Have you ever wondered about the annual salary of a physical therapist? What’s your best guess – $60,000, $80,000, maybe even $120,000?
Well, what do you think is a fair Doctor of Physical Therapy salary? Should a PT with a Doctorate degree make a certain amount of money?
If you’re like most people, you’ll assume that a “Doctor of” something automatically makes good money, maybe over six figures. And you might even guess that a Doctor of Physical Therapy rakes in $100,000 or more.
However, these assumptions are misconceptions. In this post, I’ll reveal the truth about a Doctor of Physical Therapy salary – and how you can improve your pay!
So how much does a Doctor of Physical Therapy make?
The working wages of a PT can fluctuate widely, and I know that firsthand. Throughout my career, I’ve earned salaries ranging from the $60ks to the $80ks, and as much as $120k in certain situations.
But the average salary of PTs, regardless of their doctorate degree, is well below the six figures you might expect of a doctor. In fact, average earnings sit at $88,000 annually, while an outpatient PT salary starts at $70,000 on average.
How much SHOULD a Doctor of Physical Therapy make?
Lately, I’ve been hearing many PTs complain that “because we’re Doctors of Physical Therapy, we deserve to make six figures.”
That argument just doesn’t sit right with me, and I think it’s built on a couple misconceptions.
Misconception #1: Higher Degree = Higher Salary
First, I disagree with the idea that someone deserves a high salary simply because they’ve completed a degree or achieved a certain title.
I get it – we worked hard in PT school to complete a 3-year DPT. Not only was it an arduous effort, it was expensive too, and half of graduating PTs paid more than $150,000 for their degree (and still have the loans to prove it!).
But in reality, most physical therapy jobs pay much less than six figures, starting in the $60-70k range and averaging out around $88k a year.
The degree doesn’t fetch you a higher salary. There are plenty of “Doctors” in all kinds of fields, including healthcare professions such as therapy and chiropraxy, who earn $60-80k a year.
We need to lose the expectation that a Doctor of Physical Therapy should be “paid like a doctor” in six figures.
The Doctor Salary Illusion
If you’re a PT, your DPT degree isn’t an illusion; but, I argue, your right to higher earnings is.
I think this illusion results from comparing a physical therapist with a physician. Both are doctors, in a true sense of the word. But their salary couldn’t be more different.
ZipRecruiter shows the average salary of a physician is $200,000 a year, roughly. At first glance, you might be outraged that most Doctors of Physical Therapy don’t make even half this much.
But what that salary doesn’t show is the number of hours worked, the number of patients seen each day, the number of procedures performed, the cost of those procedures, the staff costs and the overhead of the practice itself.
The point is, there are so many other factors at play besides a doctor’s degree or title. Most physical therapists understand this, but the “doctor salary illusion” remains because there’s another reason why people think that a doctor of physical therapy should make the same as a physician.
Misconception #2: Higher Debt = Higher Salary
Besides expecting a higher salary for a higher degree, some PTs claim we deserve to make more because we owe more. Put another way, because we’ve borrowed six figures in loans, we are entitled to a six-figure salary.
I hate to break it to you, but this argument doesn’t hold much water either. Debt does not qualify you for a higher salary or a pardon from the president, or anything, really. It’s the uncomfortable truth about it.
When you took out $150,000 in student loans to become a physical therapist, you were not guaranteed to earn it all back in a year. You shouldn’t be earning more money simply because you borrowed more.
A Salary “Should” vs. “Need”
In fact, it’s not a matter of how much you SHOULD earn as a PT at all. There’s no magic number that justifies your worth as a physical therapist. Rather, it’s about how much you need to make, for your particular circumstances.
Maybe you don’t need to make six figures. There are PTs out there happily employed at $40,000, working part-time, debt-free and in love with their work-life balance.
But if you’re a new grad with $150k in loans, a higher salary is not an entitlement, it’s a must. You cannot expect to pay off this amount of debt quickly while working a job in an outpatient clinic for $60-70k a year. The opportunity to make $100k or more is out there; you just have to be willing to do something different.
The good news is that you don’t have to change careers entirely to pay off your loans. However, you should consider a different type of therapy job – one that pays better, such as home health or travel physical therapy.
My Experience as a Home Health DPT
I’ve been in your shoes. I started out as an outpatient therapist earning less than $70,000 a year. Then I became a home health PT averaging over $50 an hour which put me above the six-figure mark as a physical therapist.
For some reason, we’ve been led to believe that because of a lack of experience, new graduates shouldn’t take jobs in home health or travel therapy. I think that advice is absolutely garbage. That’s where the high-paying jobs are!
I recommend home health and travel therapy as a way to earn six figures or more as a PT. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a brand-new grad or a PT three years out of school with six figures of student debt. You’ll earn more because these jobs pay more.
Why Home Health and Travel PT Pays
The annual salary and hourly wage are higher for a home health or travel PT than for a therapist in an outpatient clinic. That’s because the former are paid on a per-patient basis and are more efficient with scheduling, treatments, and documentation.
Savvy home health and travel PTs can earn $100k–$120k or more annually. The more efficient their work, the more income they generate.
Sure, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies in home health. There are aspects of travel therapy that aren’t glamorous. Frankly, that’s part of the reason why these avenues pay more. The money is in the work people aren’t willing to do; find a job no one wants, and you’ll probably find a higher pay.
But to maximize your salary as a home health or travel PT, you must manage your time well and document your work efficiently.
Getting the Biggest Bang for your Home Health Buck
When I was a new grad considering home health PT, I wish I had sat down with someone and trained for a week. I could have observed their therapy process and learned their system for being efficient with treatments and documentation.
I had to figure it out on my own, and there was a learning curve until it started to pay off.
That’s why I created my therapy documentation templates, so that you can streamline your workflow right away and save 30 to 60 minutes every day. With that extra time, you’ll be able to treat more patients, finish your notes, and achieve the six-figure income you need to pay off your student loans.
My documentation templates will save you a ton of time and stress, not to mention mental energy. Plus, incorporating them into your practice will put you on the path to earning six figures as a home health or travel therapist.
You can check out the templates at PTProgress.com/templates.
Take Charge of your Doctor of Physical Therapy Salary!
The bottom line is, whether or not a Doctor of Physical Therapy should make six figures, they could make six figures – by quitting the outpatient clinic and providing more efficient physical therapy in home health.