Physical Therapist Earnings: By City, By Region, By Setting and Among New Grads

After the last post some folks inquired about pay in rural areas and pay by individual practice area. While the BLS doesn't break out pay by setting in each geographic region, they do provide pay by practice setting on a national level in addition to aggregate pay by location. I pulled together what I could find to address those questions. Hope this helps.

Where are PTs working?

While the single largest area of employment is private practice PT clinics, this still represents a minority of the profession overall.

[Please note: "Other" includes folks working as therapists in schools and for the federal government as well as academia. Plus a number of difficult to decipher categories that each account for less than 1% of the population of PTs.]

Geographic setting is another variable to consider. We'll get into the pay breakdown by geography in a moment, but just keep in mind that the majority of PTs are working in and near cities. See the adjacent pie chart for a breakdown.

What are PTs making in these different settings?

Different settings, different constraints, different patients, different all kinds of things. Here's how it impacts earnings. 

The following candlestick chart visualizes the information above. The middle 50% are in the box. The top and bottom 10% are outside of the thin lines.

It seems reasonable to me that new grads could anticipate earning on the lower end of the spectrum (confirmed further down below). For those interested in maximizing earnings out of the gate, this seems to favor hospitals, skilled nursing and home health.

On the high end of the spectrum, home health is absolutely crushing it. Can someone corroborate if that pay looks reasonable? [Edit: From the comments below, it appears that mileage reimbursement may explain these numbers]

How does pay vary with geography?

For ease of reference, I'm reproducing the metro area chart from the last blog post. Please note that this chart is interactive, so you can select cities to bring their salary percentiles in focus and zoom/pan on the map. It's probably best viewed on a laptop rather than a phone. But if you're reading this on your phone, what good does that do you?

The map above only tells part of the story. Here's the picture in nonmetropolitan areas. A similar BLS map can be found here

[Please note that given the way this is set up, if you click on a given county it will bring up the statistics for the entire nonmetropolitan area. So if you click on Walker County in Texas, it will tell you that the Texas Gulf Coast nonmetropolitan area has 130 PTs in it. Only a subset of those are in Walker County.]

I've heard it said that rural areas pay better than metropolitan areas and this made sense to me. It may be more difficult to find staffing in rural areas --> supply (labor) goes down --> price (wages) go up. But is this really the case? 

I averaged the various percentiles into just metro and non metro categories. I fully acknowledge that averaging a bunch of percentiles is a bit dubious, but in an imperfect world it was a quick way to get some sense of what's going on. I was surprised to find this:

There is essentially no difference. If anyone has anything to contribute to this, I would love to hear it. This ran completely counter to my intuition. My guess is that take home pay in rural settings may be better due to a lower cost of living and perhaps lower taxes in less populous states. But that's just wild speculation on my part. 

What are new grads getting paid?

For the most specific analysis of what new grads are getting paid, your best source of information is the DPT Finance salary survey. I cannot add anything beyond the analysis already done there, so all I can do is refer you to it. 

That analysis also includes some compelling information regarding the success rate of new grads who attempted to negotiate their starting salary. Definitely worth checking out and reflecting on.

If you have recently taken your first job, you could do everyone else a solid by contributing to it via the anonymous survey here. this point I only have the emotional energy for one more graph.

To provide a rough idea of where new grads are relative to everyone, I ballparked percentiles based on the salary survey details and compared them with the BLS numbers charted above. Unsurprisingly, new grads dominate the lower end of the spectrum. Expectations set.

In Closing

My hope is that this might be useful to people as they're planning out their next step or trying to wrap their heads around what reasonable expectations in this field look like.

On a personal note...

I worked as a pension actuary throughout my twenties. It gave me plenty of time to meditate on how we organize our financial lives. I've carried this habit of thought with me and find myself regularly reflecting on the financial future of those of us entering the profession. While I do not doubt it will be a bright future for many, I am ill at ease when I compare the earnings that are possible as a physical therapist with the rapidly increasing cost of becoming one.

But that's for a future post.

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