Are you looking to make the most of your PT career? Let’s take a look at what you need to do to qualify for the highest paying physical therapy jobs.
Physical Therapists Are in Demand
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with a growth rate of 34 percent, physical therapists rank eighth on the list of fastest-growing occupations between 2014 and 2024.
The average salary in 2015 was $84,020.
The lowest 10 percent earn approximately $57,060 and the top 10 percent earn an annual salary of $119,790.
Clearly, there’s a considerable difference between the low high paying physical therapy jobs. So why is this?
The reason depends largely on four factors:
- Geographical location
- Area of expertise
- Advanced specialty certification
- Thought leadership
Let’s take a closer look at each.
1. Geographical Location Affects Earnings
Location always has an impact on potential earnings, especially on the highest paying physical therapy jobs.
Regions that are relatively sparsely populated have fewer patients and therefore offer fewer positions and lower pay.
Densely populated areas, especially those with a large working population and/or a high number of seniors, have a much higher demand for PTs. This is due to the sheer number of people who need help with work- or age-related conditions and injuries.
According to the APTA newsletter PT in Motion News, the states with the best paying physical therapy jobs in 2015 were:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
The states that paid the lowest salaries were:
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
Before you decide to look for a job in one of the highest paying states, it’s important to take into account that the cost of living is much higher in these states.
For example, the average cost of an apartment in Los Angeles is $2,420.13 per month. However, renting an apartment in Pierre, South Dakota, will only set you back $776.91 per month.
That’s a difference of $1,643.22—and it also illustrates perfectly how a lower salary doesn’t necessarily mean a less comfortable lifestyle.
This calculator from Bankrate will help you gain a good overview of the costs of living in different locations around the country.
2. Focus on Your Area of Expertise
Like all healthcare occupations, physical therapy is extremely versatile because it comprises a variety of expertise.
These focus areas range from specific anatomical and physiological systems to physical activity to patients’ age to long-term care. Sarah White, writing for Monster, states that some of the highest paid physical therapist specialties include:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011 saw a total of 31 million visits to the ER for unintentional injuries.
While not all of these people needed PT as a part of their treatment plan, it’s safe to say that a significant portion of these patients needed a combination of PT and wound care.
Wounds complicate treatment because the physical therapist needs to include drainage, cleaning, bandaging, and other aspects of wound care in the overall recovery program.
This provides the muscles and connective tissues with the best possible conditions to heal without the wound getting inflamed and causing further—often debilitating—complications.
The number of people who need long-term physical therapy care is growing. For this reason, long-term care has become one of the top paying physical therapist specialties.
This is caused by the aging Baby Boomers, many of whom suffer from age-related conditions. It includes the rising number of people with chronic conditions such as asthma, obesity, diabetes, bronchitis, and more.
The role of the PT in long-term care can include a number of factors:
- improving patients’ ability to perform daily tasks
- helping them recover from health setbacks
- teaching them alternative ways of performing tasks if they suffer from a progressive, degenerative condition
Many patients with mobility issues, or those who live alone and aren’t able to drive, still need regular physical therapy, making it one of the best-paid physical therapy jobs.
PTs who are willing to visit patients at home to teach them how to strengthen their muscles and increase their mobility play an important role in helping them improve their quality of life.
Note that home health is extremely important in rural areas, where patients would otherwise have to travel long distances to get to a medical facility.
You can become an expert in any of these areas by working at institutions that offer these services.
Observe, learn, and put your knowledge into practice. At the same time, you should enroll in continuing education courses that expand your knowledge and skills.
Being proactive can put you in the position to be earning many of the highest paying physical therapy jobs.
It’s also a good idea to find a mentor who can advise and support you as you advance your career.
3. Earn Advanced Specialty Certification
To really stand out from the pack and earn a top physical therapist salary position, pursue an APTA advanced specialty certification.
Of the approximately 93,000 members of the APTA, only 18,071 are certified specialists—that’s less than 19.5 percent!
The benefits of becoming a board-certified specialist include becoming one of the highest paid physical therapist practitioners plus recognition as one of the distinguished selection of PTs with demonstrated clinical expertise.
The APTA offers advanced specialty certifications in the following nine areas:
1.Cardiovascular and pulmonary
As can be expected, the specialist certification process is considerably more stringent than that for regular CEUs.
In order to take the exam, you’ll need a current license to practice PT in the U.S.
In addition, you should be able to prove you’ve completed a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical experience working with patients in your chosen field of expertise. Note that 25 percent of these hours must have been earned in the past 3 years.
While it’s possible to accumulate 2,000 hours of professional experience in 12 months, it’s not required.
Especially if you’re a traveling physical therapist, it can be a smart choice to allow yourself more time so you can experience the specialty in a variety of practical settings.
For example, if you want to specialize in sports therapy, you might want to provide aquatics PT in an all-round sports rehab center for a few months before moving on to gain experience with winter sports injuries and after that, spend some time working with a college football team.
The APTA strongly advises that you make use of the self-assessment tools provided on their website to gauge whether you’re ready to take the exam.
These tools are extremely useful: amongst other things, they provide a number of sample questions that can help you judge your current level of expertise. And based on your evaluation, you can develop your own professional development plan to bring you up to speed in all relevant areas.
The exam itself consists of approximately 200 multiple-choice questions. You’ll have a total of seven hours divided into four 90-minute segments to complete it.
Becoming certified could get you into a good position of earning in the bracket for the highest paying physical therapy jobs.
4. Provide More Value with Thought Leadership
The final factor that influences how much you can earn is thought leadership. Professionals who regularly contribute to trade publications, conferences, and educational endeavors are seen as experts in their field. This type of visible expertise comes with a significant dollar value.
However, you can’t become a thought leader overnight.
It’s an ongoing, long-term endeavor that requires constant attention.
You can begin by starting your own blog and publishing posts about your area of expertise. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion, since that’s precisely what sets a thought leader apart from the pack!
In addition, you can reach out to trade magazines and pitch ideas for articles. Or, you can contribute to things like scholarly journals.
You should take advantage of any opportunity you get to contribute to interviews, whether they’re written, audio, or video.
If you have the time, start to build a social media following. Platforms like Twitter and Google+ offer an effective way of bringing your work to the attention of colleagues and the general public.
Landing the Highest Paying Physical Therapy Jobs
To get hired for that high-paying PT job you want, speak with your recruiter and explain to him or her what your area of expertise is and what types of positions you’re looking for. He or she will be able to help you plan a series of career moves that keep bringing you one step closer to your ultimate career objective.
Finally, keep your résumé up to date at all times.
Make sure your website, blog, LinkedIn page, and any other online presence correspond with your résumé and look polished and professional.
And always have business cards with you—both hard copy and digital—because as a travel PT, you never know when you might meet someone who’ll tell you about your next exciting career move!
What do you look for when researching the highest paying physical therapy jobs?
Share with us in the comments below!