Some of the most important members of rehabilitation teams are physical therapists, who provide hands-on therapy to their patients. Sometimes referred to as PTs, these medical professionals develop treatment plans for people recovering from anything from a sprain or a fracture to a stroke or an amputation. They work in a variety of different settings, but one of the more common is a hospital, which doesn’t provide the highest salary for this occupation.
In 2012, physical therapists in general averaged $81,110 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those working in a hospital setting brought home closer to $80,060 annually, an increase of roughly 3 percent from the previous year, when salaries averaged $78,710. A 2013 survey by ADVANCE, an online resource of health care professionals, provides a slightly lower figure, finding salaries averaged $76,236 for hospital-based PTs. Those working in home health services reportedly earned the highest pay, an average of $80,220 a year. A 2010 survey by the American Physical Therapy Association breaks down salaries even further, showing that PTs at acute care hospitals earned $85,000, while those at hospital-based outpatient facilities earned $80,000 a year.
PTs just entering the field can’t expect to earn nearly as much. Regardless of practice setting, the median starting salary was $60,660 a year, according to the APTA survey. With four to six years of experience, PTs' salaries jumped to $70,000. Those with seven to nine years of experience earned 10 percent more, making a median of $77,000. The highest reported salaries were for PTs with more than 15 years of experience, with a median of $90,000 a year.
In addition to practice setting and experience, earnings can vary by specialty. For example, PTs working in sports medicine reported some of the highest salaries, bringing home an average of $80,810 a year. Those working in geriatrics also fared better than most, averaging $76,689, according to the ADVANCE survey. PTs in neurology averaged $74,947, while those in hand therapy earned $71,143 annually.
The BLS expects employment for PTs to be excellent, with an average job growth rate of 39 percent through 2020 -- much faster than the 14-percent job growth predicted for all U.S. occupations. With nearly 50,000 PTs working in hospital settings, the 39-percent growth rate works out to almost 19,000 new jobs in this practice setting over the course of a decade. Aging baby boomers in need of more health care should drive increasing demand for PTs .