Earning a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree prepares you for a career in a growing and profitable profession. Are you wondering, “Where can I go from here,” or “What else can I do with a physical therapy degree?”
Let’s take a look at physical therapy (PT) specialties and how they can further your career.
What Do the Highest 10% of PTs Earn?
The median annual salary for U.S.-based PTs was $95,620 in 2021.1The top 10% of PTs earned more than $127,110 annually.
Keep in mind that PT salary averages do not take into account location, years of experience, facility type or credentials and specialization.
What Is the Highest Paying Physical Therapy Specialty?
While there’s no simple answer to the highest-paying specialty, there are skill set and employer preference indicators. The top-paying PT industries include:
- Outpatient care centers
- Home health care services
- Child day care services
- Local government
- Nursing care facilities
Leverage Your Specialty With Other Industries
If you’re aiming for a higher PT salary, how do you get ahead? Consider putting your PT degree to work in a specific field, such as geriatric care, diabetes and obesity medicine, and sports medicine.3
Additionally, combining management with PT practice can lead to the following roles and annual salary ranges:
- Rehabilitation director: $65,000 – $117,0004
- Physical therapy director: $75,000 – $130,0005
- Director of managed care: $76,000 – $175,0006
- Senior director of clinical services: $93,000 – $245,0007
Interested in academic life as a licensed physical therapist? According to 2020 data from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), DPT program professors earn annually:
How about a career in research and health sciences? The annual salary range for a medical science liaison is $102,000 to $204,000.8
Find the Right Home for Your Specialty
Another way to maximize your earnings is geographic targeting or learning where physical therapists can work. PT salaries vary by city and state and do not always align with the cost of living. Look at nationwide salary averages reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS); follow up with cost of living comparisons to identify prime opportunities and investigate specialties to evaluate specific salaries in those locations.2,10
For instance, Midland, Texas has the third highest average PT salary among metropolitan centers in the country at $116,880, but a cost of living that’s 8.3% lower than the national average.2,11
There are ten clinical specialties offered by the American Board of Physical Therapy (APTA) Specialist Certification Program for physical therapists. These include:12
- Cardiovascular and pulmonary
- Clinical electrophysiology
- Women’s health
- Wound management
Wound management was approved in 2019 with the first wound management specialist certification examination administered in 2022, so you could be among the first handful of board-certified professionals if you opt to pursue that specialization.15
Hiring and Pay Preferences
Most employers recognize the value of certification in addition to work experience. An APTA employer survey found that:
- 43% prioritize hiring of board-certified therapists15
- 39% will consider a salary increase for a therapist who becomes board certified
- 53% pay at least some of the cost of obtaining American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) specialization for employees
Skills Impact on Salary
PayScale publishes information on how specific skill sets impact salaries. While the data doesn’t typically drill down to the certification level, some skills are linked with available specialties:
- Wound care: 20% increase17
- Home healthcare: 19% increase
- Long-term care: 17% increase
- Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU): 15% increase
- Geriatrics: 1% increase
- Certified Hand Therapist (CHT): 28% increase
In addition to the ten clinical specialties offered by APTA, there are many other specialties and certifications available for physical therapists. These include:
- Active Release Techniques16
- Blood Flow Restriction Training16
- Certificate of Achievement in Pelvic Physical Therapy16
- Certificate of Achievement in Pregnancy and Postpartum Physical Therapy16
- Fellow of Applied Functional Science®16
- Certification In Dry Needling19
- Certification in Rehabilitative Exercise16
- Certified Clinical Vestibular Therapist/Clinical Vestibular Therapist16
- Certified Functional Capacity Evaluator/Functional Capacity Evaluator16
- Certified Functional Manual Therapist16
- Certified Hand Therapist16
- Certified Kinesio Taping Practitioner16
- Certified Lymphedema Therapist16
- Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist16
- Certified Work Capacity Evaluator16
- Cranio-mandibular Head, Neck, and Facial Pain16
- Craniosacral Therapist/Therapy, Craniosacral Therapy Diplomate16
- Diabetic Wound Certified®16
- Diploma in Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy®16
- Functional Golf Specialist17
- Jones Strain Counterstrain Certified16
- Lymphedema Lower Extremity Certified®16
- Manual Therapy Certified16
- Neuro-developmental Treatment Certified16
- Postural Restoration Certified/Trained16
Start by Earning Your Doctor of Physical Therapy
Choose a hands-on DPT program at the largest physical therapy school in the United States to earn your Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree.* At the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS), you’ll learn under expert faculty-practitioners within a collaborative peer network.
With hands-on health science training and patient care simulation centers, you’ll learn the intricacies of anatomy with high-tech tools. You’ll also be ready to take on advanced roles in research, practice leadership and policymaking.
Select from a Residential program (blended didactic courses plus in-person weekday labs) or Flex format (online courses plus in-person weekend labs).
We’re here to answer your physical therapy-related questions, whether you’re wondering how much PT school is or where physical therapists can work.
Visit us today to learn more about the DPT program, attend a free webinar or start your application.
*Based on total DPT degrees conferred, as reported by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Data is captured by IPEDS through interrelated surveys conducted annually by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Physical Therapists,” Occupational Outlook Handbook, last modified September 2022, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “29-1123 Physical Therapist,” Occupational Employment and Wages, last modified May 2021, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291123.htm
- Glassdoor Team, “How to Increase Your Income as a Physical Therapist,” Glassdoor, last modified June 2021, https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/guide/how-to-increase-your-income-as-a-physical-therapist/
- Payscale, “Average Rehabilitation Director Salary,” last modified October 2022, https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Rehabilitation_Director/Salary
- Payscale, “Average Director, Physical Therapy Salary,” last modified October 2022, https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Director%2C_Physical_Therapy/Salary
- Payscale, “Average Director of Managed Care Salary,” last modified October 2022, https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Director_of_Managed_Care/Salary.
- Payscale, “Average Senior Director, Clinical Services Salary,” last modified October 2022, https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Senior_Director%2C_Clinical_Services/Salary
- Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). 2020 Physical Therapist Education Programs Fact Sheet,” Aggregate Program Data, last modified September 2021 https://www.capteonline.org/globalassets/capte-docs/aggregate-data/2020-2021-aggregate-pt-program-and-salary-data.pdf
- Payscale, “Average Medical Science Liaison Salary,” last modified October 2022, https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Medical_Science_Liaison/Salary
- Payscale, “Cost of Living Calculator,” https://www.payscale.com/cost-of-living-calculator
- Best Places, “Midland, Texas,” https://www.bestplaces.net/city/texas/midland
- American Physical Therapy Association, “Specialist Certification,” last modified 2022, https://www.apta.org/your-career/career-advancement/specialist-certification
- American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties, “Become a Board-Certified Wound Management Clinical Specialist,” APTA Specialist Certification, last modified 2022, https://specialization.apta.org/become-a-specialist/wound-management
- American Physical Therapy Association, “Employer View of Specialist Certification,” n.d., https://specialization.apta.org/for-specialists/marketing/employers.
- PayScale, “Average Physical Therapist (PT) Salary,” last modified October 2022, https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Physical_Therapist_(PT)/Salary
- Meredith Victor Castin, “The “Alphabet Soup” of Physical Therapy Certifications,” Core Medical Group, n.d., https://www.coremedicalgroup.com/blog/the-alphabet-soup-of-physical-therapy-certifications
- Integrated Rehabilitation Services, “Professional Certifications,” n.d., https://integrehab.com/professional-certifications/
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