In general, physical therapists enter the field with a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. Very few universities offer a master’s degree in this field, so aspiring physical therapists are looking at a minimum of seven years of schooling -- four years for their undergraduate and three years for their DPT degree. To specialize in an area of physical therapy, such as sports medicine or geriatrics, it could take another nine months to three years. During residency programs physical therapists often have a chance to train in more specialized modes of care.
As of 2012, the average physical therapist brought home $81,110 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A survey by ADVANCE, a national healthcare news magazine, provides a similar figure, showing PTs earning $82,930 annually. By comparison, new graduates in physical therapy earned closer to $62,784. Salaries increased by nearly 16 percent for PTs with 6 to 10 years of experience, at an average of $72,781 annually. A 2010 report from the American Physical Therapy Association provides a similar figure for new graduates, estimating salaries at $60,660 for PTs with fewer than three years of experience. With 6 to 10 years of experience, salaries ranged from $70,000 to $77,000 annually.
Though information is limited on the earnings for new graduates, the ADVANCE survey does give some idea on how location can affect pay for physical therapists as a whole. Salaries were the highest in the southern states, at an average of $78,340, while salaries were the lowest in the northeast, at an average of $73,143. The BLS, however, breaks down earning even further, showing the highest earning potential in Nevada, at an average of $110,670 a year. The lowest salaries reported were in North Dakota, where the average was just $64,350 annually.
Like many medical careers, specializing in an area of physical therapy can affect earnings. Of all specialties, the highest reported salaries were in sports medicine, at an average of $80,810 a year. Those specializing in cardiovascular and pulmonary therapies ranked second, averaging $79,427, while PTs in geriatrics came in third, at an average of $76,689 annually. The lowest wages were in aquatics, where salaries averaged at $56,451.
The BLS expects employment opportunities for physical therapists to grow by as much as 39 percent from 2010 to 2020. This was more than double the national average for all U.S. occupations, an estimated job growth of 14 percent. Being a relatively small field, however, the 39-percent growth works out to just over 77,000 new jobs over the course of a decade. Expect the greatest prospects to develop in nursing care facilities, orthopedic settings and acute care hospitals. Additional openings may develop as physical therapists retire or leave the field.