Physical therapy salary is dependent on many factors. Let’s begin by understanding consumer perception of, and the full scope of physical therapy.
Consumers believe that physical therapy is about pain relief and massages. In fact, the scope of physical therapist is much greater.
A recent article on Monster.com: New Niches in Physical Therapy Practice noted that “physical therapists (PTs) are carving out a variety of useful yet nontraditional practice niches in response to changing societal needs and demands.”
This means that as society is changing and evolving, the need for physical therapists is increasing. This explains why physical therapy salaries (and physical therapy assistant salaries) are on the rise.
New practice specialties in the performing arts, emergency / urgent care, obesity management, women’s health and even animal therapy are leading to a higher physical therapy starting salary. The demand for a physical therapist is growing.
Therapists help in the treatment of bone and joint abnormalities, auto-immune and neurological diseases, to name a few.
The average starting annual salary for a physical therapist according to Google is $57,220. The median annual salary for a physical therapist as cited by Salary.com is $79,863 with a range of $73,574 – $86,643 (HR reported data as of February 2017).
What determines physical therapy salary?
Compensation for a physical therapist is determined by a number of factors:
- Supply and demand as dictated by geographic location
- Level of education (advanced degrees are often leveraged into higher starting salaries)
- Years of experience
- Type of therapy clinic
- Size of the employer
There are tangible (and non tangible skills) on your resume that can contribute to a high physical therapy salary. Besides industry trends, here are the ten emerging trends in physical therapy salaries in 2017:
- Demand for a Doctorate degree (DPT – Doctor of Physical Therapy) Potential employers look for DPT candidates. This is a competitive edge. It can be lead to a higher physical therapy starting salary. Interestingly, this is in direct contradiction to a recent article published by ADVANCE magazine. The article indicated that a significant number of physical therapists with a Bachelor or Masters degree are earning higher annual salaries than those with a Doctorate degree. This is presumably because the acquisition of doctorate degrees by therapists is a more recent phenomenon within the physical therapy industry. Those physical therapists with Bachelor or Master Degrees have been in the workforce for a longer period of time compared to those who have earned a DPT. More experience translates into higher earnings than their more educated (but newer to the workforce) colleagues. Click here for more information about the post-professional DPT, advanced clinical doctorate and the differences between them.
- Certifications of Specialization increase the odds that physical therapy starting salary will be higher. Those in possession of advanced clinical knowledge and skills in such specialized areas of practice as OCS (Orthopedic Clinical Specialist), Clinical Electrical Physiology or Geriatrics, for example, can command higher salaries. The website of the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties states that their mission “is to advance the profession of physical therapy by establishing, maintaining, and promoting standards of excellence for clinical specialization, and by recognizing the advanced knowledge, skills and experience by physical therapist practitioners through specialist credentialing.”
- An Adaptable Personality and Team Spirit – allows you to play different critical roles within the practice. The day-to-day operation of a clinic often requires therapists who are willing and eager to take up the mantle of different roles. This contributes to the overall growth and continued success of the practice. Employers look for and ultimately reward employees who, when called upon, will go above and beyond. They look for therapists ready to help with marketing of a cash-based program, calling former patients, visiting physicians to renew or build referral relationships, etc.
- Reasonable Comfort Level with Technology. Today, private practice owners want and hire physical therapists (sometimes at a premium) because they are comfortable with EMR, email marketing and social media. Such candidates contribute to the overall efficiency and productivity of a clinic. Physical therapists must acquire and develop skill sets that extend beyond the therapeutic arena. They should be able to quickly learn and adapt to the requirements of the clinic’s EMR software or billing system. They should be able to schedule patients and send text reminders/confirmations when needed.
- Location and Work Environment According to this US News article which ranked physical therapy as #12 in Best Health Care Jobs, “The best-paid physical therapists live in the metropolitan areas of Las Vegas; Laredo, Texas; and Brownsville, Texas.” The highest paid 10% (in the nation’s top-paying state, Nevada) made $116,090, while the lowest 10% made $56,800. Also, the highest annual salaries were paid to physical therapists working in schools, home health care and nursing care facilities.
- Standing within the Community How well known are you within the community? Physical therapy salary is is directly proportional to a candidate’s standing as a physical therapist and citizen, within the community that they serve. People tend to do business with people that they know, like and trust. If a physical therapist is applying for a position and is well-known within the community, through previous patient work or community service, the candidate is more likely to get a higher physical therapy starting salary. The ‘tangible’ asset of goodwill and potential patients that come with the therapist is a bargaining chip when negotiating salary.
- Gender. According to several surveys and studies performed by Advance Physical Therapy, physical therapists are predominantly women. An interesting statistic from their physical therapy salaries survey indicates that a significantly higher percentage of males rather than females, earn $75,000. This data suggests that a “financial bias” exists within the industry that pays male physical therapists higher wages than females.
- Age. The typical age range for most physical therapists is from the mid-thirties to the mid-fifties. Experience over time yields higher compensation.
- Management and Leadership Positions. Physical therapists who assume managerial roles have more responsibilities. These include staff management, education and motivation, productivity, as well as tracking and measuring profitability. These candidates are paid higher wages that reflect their higher commitment to the success of the practice.
- An Aging Population As the population ages, the demand for physical therapists will only increase. There are currently 5.8 million aged 85 and older and it is projected to increase to 8.7 million in 2030. By 2030, more than one in three Americans will be over 50, one in five will be over 65 and one in eight will be over the age of 75 by the year 2040.