Physical therapy still a lucrative field, but many factors determine salary differences
We asked, you answered. From across the country, 2,123 physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, certified athletic trainers and self-described “others” filled out the ADVANCE for Physical Therapy 2012 Salary Survey. Physical therapy continues to be a popular and lucrative field. However, geography, specialty, experience and even gender play a role in determining salaries.
Best Place To Be a PT and a PTA
Geographic differences abounded in regard to salaries. The suburbs were the most popular place to work, with 45 percent of all respondents employed there. Cities were next, with approximately 35.5 percent of people working in an urban setting, and finally about 19 percent of respondents worked in a rural location.
However, when it came to bringing home the dough, the PTs and PTAs who worked in rural settings were tops. Of them, 11.68 percent earned $100,000 or more last year, which percentage-wise was the highest among the three settings.
On a broader scale, the South had a slight edge when it came to regional differences in salary. The 364 physical therapists working in the southern states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee or Texas were the most likely to earn more than $100,000; 12.09 percent brought in that much last year.The southern region of the country was the 2nd most popular place to be a physical therapist, behind the northeast states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island or Vermont, where 403 PTs worked in 2011.
In contrast to the sunny salary skies of Dixie, 7.24 percent of PTs working in the Mid-Atlantic/ Upper Great Lakes states of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia or West Virginia earned $100,000 or more in 2011, the lowest percentage among the five geographic regions. The Mid-Atlantic did not seem like the place to be, as there, the highest concentration of physical therapist salaries fell within the $65,000 to $75,000 range. In the Northeast, South, Midwest and West, the highest concentration of PT salaries fell within the $75,000 to $85,000 range.
When it comes to physical therapist assistants, many of the same patterns held. The South was the most popular place to work as a PTA, at least according to our survey, which listed 135 southern PTAs. They tied their western counterparts in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington or Wyoming with 5 percent of those surveyed, bringing home between $85,000 and $100,000 last year. The South also had the highest concentration of physical therapist assistants who reported earning $55,000 to $65,000,
with 28.15 percent in that range. The West and the South were also the only regions where PTAs cracked the $100,000 barrier, with two impressive physical therapist assistants earning that much last year.Things don’t look as bright for physical therapist assistants in the Plains states. Of all survey takers, those PTAs who worked in the Midwestern region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota or Wisconsin were the most likely to earn less than $45,000. Almost 38 percent of the PTAs from that region logged in at that amount or less, followed closely by almost 33 percent of PTAs in the Mid-Atlantic states.
As for certified athletic trainers, there wasn’t enough data to break them down into regions. The biggest chunk, about 45 percent, earned between $35,000 and $45,000. Following that, approximately 27 percent earned between $45,000 and $55,000 in 2011. The ATCs who answered our survey were employed in colleges and universities or outpatient facilities, and one worked in an acute care setting.
To Own or Not To Own
In all parts of the country, practice ownership, gender and experience played a key role in determining salaries. Practice ownership is not for everyone, our survey showed. A whopping 94.41 percent of people surveyed do not own their own practice. When you analyze the data for the remaining 5.59 percent who do, some interesting salary stats emerge. Private practice owners are nearly four times as likely as their staff PT counterparts to earn more than $100,000 annually. Across the country, 28.85 percent of owners reported earning at least that much in 2011, compared to only 7.93 percent of therapists who do not own their own practice.
Physical therapy continues to be a female-dominated occupation. According to our survey, 1,058 women worked as physical therapists and 348 women worked as physical therapist assistants last year. By comparison, 463 men worked as PTs and 118 men worked as PTAs. The salaries tell a different story: 16.42 percent of male physical therapists earned more than $100,000 in 2011, almost 10 percentage points higher than the 6.81 percent of female PTs who took home that much money. Nearly half of female physical therapists, 49.52 percent, reported making less than $75,000 last year. About 34 percent of their male counterparts pulled in under that amount.
One possible explanation for the discrepancy is practice ownership rates. As mentioned earlier, practice owners take in considerably more income. A higher percentage of men (7.24 percent) than women (3.9 percent) reported being practice owners.
The picture is similar for physical therapist assistants. Approximately 17 percent of men employed as PTAs earned under $45,000, compared to 31 percent of women employed as PTAs. On the high end of the physical therapist assistant pay scale, 35.6 percent of male PTAs earned $65,000 or more in 2011. However, only 11.75 percent of the female PTAs surveyed brought home at least $65,000.
Whether therapists are male or female, experience factored heavily into income. More than half of the people surveyed have been in the field either five years or less or 21 years or more. Results showed 80.94 percent of the physical therapists and physical therapist assistants who have been practicing for 21 years earned $65,000 or more. By contrast, about half that amount, or 40.06 percent of the PTs and PTAs who’ve been in the game five years or less, brought home that much in 2011. As for the mid-career therapists, 70.86 percent of those working for 11 to 15 years earned $65,000 or more last year.
As physical therapy moves to become a doctoring profession, the DPT continues to be a goal among therapists, especially newly minted ones. When it comes to income, our survey showed that MSPTs have an advantage over DPTs; 505 physical therapists reported having a doctorate. Of them, 40.2 percent made $75,000 or more. An almost equal number of PTs, 507, have a master’s degree as their highest level of education. Nearly 59 percent of them earned at least $75,000 in 2011; 507 PTs also reported having a bachelor’s as their terminal degree. Surprisingly, they out-earned their counterparts: 66.27 percent of them made $75,000 or more. Many PTs have been in the field longer than DPTs, which is a relatively new program in the scope of the profession, providing one possible explanation for their higher earnings.
The minimum educational requirement to be a physical therapist assistant is an associate’s degree. Approximately 38 percent of physical therapist assistants with an associate’s as their terminal degree earned $55,000 or more last year. Having a bachelor’s degree, while less common among PTAs, did afford them a slight advantage; 45 percent of PTAs with a BS took home a minimum of $55,000.
Outlook For The Profession
Physical therapy continues to be a hot profession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 180,280 people are employed as physical therapists and 65,690 are employed as physical therapist assistants.1,2 Between 2008 and 2018, the BLS predicts employment opportunities for PTs will grow at a rate of 30 percent, which is higher than the national average for all occupations.3 In that same time frame, job prospects for PTAs are expected to grow by 33 percent-again, an impressive rate.4
ATI Physical Therapy, which employs approximately 1,000 clinicians nationwide, looks for therapists with passion and motivation. Says Julie Nankee, director of talent acquisition, “We are looking for therapists who will strive to grow clinically and professionally.” Always looking to expand, in 2012, ATI Physical Therapy plans to add 350 physical therapists, physical therapist assistants and certified athletic trainers to their rooster. They strive to make their employees feel a part of the team. Physical therapy is an employees’ market and clinics need to stick out to entice the many qualified professionals to work there. “We have outstanding company benefits, a very competitive compensation structure inclusive of an exceptional performance based bonus program,” Nankee explained. In addition, ATI Physical Therapy offers numerous career development opportunities, such as a generous CEU bank, company paid certifications and residency and fellowship programs.
Concentra operates more than 300 medical centers that offer numerous services, including physical therapy. Next year, they plan to hire between 250 to 300 physical therapists. Matt Longman, manager of external communications and media relations, explained that selflessness and character are the most important qualities Concentra looks for in new hires. Although the company offers employees bonuses such as a competitive compensation package, clinical and business growth and a family atmosphere, Longman said, “We try to create the picture that the job is the incentive.”
On the other end of the therapy spectrum, Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS) places therapists exclusively into schools in southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut and New York. PTS employs about 200 clinicians, 15 to 20 percent of which are physical therapists. In 2012, the company plans to bring four or five full-time PTs on board. Pamela Hackett, MPT, founder and managing partner, explained that most of the physical therapists that come to PTS are looking for the school schedule: “It’s very mom friendly.” Many of the hires come from adult rehab settings, so PTS helps them with their transition. “We’ve made a commitment to mentoring people and watching them grow,” said Hackett. The company looks for creativity and interpersonal skills in new hires. “They need to be team members,” Hackett explained.
Physical therapists and physical therapist assistants enjoy many career opportunities. Whether physical therapy jobs are in Alabama or Wyoming, a school or outpatient clinic, or require an associate’s degree or a doctorate, they are a hot commodity for 2012.
Unless otherwise noted, all data came from an online survey active from 7/6/11 to 1/13/12.
- “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2010: Physical Therapists.” Bureau of Labor Statistics.http://bls.gov/oes/current/oes291123.htm
- “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2010: Physical Therapist Assistants.” Bureau of Labor Statistics. http://bls.gov/oes/current/oes312021.htm
- “Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition: Physical Therapists. Bureau of Labor Statistics.http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos080.htm
- “Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides.” Bureau of Labor Statistics. http://www.bls.gov/oco/pdf/ocos167.pdf