Physical Therapist Salary: How Much Do Physical Therapists Make?

physical therapist salary

The job outlook for physical therapy shows promise, and average incomes are on the rise. But if you’re a recent PT grad, you might be wondering what to expect for a physical therapist salary.

Here’s the main takeaway: the average physical therapist salary is $85,000, according to 2016 APTA data. But this figure will fluctuate depending on your years of experience, location of practice, and therapy specialty.

Breakdown of A Physical Therapist Salary

Let’s say you are in your first job as a PT. Based on a $67,000 salary, you could expect your gross monthly income to be $5,583 and your net ‘take home’ pay around $3,978 per month, (that is, $918 a week based on a single tax filing status).

How much does a Physical Therapist make per hour?

Short answer: around $35 per hour on average, but $60 per hour or more for contracted PTs.

As a physical therapist, you will be paid on either an hourly or salary basis. Hourly rates among salaried PTs fluctuate based on the total number of hours worked.

Although a job with a set salary might sound appealing, it could entail working more than a standard 40-hour week due to additional paperwork. 

Suppose you work at a clinic for an annual salary, but you’re required to complete your documentation on your own time, either at home or by staying after hours. Those extra 10 hours per week spent on documentation can significantly affect your hourly compensation. 

Never settle for a salary without knowing how many hours you’ll average on clinic and documentation time. Although some clinics still pay therapists hourly for documentation, this is often not the case.

Documentation Time Can Lower Your Hourly Rate

Just because a salary is higher than $67,000 doesn’t mean you’ll get an above-average hourly rate, especially if you have to carve out unpaid time for documentation. For instance, suppose your salary is $75,000, or about $36/hour for a 40-hour/week schedule. Spending an additional 10 hours/week on documentation will lower your hourly rate to $28/hour.

Compare these two scenarios:

  • A salaried therapist with 10+ years of experience earns $89,000, but if she works 50 hours per week, she earns $34/hour.
  • An hourly therapist with < 5 years of experience earns $80,000 annually, but by working only 40 hours a week, her rate is $38/hour.

Don’t be swayed by the salary alone! Before you take the job, consider: how many hours will you have to work?

And to find out, ask other PTs how many hours beyond the 40-hour workweek they spend on documentation.

Smart Tip: If your clinic offers a salaried position but requires that you document on your own time, consider renegotiating the hours you spend for clinic time and request that 30–60 minutes per day be reserved for documentation time.

Physical Therapist Pay: What I’ve been offered

Personally, I’ve been offered a range of salaries from $64,000 to $84,000 as a relatively new grad (2.5 years out).  I’ve also worked PRN (as needed) and made significantly more per hour ($50+) in a home health setting.  

The wide range in PT salaries boils down to three main variables: years of experience, location of practice, and willingness to specialize and travel.   

Variables Affecting A Physical Therapist Salary

1. Experience 

As a new therapist at an outpatient physical therapy clinic, you’ll likely be paid less than someone with 10 years’ experience.  Most new physical therapy graduates have a starting salary of around $67,000. Recent PT graduates with less than 9 years’ experience average about $80,000 per year, while therapists with more than 10 years’ experience average $90,000+ annually, according to the APTA.  

But don’t let your experience keep you from achieving a higher income potential. Certain specialties such as home health and travel therapy provide opportunities for you to earn just as much as someone with 10+ years of experience. In these settings, your salary often depends on your caseload and willingness to see more patients.

A newly-graduated physical therapist could earn well over six figures as a travel therapist or in a home health setting. This is especially true when they learn how to become efficient with home health documentation

DPT Salary: Does a Doctor of Physical Therapy Make More Money?

Short answer: no.

Simply having a DPT (Doctorate of Physical Therapy) doesn’t mean you’ll fetch a higher salary. Physical Therapy training recently changed from a Master’s program to a Doctoral program, but this transition did not bring an increase in pay. 

In fact, based on experience alone, many PTs with a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree will earn more than a Doctor of Physical Therapy who has only recently graduated. Of all the factors that influence a physical therapy salary, years of experience is at the top of the list.

2. Location 

If you’re willing to relocate, you might be able to land an even larger salary.  Check out this map of average physical therapist salaries by state:

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Which state has the highest physical therapy salary?

The states that pay their physical therapists the most are Nevada, Alaska, California, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Top 5 States with Highest Average PT Salary (May 2019):

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

3. Specialty

Controlling for experience level and location, not all PT incomes are created the same. You can expect to make more for certain settings or specialties, and even more if you’re willing to travel. A traveling physical therapist salary can be 1.5 to 2 times greater than that of the average therapist. 

Here are some average PT salaries by specialty*:

  • Acute Care Hospital: $89,000
  • Academic Institution: $90,000
  • Skilled Nursing Facility: $95,000
  • Home Health: $90,000
  • Hospital-Based Outpatient: $85,000
  • Private Outpatient Clinic: $80,000
  • School System: $72,000
  • Inpatient Rehab: $82,000

*based on 2016 APTA data

Travel Therapy Salary: The Highest of Them All

What is the highest salary for a physical therapist? That answer is simple: the travel therapist makes the most of all practice settings. 

If you are willing to be a traveling therapist, you can make a significant salary depending on the area you choose.  It’s not uncommon for a travel therapy staffing agency to provide opportunities that allow you to bring in six figures or more.  How much a traveling therapist makes depends on a few factors. Let’s take a look at those.

3 Reasons why Travel Therapists Earn the Highest PT salary:

1. Increased Income: Tax-Free Housing & More

As a traveling therapist, you are entitled to a non-taxable per diem for meals, incidentals, and lodging. If you negotiate this as a cash allotment (instead of accepting a hotel), you can receive this money tax-free. With a little effort, you can choose an AirBnB or other accommodation that is cheaper than your allotted housing per diem. That extra money is tax-free and goes right into your bank account!

2. Higher Pay Based on Location and Specialty

You have a choice for the type of therapy setting in which you wish to practice as a traveling therapist. Typically, the more rural or remote a destination, the higher the compensation. The same is usually true at specialty facilities or for traveling therapists with a specific certification such as pediatrics, orthopedics, or geriatrics.  

3. A Travel Therapy Package You Can Negotiate

Your benefits as a contract employee span further than salary or housing perks. With so many elements in your package to consider, you have more things on the table to negotiate in your favor!

Here are a few areas to remember when negotiating a salary as a travel therapist:

  • Health, Dental, Vision, and Life Insurance: You can often request a “Day 1” option to have coverage on the day you start.
  • Travel reimbursement: Since traveling to the location isn’t free, you can request assistance for travel expenses.
  • License renewal coverage: Some agencies offer to cover licensing fees for the duration of your employment.
  • Referral Bonuses: If you recruit new travel therapists, you may be thanked with a generous referral bonus. Be sure to ask about this benefit in your interview.
  • Continuing Education: Some agencies may give you access to CEUs through a company like MedBridge.
  • Retirement Benefits: As a contract employee, you may not have access to a retirement plan at your clinic, but your agency may actually offer a retirement plan that you should take advantage of.

Protect Your Income with Insurance

As a Physical Therapist, it’s important to protect your income with professional liability insurance.  Physical Therapy liability insurance is a must for any practicing Physical Therapist.

Higher PT Salary Guide

For more tips on maximizing your PT salary, check out this invaluable resource!

How to Negotiate a Higher PT Salary and ACE Your PT Job Interview

Tim Fraticelli DPT, MBA, CFP®

Tim Fraticelli is a Physical Therapist, Certified Financial Planner™ and founder of PTProgress.com. He loves to teach PTs and OTs ways to save time and money in and out of the clinic, especially when it comes to documentation or continuing education. Follow him on YouTube for weekly videos on ways to improve your financial health.

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