Physical therapy is a young and expanding profession that has the potential to make you good money. You have opportunities to work in diverse work settings with high job satisfaction. However, obtaining the required degree can be expensive. As a practicing physical therapist, I can provide insight into the career’s earning potential and whether it’s worth pursuing.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for physical therapists in 2020 was $91,010. However, salaries can range from $61,080 to more than $127,520, with factors such as location, experience, and work setting playing a role.
Physical therapists who work in states or areas with higher costs of living or in specialized areas such as pediatrics, geriatrics, or sports medicine may earn higher salaries. Additionally, those who advance in their careers earn even higher salaries.
Overall, physical therapy can be a rewarding and lucrative career, but it requires extensive education, ongoing professional development, and the ability to market yourself well if you want to make more money. In this article, we will touch on how to maximize your earning potential and help you decide if this career is worth the debt and time it takes to pursue it.
Do Physical Therapists Make Good Money?
Physical therapists can make good money, it is a fast growing and young medical field. Physical therapy is a highly respected and rewarding career choice that offers a promising financial future. The salary of a physical therapist is determined by a variety of factors, mainly years of experience, and geographic location. If you want to increase your earning potential, you must increase your value to an employer or create value in your community as a clinic owner.
The level of experience that a physical therapist has will often determine their salary. Entry-level physical therapists can expect to earn less than experienced physical therapists. As mentioned before, the pay can range from $60k to $90k. However, experienced physical therapists with advanced certifications and years of experience can earn upwards of $100,000 per year.
Area of Practice
Areas of practice can impact your pay as well. Acute care physical therapy notoriously pays a lower amount due to it being more of a consulting service for hospitals. Due to the complexity of the patients seen, a therapist cannot be expected to see a large volume of patients, they also cannot bill as many units due to the types of insurance and activity tolerance of the patients they see. This puts them at a disadvantage in salary negotiations, being that they barely bill enough to cover their already lower salaries.
On the other hand, outpatient PT, especially in more affluent locations, can see a higher volume of patients who have insurances that pay more or are even capable of paying in cash. This significantly increases their earning potential.
The geographic location of a physical therapist’s practice can also have a significant impact on their salary. Physical therapists who work in major metropolitan areas or affluent communities tend to earn higher salaries than those who work in rural areas or less affluent communities. For example, a physical therapist who works in New York City can expect to earn more than a physical therapist who works in a small town in the Midwest.
There is a caveat though. Your salary may be higher due to the fact that the cost of living in metropolitan areas are higher. When you factor in the cost of living you may actually be underpaid
Another thing to consider is that working in an area with one or more PT schools close by will make it harder to attract a competitive offer. You are competing with a large number of “cheaper” applicants due to their inexperience, which allows businesses to justify paying them less.
Insurance does not pay more based on the clinician’s experience or specialty. At the same time, younger, inexperienced clinicians bill more due to being inefficient. Ethical or not, from a business perspective, a younger, inexperienced clinician who has the potential to bring more profit to a location is more valuable than an older clinician who is asking for more money.
On a lighter note, if the demand is high in a rural area, you can actually negotiate a higher than normal salary if you bring value to that clinic. Given that the cost of living in rural areas is significantly lower, you will be making out like a bandit at the end of the day if you play your cards right.
For example, you may be able to earn a higher salary of $95k in NYC, but your rent is easily $3k per month, not counting all the other inflated costs that are associated with the big apple. You can easily negotiate that salary in a rural area of Baltimore County, maybe 1–1.5 hours from Baltimore City or Washington, D.C., but only needing to pay $1500 for rent and much less living expenses.
As alluded to before, specialization is another factor that can impact a physical therapist’s earning potential. Physical therapists who specialize in areas such as sports medicine, pediatrics, or orthopedics may be able to command higher salaries than those who work in general practice. For example, physical therapists who work with professional athletes may earn significantly more than those who work in a rehabilitation center.
This is not a guarantee. A clinic will not pay more just because you have your Orthopedic Clinical Specialist Certification (OCS), but if you can prove that this will lead to better outcomes, more patients seen, or provide value in some way to the clinic, then you could use it as leverage.
In conclusion, physical therapists can make good money, depending on several factors. The financial benefits of a career in physical therapy make it an attractive option for those who are passionate about helping others and are looking for a stable and rewarding career. While salaries may vary depending on these factors, physical therapy offers excellent earning potential and job security.
Is Being A Physical Therapist Worth The Debt?
Whether or not becoming a physical therapist is worth the debt depends on several factors, including your personal financial situation, career goals, and earning potential.
Physical therapy education typically requires a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, which can take 3–4 years of graduate school to complete. This is not only the cost of tuition but also the opportunity cost of how much money you could have made in another profession during those extra 3 years after undergraduate studies, or even 7 years if you went into trade. The cost of tuition, fees, and living expenses can vary widely depending on the school and location, but it can be quite expensive.
However, physical therapists can earn good middle class salaries. This, coupled with smart loan planning, can make it more worthwhile than you may think.
If you obtain a federal loan, you are offered several different loan repayment options that can drastically impact how much you owe every month. I may touch on this in a future post, but in general, if you apply for an IDR, PAYE, or REPAYE loan repayment plan, your monthly payment will be capped at around 5% of your discretionary income [your income minus the poverty line * 1.5] .
Let’s compare someone who uses one of these modified payment plans with someone who does not. Let us compare two people who live in Maryland who owe $130,000, are making $80k, and are unmarried.
- Person 1 decides to take the standard 10 year repayment option
- They will owe $1334 every month for 10 years.
- This leaves this individual with $3490.5 in income after taxes and after their loan is paid.
- Person 2 decides to take REPAYE option
- They will pay $438 per month for 20 years, or if eligible for the PLSF loan forgiveness by working for a non-profit, only 10 years, in either case, the remainder will be forgiven.
- This leaves this individual with $4386.5 in secondary income after taxes.
Taking the second option not only lowers your monthly payments, but leaves you with an additional $896 that can be invested or saved for a future home. If that doesn’t seem significant to you, think about this: If that money was invested in a simple, conservative investment, you could almost guarantee based on previous averages that that money would become $517,279.60 after 20 years of sitting in an investment account, according to this investment calculator.
Additionally, physical therapy is a rewarding career. It provides an opportunity to help people improve their physical health and quality of life. If you are passionate about helping others and enjoy working in healthcare, physical therapy can be a fulfilling career choice.
Ultimately, determining if the debt associated with becoming a physical therapist is worth it depends on your individual circumstances and goals. It is important to do thorough research on the expected salary and job outlook for physical therapists in your area, as well as the cost of education, before making a decision.
Can a PT make $100k a year or more?
Yes, it is very possible to make $100,000 a year as a physical therapist. It can be done in one of three ways. Leveraging experience and education (as stated before), starting your own business, or becoming high level management of a hospital or venture capital group.
You can leverage your education and experience in an area in need of your services. There are opportunities for physical therapists to increase their value by pursuing additional education or certifications. For example, physical therapists who are board-certified in a specialty may be able to earn more if they leverage that specialty in a geographical area or clinic that is in need of that specialty.
Owning a business can also be very lucrative if done correctly. Owning and operating a successful clinic is no easy feat, but if done correctly, the sky is the limit when it comes to generating income. One clinic could easily put $250k or more into your pocket every year as the owner, not to mention the power to leverage tax write-offs to save even more money.
Things to keep in mind are that you are able to take home that much money because of the following reasons: you also take on the burden of pleasing your employees, take on the risk of failure, incur massive start up costs, and fill up the schedule with patients every month. Imagine the stress of operating during the 2020 pandemic; massive losses were taken, many of them unrecoverable.
Lastly, if you are more risk sensitive, finding a company you can grow into with upward mobility is a good option. Being a regional manager and managing two or more clinics could easily get you above the $100,000 mark. This is a long term project and requires you to put in the time to show that you have what it takes to grow the company and keep the business productive and the employees happy.
In conclusion, while salaries may vary depending on several factors, it is possible for a physical therapist to make $100,000 a year or more with the right experience, specialization, and location.