Physical therapists work with patients who have been injured and disabled, while nurses work in a variety of fields. Although physical therapists must earn a doctoral degree to practice, nurses can work after attending school for a much shorter time, often with an associate degree or even a one-year postsecondary certificate. As such, physical therapists tend to make more money than nurses -- but there are some exceptions.
Looking at Physical Therapists
Physical therapists usually have seven years of postsecondary education to prepare them for their career and may also complete a residency of up to three additional years before practicing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, physical therapists earned an average of $81,110 per year in 2012. Those employed in physician's offices and general hospitals earned close to the national average, while those working in home health care services reported a higher average salary of $90,440.
Examining LVNs and LPNs
Licensed vocational nurses, sometimes called licensed practical nurses, usually work under a postsecondary certificate that takes between six months and one year to finish. The BLS reports they are paid less than nurses who have more education, and -- at an average annual salary of $42,400 -- are paid far less than physical therapists. Many work in nursing homes, where they averaged $43,570 per year as of 2012. Those employed by general hospitals averaged $41,330, and those working in physician's offices earned an average of $38,980 per year.
Working as an RN
A job as a registered nurse typically requires a candidate to complete an associate or bachelor's degree in nursing. Often, higher-paying jobs that involve supervisory duties are limited to RNs who hold a bachelor's degree. Either way, RNs tend to earn far more than LPNs and LVNs, although they usually earn less than physical therapists. As of 2012, the BLS reports that RNs earned an average of $67,930 per year.
Payoff of Advanced Practice Nursing
Advanced practice nurses often have nearly as much training as physical therapists, having obtained a master's degree or doctoral degree. As such, advanced practice nurses typically earn salaries that compete with -- or even exceed -- the salaries of physical therapists. Nurse practitioners, for example, reported an average salary of $91,450 per year to the BLS in 2012. Nurse-midwives earned an average salary of $91,070 the same year, while nurse anesthetists reported a high average salary of $154,390 per year.