Are you interested in a physical therapist career? The opportunities in this line of work are good and getting even better, so it’s understandable why this profession is becoming more popular by the year. In this overview, we will present you official statistical data concerning the physical therapist salary and its influencing factors, and we will also counsel you on how to maximize your earnings as a physical therapist. This way, if you’re planning to become a physical therapist or you’re already working in the field but not quite earning as much as you should, you can know exactly how to improve your odds.
In case you’re not a physical therapist yet, this guide on how to become a physical therapist will help you navigate the potential confusions regarding the educational paths required. For now, let’s move on to the pressing question of the moment: how much do physical therapists make on today’s US job market? The answer is pretty impressive: in a nutshell, the median physical therapist salary was $83,940 per year and $40.35 per hour in May 2014*. This situates the earnings of physical therapists way above average, and according to governmental data (via the BLS)*, the job outlook for this profession is 34% (very high job growth). This means that from 2014 to 2024, the number of positions for physical therapists will grow with about 34% (much faster than the average job growth for all other occupations, which is currently only 7%). If we couple this with the tempting salary, the appeal of this job is more and more understandable.
Overview of the Physical Therapist Salary
As mentioned above, the median therapist salary was @83,940 per year (and $40.35 hourly) in 2014. This isn’t the same as the average salary of a physical therapist, which is around $79,342. The median value for the salary of a particular profession is usually considered a more telling numerical indicator, and here is why. The value of the median salary of a physical therapist is situated exactly in the middle of the salary data pool: 50% of all employed physical therapists (PT) made a bit more than that median value, and the other 50% of them made a bit less.
You may be wondering how much more or how much less can the PT earnings go, and you would be very right to question it, if you’re considering a physical therapist career. When the data for the median physical therapist salary was calculated (May 2014), the top earning 10% of all working physical therapists made more than $116,090 per year, and the lowest earning 10% of them made a bit less than $56,800. The differences between the top and the bottom percentiles can make for quite a gap, but the overall salary for physical therapist jobs still looks promising on either end of the spectrum.
How to Maximize Your Physical Therapist Salary
Here are the most important earnings factors for the salary of a physical therapist and how you can try to tweak the odds in your favor based on them.
1. Industry Branch or Line of Work
Some physical therapists may earn more than others depending on their place of employment. Larger hospitals or recovery facilities may pay their employees more than smaller ones, and certain industry branches may prove to be more lucrative than others as well. Here is how the median salary of a physical therapist looked like in May 2014 for the main industries which employ PTs:
- Home healthcare services: physical therapists employed in this line of work earned a median salary of $89,310;
- Nursing and residential care facilities: a median therapist salary of $88,930 per year;
- Hospitals (including state, private and local): median annual wage of 83,380;
- Offices of physicians: a median yearly salary of a physical therapist of $81,630;
- The offices of physical, speech and occupational therapists: median earnings for PTs of $79,130.
As you can see, the best places to work in as a physical therapist are either home healthcare services (which means you pay home visits to people in need of your services, recovering after accidents or illnesses), or nursing and residential care facilities. This means that patients who can afford individual attention from a physical therapist are the main motor behind the better earnings of a physical therapist working like this. Of course, this makes the so-called soft skills or people skills a must-have for this occupation. The bottom line for this physical therapist salary influencing factor is that if you can work your way into working for a residential care facility, or a patient recovery center that also provides house calls, you will earn better as a PT.
2. Geographical Factors
As expected, the state or region you live and work in can have a considerable impact on your salary as a physical therapist. Some areas are definitely more lucrative, while other employ more PTs, so you would have a better chance of getting hired there, even if they’re not necessarily also the top-paying regions in the country.
These are the top-paying states in the US for this profession (where the median salary of a physical therapist is the highest):
- Nevada: a median PT salary of $127,900 per year (and $61.49 per hour);
- Alaska: a median physical therapist salary of $96,350 per year and $46.32 per hour;
- New Jersey: here, the physical therapists attain a median pay of $92,380 per year and $44.42 per hour;
- California: median salaries of $92,120 per year (and an $44.29 median hourly rate);
- Texas: median PT earnings of $91,560 per year and $44.02 per hour.
Also, the areas which employ the most physical therapists (and their respective median values for the physical therapist salary) are there:
- New York-White Plains-Wayne (NY-NJ Metropolitan Division): $91,220 per year and $43.86 per hour;
- Chicago-Joliet-Naperville (IL Metropolitan Division): $79,050 per year and $38.00 median hourly rate;
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale (CA Metropolitan Division): a median PT salary of $87,790 per year and $42.21 per hour;
- Boston-Cambridge-Quincy (MA NECTA Division): $82,440 per year and $39.63 per hour;
- Philadelphia (the PA Metropolitan Division): $82,380 per year and $39.61 per hour.
Considering all that, and assuming you are flexible (or willing to be flexible) about the area in which you will live, you can definitely improve your odds for a better salary of a physical therapist by moving to a top-paying state or region. Of course, some regions also employ more professionals in this field (as we presented above), and that is also a factor you will need to consider, especially for your first few employment experiences out of school.
3. Work experience and certifications
Speaking of acquiring work experience, that is also a factor that helps for a better salary outcome. As it is with most other occupations, the more you work in the niche and the more you progress, the higher will your salary be. This is especially true if you also opt to take on some extra administrative or supervisory duties.
But in the case of PTs, there is also one particular feat of experience which you can accomplish (and thus obtain a higher salary of a physical therapist). After a few years of working experience as a PT (usually 8 to 10 years), many professionals apply to become a board-certified specialist. This allows them to specialize in one of 8 clinical specialization areas, making their services rarer and more expensive. In order to become a board-certified specialist physical therapist, you will need 2,000 hours of clinic duty, some studies and passing an exam. You can also opt for a residency program accredited by APTA instead of the 2,000 hours of clinical work. Whatever your future career choices will be, we wish you the best of luck.
*All numeric data presented in this article has been provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, www.bls.gov.