If you’re thinking about a career in physical therapy, now is a great time to enter the field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this sector is expected to increase by 28 percent by the year 2026, a rate that is “much faster” than the average for all other occupations combined, largely due to the number of baby boomers who will be growing older in the years ahead.
Practicing physical therapy can be a satisfying occupation as you get to spend your days providing a number of benefits to the patients you serve. Through your skills and training, you’re able to help them move easier, lower pain levels, and potentially preventing future disability. Research has also found that physical therapy has the ability to help patients improve their quality of life.
Though these benefits can make physical therapy an appealing career option, when deciding whether it is the right one for you, earning potential is also an important consideration. So, how much do physical therapists earn? The answer depends largely on where you work, your skillsets, and whether you decide to work for someone else or yourself.
PT Earnings Based on Geographical Location
When considering where you will work as a physical therapist (PT), one of the first things you’ll want to think about is geographical location. Do you plan to offer your services in your home state, for instance, or are you willing to relocate? This factor alone has a tremendous impact on your earning potential as a PT.
Case in point: as of May 2017, the BLS reports that the average hourly wage for a PT is $88,010. However, the top paying state in the physical therapy field is Nevada, which has a mean annual wage of $102,860, approximately $14,000 higher. The next best paying states are New Jersey ($99,220), Alaska ($97,150), Texas ($95,920), and California ($95,570).
States with the lowest mean annual wages for PTs, which the BLS defines as those earning between $45,660 and $81,400 per year, include Maine, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Arkansas. Other states that also fit in this category are North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Montana, and Idaho.
Physical Therapy Income Potential by Area Population
Income potential in the physical therapy field is also impacted based on whether you choose to work in a large city (or suburb) or if you prefer to practice in a rural area. Neither is better or worse than the other, however PTs practicing in more populated areas tend to earn more.
For instance, at a mean annual wage of $128,040 per year, the BLS indicates that Merced, California offers the highest average pay for PTs practicing in metropolitan areas. That compares to the top wages of somewhere between $76,010 and $95,760 for physical therapists working in locations that are defined as being nonmetropolitan.
That’s a major difference yearly, and one which can really add up over a lifetime. Not that pay is everything, of course, but if you’re not married to working in a particular area, numbers like these may sway you to one location over another.
PT Practice Setting and Pay
Physical therapists can also work in a number of different settings. Though each one generally involves engaging with a unique demographic of patients—some settings focus on youth patients whereas others tend to treat seniors, for example—each one offers slightly different earning potentials.
According to U.S. News & World Report, providing home health care services pays the most in the physical therapy field, at roughly $98,230 per year. Working in a school setting as a PT offered the next highest pay at $95,110, with nursing care facilities, retirement communities and assisted livings, and outpatient care centers not too far behind at $92,670, $91,760, and $89,030 respectively.
Physical Therapy Wages and Skill set
Another factor that can impact how much you’re able to make as a physical therapist is any skill or skills you may have that can be used to better benefit your patients. These are areas that you may specialize in or have more knowledge about based on your education and/or experience.
The pay comparison website Payscale reports that four of the most popular skills and their corresponding average annual incomes are:
- Orthopedics – $73,000
- Rehabilitation – $74,000
- Acute Care – $75,000
- Geriatrics – $81,000
PT Pay Averages: Employed vs. Self-Employed
A final consideration when determining what your pay would be should you decide to become a physical therapist is whether you’ll work for someone else or open your own practice. What’s the difference financially?
Remember that the BLS’s data indicates that those employed within the physical therapy field earn a mean annual wage of $88,080, which breaks down to approximately $42.34 per hour. Yet, the career-based informational site Paysa indicates that, after compiling data from 592 profiles, PTs who are self-employed earn an average of $78,391 per year, which is around $37.69 per hour.
It’s important to keep in mind that these two comparisons aren’t necessarily apples to apples. For instance, a PT who is self-employed is going to have very different deductions come tax time, mainly because they have covered more of their own expenses versus being provided the space and equipment necessary to work on patients, which ultimately affects his or her revenues for a particular year.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, there is no clear cut answer as to how much you can make as a physical therapist. Instead, the actual number depends largely on the geographic location where you choose to practice, the density of the population there, what type of setting you decide to work in, any specialized skillsets you may have to offer your patients, and whether you elect to work for someone else or plan to enter into practice for yourself.
Each factor changes the equation slightly, yet it’s also important to realize that they all enable you to earn more than the average American worker, which the U.S. Census Bureau indicates, as of last report, ranges from $29,389 to $59,567 based on the person’s sex and whether there’s a spouse present in the household. That makes this profession one worth considering.
Again, pay shouldn’t be the only factor to think about when deciding whether physical therapy is the right occupation for you. But it is definitely worth noting when you’re trying to make up your mind, and now you know exactly what to look at when calculating your actual income potential in this very satisfying field.