As a physical therapist, you know that your work will vary on a day-to-day basis, and you’ll need to be ready to treat a variety of patients and injuries. You’ll need to know how to do things like evaluate a football player’s stress fracture, help a person gain mobility after breaking their leg, or help someone relearn how to walk after suffering from a traumatic brain injury.
Needless to say, your job will get pretty complicated at times and involve managing a lot of moving parts (pun intended). Because of this complexity, you and your peers can earn more than many other healthcare professionals. (In fact, PTs took the #9 spot on Monster.com’s list of the 10 highest-paying healthcare jobs.) But just how much more?
Let’s take a look at the data to see what your earning potential and job outlook are as a PT. First, we’ll cover how much you can make when you’re just getting started as a PT.
What’s the Typical Physical Therapist Starting Salary?
The average entry-level physical therapist salary is about $63,465 a year. As with all averages, this number can fluctuate, with most of the entry-level PT salaries in the U.S. ranging between $38,500 and $83,500 a year. Factors that can cause a salary to fluctuate might include:
- Location: Larger metropolitan areas and cities with larger populations generally have higher pay than more rural areas.
- Specialty or Industry: For example, physical therapists for performing arts companies make a higher hourly wage than those at an assisted living community.
- Skills & Certifications: Find out more in the APTA’s Learning Center.
How Much Does a Physical Therapist Make an Hour?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average hourly rate for PTs is about $44.08 an hour. As we mentioned above, this number can change depending on the type of work the PT does and where they live. We’ll discuss how hourly wages can vary by specialty and location in more detail later.
How Much Does a Physical Therapist Make a Year?
When determining how much you could expect to make as a PT, it’s important to consider both the average and median salary numbers. Why? Well, knowing what the median salary is for your field can help give you a better, more realistic idea of your earning potential. (As a refresher, the median is the number that’s right smack in the middle of a range of values. In this instance, it would be the salary that’s right in the middle of the salary range for PTs.)
Meanwhile, an average (also known as the “mean”) can be impacted by outliers -- meaning, a few PTs whose salaries are significantly higher or lower than the rest.
Average Physical Therapist Annual Salary
According to the BLS, the average annual salary for PTs is $91,680 a year. This number includes a cumulative average of all PT salaries in the U.S.
Physical Therapy Median Annual Salary
The BLS data also shows that the median annual salary for a PT is $91,010 per year. In other words, half of all PTs in the U.S. earned more than this figure and half earned less. For some additional perspective, PTs in the top 10 percent of the salary range make around $126,780 a year, while those in the bottom 10 percent make about $63,530 a year.
How Much Do Physical Therapists Make in Different Work Settings?
There are a number of different factors that can affect your salary as a PT. One, in particular, is the type of work you’re doing. According to BLS data, here are the top five work settings that offer PTs the highest annual salaries.
The 5 Highest-Paying Work Settings for PTs
|Rank||Industry||Average Hourly Rate for PTs||Average Annual Salary for PTs|
|2||Outpatient Care Centers||$50.77||$105,600|
|3||Individual and Family Services||$48.67||$101,240|
|4||Child Day Care Services||$48.03||$99,910|
|5||Office Administration Services||$47.36||$98,510|
Though PT’s aren’t required to become board-certified clinical specialists, some types of jobs (such as the ones listed above) could be made easier if you have some kind of specialization under your belt. (This is particularly true for some of the work settings that have a very specific audience, such as retirement and assisted living facilities.) Board-certified specialty areas for PTs include:
- Cardiovascular & Pulmonary
- Clinical Electrophysiology
- Sports Physical Therapy
- Women's Health
How Much Do Physical Therapists Make in Each State?
Another factor that can significantly influence a PT’s salary is where they live. Typically, states that have higher cost of living, as well as higher demand for the particular profession, tend to offer higher salaries. This rule appears to hold true for the PT field as well. Here’s a list of the five top-paying states for PTs:
The 5 Highest-Paying States for PTs
|Rank||State||Average Hourly Rate for PTs||Average Annual Salary for PTs|
Didn’t see your state on that list? Here’s a table with the full set of BLS data on PT salaries by state and includes figures for the District of Columbia as well:
How Much Physical Therapists Make by State
While the BLS did not publish specific annual mean wage data for each state, they did provide the following groupings:
States Where PTs Tend to Earn $91,960 - $108,580
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
States Where PTs Tend to Earn $88,950 - $91,930
- West Virginia
States Where PTs Tend to Earn $85,410 - $88,650
- North Carolina
States Where PTs Tend to Earn $48,200 - $85,010
- New Hampshire
- North Dakota
- Puerto Rico
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
Overview of Physical Therapy Job Outlook
As you can see, you’re joining a very exciting, lucrative, and fast-paced field, and one that the BLS predicts will enjoy a significant amount of job growth between now and 2026. (Specifically, it’s estimated that the number of available jobs will grow by about 28 percent - this translates to about 67,100 jobs that will open up for PTs during that time.) This should help you feel more confident that not only will you be able to make a very comfortable living off of this line of work, but that your skills and expertise will continue to be in demand for a good amount of time.
Want to know how to get started? The path to becoming a PT includes:
Getting a bachelor’s degree.
Getting a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, a three-year program that costs about $25,000 to $75,000, depending on the school.
Passing the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy exam, which costs $350.
Completing clinical residency or a fellowship.
Earning additional certifications for specialty areas.
Obtaining a state license, which is typically between $30 to $50.
The final step is an ongoing one: Continuing education. This is an important step in keeping your licensure current. It means constantly learning more about being a PT with career development courses or by going to national conferences and meeting with other PTs from around the country.
Physical Therapy vs. Occupational Therapy Salary: What’s the Difference?
The first major difference between PTs and OTs is the kind of work they do. At a high level, as a physical therapist, you’re treating your patients by helping them improve their mobility and manage pain. On the other hand, OTs treat clients by providing therapy for their everyday activities.
The second major difference is the level of education both need in order to work in their field. PTs are required to earn a doctorate before they can start officially working with patients. On the other hand, OTs need a master’s degree in order to practice as an OT.
When it comes to salary, the difference between PTs and OTs is pretty minimal, though PTs appear to make slightly more. Below, you’ll find a comparison table that provides the hourly and yearly earnings for both OTs and PTs:
Salary Differences Between PTs & OTs
|Physical Therapists||Occupational Therapists|
|Average Hourly Rate||$44.08||$42.06|
|Median Hourly Rate||$43.75||$41.48|
|Average Annual Salary||$91,680||$87,480|
|Median Annual Salary||$91,010||$86,280|
Additionally, PTs and OTs should expect to see similar increases in demand for their skills between now and 2026: The BLS predicts that PTs will see about 28 percent job growth, while OTs will see about 24 percent job growth.
Image courtesy of iStock.com/gradyreese