How Much Do Physical Therapists Start Out Earning?

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Physical therapists help improve mobility and reduce pain for patients with impairments due to injuries and diseases. Aspiring physical therapists must complete a three-year doctor of physical therapy degree, pass national exams and secure state licensing. As of 2013, starting salaries for PTs typically fell between $56,000 and $68,000 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Starting and Average Pay

  • Pay in the lowest 10 to 25 percent bracket for an occupation typically reflects the entry-level wage. For physical therapists, this bracket ranged from $56,280 to $67,700 annually in 2013, or from $27.06 to $32.55 per hour, according to the BLS. But a physical therapist can anticipate wage growth with experience. The average annual income for PTs at all career stages was $82,180 in 2013, while 10 percent earned at least $113,340 per year.

Pay in Various Industries

  • Average wages also vary with the industry of employment. Other health practitioners, which includes physical therapy centers, had the most positions for physical therapists in 2013 and reported average wages of $80,060 per year, according to the BLS. Other major industries included hospitals, which paid an average of $81,410 annually, and home health care, paying $91,190 yearly on average. Physical therapists working in skilled nursing facilities averaged $87,250 per year, while those in physicians' offices received $81,460 on average.

Wages by Degree Level

  • In the past, some U.S. physical therapists were able to qualify through a master's or even a bachelor's degree. Advance Healthcare's 2013 survey of PT and rehab specialists details income by degree level. Respondents with a doctorate reported an average annual income of $81,014, and those with a master's averaged $82,634 per year, reflecting the greater experience of many licensed under older rules. Workers with a bachelor's degree reported an average of $79,947 annually. Although the Advance Healthcare statistics also include workers in related occupations, most of these are physical therapy assistants, who typically have associate degrees.

Wages by Location

  • The wages of physical therapists also depend in part on the location of the job, according to the BLS. As of 2013, the top-paying states were Nevada, with average PT pay of $115,220 per year, and Alaska, where wages averaged $96,800 for this profession. California, Texas and New Jersey also reported average annual salaries exceeding $90,000 for PTs. The highest-paying cities in 2013 were Laredo, Texas, reporting an average of $126,410 per year, and Las Vegas and Paradise, Nevada, reporting an average of $124,060.

Outlook and Advancement

  • The BLS predicts a higher-than-average job growth of 36 percent between 2012 and 2022 for physical therapists. Although they will be in demand in all settings, PTs will be in especially short supply in rural areas. With experience and additional training, therapists can advance to supervisory positions, teaching roles and specialty practice. They can qualify for these roles through postgraduate residencies and fellowships, specialty certifications, post-professional degrees, leadership development courses and instructor certification programs.

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