There’s no denying it: these are unprecedented times. The novel coronavirus has turned our world on its side, and we’re being forced to reckon with changes many of us never thought possible. Despite many states dictating that PTs are essential health providers during the COVID-19 response, we realize that PT settings vary quite a bit—and the term “essential” is murky, at best. For many of us in outpatient settings, the best thing we can do for our patients’—and our own—safety is to avoid physical contact. At the same time, whether we have made that choice ourselves—or our employers have mandated it—staying home leaves many of us in a bind financially. With student loans and mortgages to pay, PTs are scrambling to make ends meet in creative new ways.
That’s why we’re sharing four alternative income options for PTs.
Writing is one of the most underrated alternative income streams for physical therapists. If you’re a talented writer, you’re in luck. As a copywriter, you can freelance, land a full-time job, or even run a blog of your own, as discussed below. Writing is flexible and fulfilling, and you can do it pretty much anywhere—which makes it especially appealing as we all hunker down to ride out the indefinite COVID-19 storm.
- Can be high-paying. Once you have some experience under your belt, you can make quite a bit of money as a writer. You do have to work your way up to high rates, but it’s not uncommon to make more per hour as a freelance content writer than you would as a PRN physical therapist.
- Provides remote options. Never has the ability to work from home been more important. Writing affords you that option and, in many cases, encourages it.
- Offers flexible hours. Whether you’re sheltering in place or simply caring for a sick family member, writing offers you the flexibility to work on your own schedule.
- Takes time to build a name. The aforementioned high pay is a prize you earn once you’ve paid your dues. That means writing guest posts pro bono—and taking some lower-paying gigs—when you’re first getting started.
- Can be competitive. Many enterprising physical therapists have already created side hustles in the content writing space. If you’re just starting out, you’ll need to get creative and find your own niche to stand out.
Resources to Get Started
- How to Become a Health Writer: For PT, OT, and SLP Professionals
- Grammar Guide for Physical Therapists
Many of us have niche knowledge that we take for granted. Maybe you’re a master at gait analysis. Perhaps you’ve used specialized clinical equipment that few others have. Or, you might be one of those folks who has extensive clinical knowledge on a specific population, such as patients with brain injuries or vestibular dysfunctions. Many companies are developing specialty solutions for physical therapists and patients every day. Whether it’s specialized exoskeletons for patients with spinal cord injuries (SCIs), or upper-extremity (UE) rehab devices for stroke survivors, the companies creating these products and technologies are always looking for clinicians with specialized expertise. If you can find these companies and show them how you can be of value, you might just land a consultancy role.
- Tends to pay well. Because you’re being paid for extremely specialized knowledge, you can often find very lucrative consulting roles.
- Allows you to use your experience to the fullest. Consulting lends itself to building on knowledge of niche topics, and you can truly use your education and experience in a creative new way.
- Can lead to full-time work. Consulting gigs often evolve into full-time gigs, such as clinical solutions consultant, clinical field specialist, or clinical trainer.
- Tends to be unstable. Unfortunately, consultants are often the first ones cut when finances get tight, so it’s hard to rely on this type of work if you’re looking for stability.
- Requires legwork to find clients. Some consulting roles will fall in your lap, but that’s not common. More often than not, you’ll need to look for these jobs, and they can be tough to find unless you know the market well.
- Typically works better for niche providers. If you’re more of a generalist, you can still be a consultant for the right company, but those with extensive specializations and niche experience will do best in the consultant market.
Resources to Get Started
If the thought of writing excites you—but you’re worried you might get bored after a while—then blogging might be a good route for you. Blogging scratches that writing itch, but it also provides opportunities to get really creative with marketing, strategy, sales, and community engagement. It’s a fantastic way to build your brand and learn new non-clinical skills at the same time. If you have that elusive entrepreneurial spirit, you’ll likely enjoy the process of building, growing, marketing, and eventually monetizing your blog.
- Can be extremely fulfilling. I’ve heard blogging described as similar to raising a child. While I’m pleased to report that I’ve never changed my blog’s diaper—nor has it told me it loves me—I will say that many bloggers agree the best part of having a blog is shaping it as it “grows up.” When you blog, the true fulfillment comes from using your knowledge and expertise to help your website become its best self. And that, in turn, helps others improve their lives. Being able to run your blog with your own mission in mind, focusing on integrity and your own values, is priceless.
- Is often exciting. There’s really never a dull day when you’re strategically growing your blog. If you crave variety, blogging is the perfect way to keep work interesting, day after day.
- Can be lucrative. With traditional writing, your earning potential is really limited by how many hours you can work. For some, that’s a fine tradeoff. However, if you want that “sky’s the limit” level of income, blogging might make more sense. You can host courses, run ads, become an affiliate for products and services, and so much more.
- Can be unpredictable. If you’re the type who needs structure—or you simply don’t like frequent change—you probably won’t enjoy blogging. The nature of the beast is that you must be very agile and open to change. Yes, you need a strategy, and yes, you should keep your focus on one initiative at a time, but things can shift on a dime—and you must be prepared to adapt accordingly.
- Takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of time and effort to do blogging right. If you want to make your money from ads, then you need to build a robust audience. If you want to make your money from course sales, then you need to take the time to create quality courses. It does pay off in spades, but blogging isn’t all lounging at the pool with your tropical drink and laptop in tow!
- Is all about the “long game.” With blogging, the name of the game is patience. For those of us who are not graced with endless patience, this can be a challenge. You might not change the world (or make much money) during your first few months as a blogger. But, if you’re strategic and smart about how you build your website—and you keep your focus laser-pointed on solving your readers’ problems—then you will succeed.
Resources to Get Started
- Therapy Blogging Power Pack: This is a free 28-page PDF to help you break into the wonderful world of blogging. Chanda Jothen, PT, DPT, (from Pink Oatmeal) and I put the packet together to help rehab professionals approach blogging with a strategic mindset.
- Free Tech Library: You can also sign up for our free tech library, which walks you through the process of setting up your very first website.
While many brick-and-mortar clinics are currently struggling, business is taking off for teletherapy providers. Telehealth was already poised to change the face of the rehab world, and the threat posed by the novel coronavirus has only accelerated this process. You can practice telehealth one of two ways: you can open your own practice, or you can join an existing company. (Either way, be sure to check out WebPT’s telehealth offerings, which allow you to provide, document, and bill for telehealth visits in one place. Learn more here.)
- It’s super hot right now. They say that “necessity is the mother of invention,” and we’re seeing that expression play out in real time. Telehealth is being adopted across nearly all PT settings, so if you have ideas, experience, or enthusiasm to share, many companies are (finally) all ears.
- Improves access. The nice thing about telehealth is it allows you to truly serve patients. You’re eliminating barriers to care—such as lack of transportation or risk of disease exposure—and you’re helping deliver necessary treatment to patients who might not receive it otherwise.
- Can be combined with blogging. If you’re the creative, entrepreneurial type, you can combine efforts and offer a telehealth scheduling button right on your physical therapy blog. And, you can use your blog to attract future patients and inform them about your services!
- Still feels like the Wild West. Unfortunately, the telehealth regulatory and payment landscape is literally changing every day. Hence, unless you’re extremely organized and very comfortable with constant change, you’ll feel a bit like a chicken with its head cut off when you try to make the transition to digital care.
- Not all payers reimburse for it. When this article was originally published, PTs were unable to bill Medicare for telehealth physical therapy. That has since changed (learn more here), but commercial payers vary widely on their telehealth reimbursement provisions, so you’ll need to check with each payer individually to verify its stance.
- Jury’s still out on efficacy. Depending on your setting, telehealth may or may not be as effective as in-person care. You’ll want to consider the best way you can leverage technology—without selling your patients short.
Resources to Get Started
- Medicare E-Visits vs. Telehealth (thanks to Gail Bachman, PT, DPT, for putting this together!)
- PT Compact
- Center for Connected Health Policy
- Telehealth Physical Therapy: Everything You Need to Know
- Billing for PT and OT Telehealth Services During the COVID-19 Response
We know this is not an exhaustive list, so if you’ve found other alternative income options that may be of interest to your PT peers, please share them in the comment section below!
Meredith Castin, PT, DPT, is the founder of The Non-Clinical PT, a career development resource designed to help physical, occupational, and speech therapy professionals leverage their degrees in non-clinical ways.