Based on a Forbes article, “Best Jobs in Healthcare in 2014”, physical therapists ranked #5 out of 12 earning an annual median salary of $80,000 with projected job growth of 39%. It is safe to say that this field in healthcare is a recession-proof choice.
Permanent physical therapists are commonly full time employees based in various settings. These include acute care, outpatient facility, inpatient facility, long term care, assisted living facilities, home health, school setting and higher education/research among others. In addition to varied workplaces, physical therapists can further specialize in hand therapy, aquatics, cardiovascular/pulmonary, women’s health, neurology, pediatrics, geriatrics, sports medicine, and orthopedics.
On the other side of the spectrum, physical therapists can choose to be contract therapists. They are sometimes known as the traveling physical therapists. Facilities usually employ contract workers to fill in temporary staffing needs. Hence, contract workers work in any type of work setting usually averaging 13 weeks. Depending on various factors, contracts do get shortened or lengthened as the need arises.
As a new physical therapy graduate, choosing where to work is overwhelming enough, but what boils down to jump-start the career once the professional license has been earned is to choose between becoming a permanent or contract employee. Salary rates are usually the determining factor especially for those new grads who are excited to pay off student loans.
Advance Healthcare for Physical Therapy and Rehab Medicine, which is one of the profession’s highly respected subscription posted the 2013 Salary Survey Results early this year. Most of the survey respondents earned between $65,000 and $99,999 annually, while 13% made $100,000 or more.
Based on my professional experience, I have worked as a contract physical therapist to experience various work settings and find good mentors to hone my craft. I must say, the contract therapist’s pay rate is much higher than the co-therapists who are working permanent in the facility. It was a $20-30 hourly rate dollar difference with an assured 40-hr work week. Type of facility, market saturation for therapists, location, and state income averages matter for salary considerations.
Being a contract traveling therapist did have its pros and cons. The big bonus was the salary! Getting the desired salary also depends on the contract agency. A contract agency is your headhunter. To be fully satisfied with being a contract physical therapist, one must be prepared with the terms of the employment. Some contract agencies provide medical and travel insurances, 401ks, and housing allowances; other agencies do not. Remember, the contract agency’s business is to earn commissions. It may be an initial one-time headhunter fee or a percentage cut from one’s hourly salary. Bottom line is, choose the better contract agency, and read the fine lines of the contract!
Once I found my niche and the favored work setting, I decided to settle in as a permanent physical therapist at the last facility I worked as contract. The salary rate was not that bad. In fact it was quite competitive to the market. There was still a $10-20 difference from being a contract therapist. And I believe experience and exposure to different medical areas can place anyone in a different salary bracket. But eventually, the benefits, medical insurance and stock options add value to the basic pay.
In choosing the perfect physical therapy job, income is definitely a determining factor. But never discount the value of tax-free benefits and financial perks because at the end of the day, the net income gets deducted by other expenses of daily living and contributions.
About the Author
Joahnna Almero is a licensed Physical Therapist working as a full-time acute inpatient clinician and developing hospital-based patient care projects. She has a bachelors in Physical Therapy from Velez College and licensed to work in Florida, North Carolina and Texas.