilities and child day care services aren’t too far behind at $104,120 and $99,700, respectively.
2. Salary doesn't always trump hourly.
As the old saying goes, time is money. And if you’re consistently logging extra hours as a salaried employee, then you’re getting less money for your time—that’s just simple math. For this reason, some therapists prefer a clock-in-clock-out pay format (if you’re wondering what the mean hourly wage is for physical therapists across the nation, it’s $43.35). Employers can benefit from this kind of structure too: research shows that hourly wage earners report higher levels of job satisfaction than those working on salary—and happier employees typically are more productive employees.
3. A DPT doesn’t necessarily equal more dough.
Are you a practicing PT playing around with the idea of entering a post-professional doctor of physical therapy (DPT) program? If salary is your top motivation for earning a more advanced degree, you might want to think twice. According to the APTA, current figures do not support the assumption that DPT practitioners get better jobs or earn higher salaries than those possessing baccalaureate or master’s degrees. In fact, a therapist’s number of years in clinical practice plays a much larger role in determining salary than does his or her educational level.
4. Traveling PTs can make bank.
Travel physical therapy isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve got the itch to get out and do some exploring, then it might be worth considering. As traveling PT Leonard Somarriba explains in an Advance Healthcare article (that’s unfortunately no longer available online), travel therapy positions usually pay an hourly wage that is significantly higher compared to permanent positions. Plus, these jobs typically come with added benefits like paid housing, transportation, and food. Speaking of paid housing, in this post, Steve Stockhausen, PT, OCS, recommends that traveling PTs always take the full housing stipend—as opposed to letting a recruiting agency find them a place to live. According to Stockhausen, with a little leg work, you’ll be able to find a great spot that fits your lifestyle and costs less than the stipend, enabling you to keep the difference. Plus, that money is “tax free and often makes up the lion’s share of your weekly paycheck,” he said. Beyond that non-salary benefit, some contracts even include health and dental insurance, although you’ll need to consider that as an additional cost if you’re looking at a compensation package that does not offer insurance benefits.
These tips are just a sampling of things to consider as you think about compensation in the physical therapy industry. What factors do you think are important in determining a reasonable PT salary?