November 26, 2023
Physical Therapist Salary: Private Practice vs. Hospital
How much does a PT make? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2022, the mean PT salary was $97,960, which equates to $46.98 per hour. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) cited the median gross earned wage in 2021 at $91,000 in their report “A Physical Therapy Profile: Wages Earnes in the Profession, 2021-2022.”
A physical therapist salary varies largely based on setting, such as whether the position is home health, inpatient rehabilitation, acute care, skilled nursing, outpatient private practice, or outpatient hospital-based.
In this post, we will focus on outpatient positions, specifically private practice and hospital-based jobs. We will examine the future projected growth of the physical therapy profession, salary differences between private practice and hospital-based outpatient positions, and the benefits and drawbacks of working in each setting.
The Future of Physical Therapy Salaries
The growth of physical therapist jobs is projected to increase of 15 percent between 2022 and 2032, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is “much faster than the average for all occupations.”
The increasing popularity of physical therapist management software such as PtEverywhere will help manage the growing number of physical therapists through features such as business metric reports and customizable documentation templates.
Private Practice Physical Therapist Salary
How much does a therapist make in outpatient offices or group practices? These positions compromise 39 percent of physical therapists. The private practice therapist salary equated to a median gross earned wage of $85,000 in 2021 per the APTA report previously mentioned.
Some factors that can influence earnings in the private practice setting include location of the clinic, whether the physical therapist has any specializations, and years of experience.
Factors Influencing Private Practice Salaries
As previously mentioned, location can influence a physical therapy salary. Some states, such as California, Nevada, and New Jersey, have the highest mean wages and PTs are likely to earn more in these locations.
Specializations in board-certified areas such as Orthopedics, Neurology, Sports, Women’s Health, and Geriatrics may or may not lead to a higher salary, depending upon the practice and their needs. There has been a recent uptick in the need for Women’s Health therapists, and due to the increased demand, these positions may offer more compensation to fulfill the need.
Years of experience is another factor employers may also consider when deciding upon a physical therapist’s wage. If the practice believes a PT has a breadth of knowledge from years of experience that may lead to better patient retention and care, they may opt to pay that individual more than a recent graduate. Those with more experience also have past pay rates to leverage for negotiations, which could lead to a higher pay grade.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Working in Private Practice
Those considering a career in PT often ask, “Do therapists make good money?” Private practices offer more unlimited potential for earnings, especially with the rise of cash-based services that forego the need for insurance reimbursement, which is not an option in hospital-based outpatient positions. The opportunity to take on a leadership role is likely better than in a hospital-based system, as there are less employees to compete for these higher-up positions. There is also potentially more room to negotiate salary and benefits in the private practice setting.
One of the main challenges of working in a private practice is that the position may involve more marketing and outreach responsibilities, as the practice must sustain profit margins with a certain number of patients to stay in business. This can involve outreach outside of normal clinical hours and on weekends. Unfortunately, this could also lead to lower job stability if the practice does not hit its target profit margin.
Additionally, compared to hospital-based positions, private practices have a higher chance of overlapping patient appointment times to increase revenue. This can be stressful for the therapist and make it difficult to complete documentation in a timely manner.
Hospital-Based Physical Therapist Salary
How much do therapists make a year? The APTA wage report states that 21 percent of PTs are employed in a hospital-based outpatient facility or clinic with a median gross physical therapist salary of $93,000.
Geographic location, years of experience, and potential specializations can largely influence compensation in this setting as well.
Factors Affecting Hospital-Based Salaries
PT salary in hospital-based settings is often largely driven by years of experience, as hospitals frequently use tiered pay scales to determine compensation. The starting salary for physical therapists will be less than that of more experienced employees.
Specializations may or may not play a role in tiered systems, depending upon the hospital system. If there is a position at a site that is hard to fill, such as at a more rural location, the hospital system may offer a higher rate for this location. The same may apply for a position that is hard to fill due to the population or needed expertise, such as working with certain diagnoses.
Pros and Cons of Working in a Hospital Setting
One of the main benefits of working in an outpatient hospital setting is job stability. A hospital system has many more services to generate revenue aside from the physical therapy department, so if there are a few months with higher percentages of no shows or cancellations, this can be offset by performance in other departments.
Opportunities for shadowing surgeries are more abundant in this setting due to size of the system and potential connections. Communication with physicians and other healthcare providers is also typically much easier and only takes a few clicks if the therapist can quickly message other providers with the EMR system. The EMR systems often include a comprehensive medical history for the patients, which makes gathering background information on imaging and comorbidities simple.
On the downside, compensation is not as negotiable in the outpatient hospital setting as it is in a private practice setting due to restrictions with tiered employee systems to keep pay consistent amongst employees. This applies to both pay and benefits. While there is more job stability, there is less incentive to perform, as seeing more patients will not necessarily result in higher wages in this setting and there is a cap on how much you can earn in this setting.
Salary Comparison: Private Practice vs. Hospital
The median outpatient wage is $118,800, per the BLS. The BLS does not break down outpatient wages into private practice and hospital sectors. However, the APTA states the median gross earned wage of private practice physical therapists was $85,000 in 2021, and $93,000 for hospital-based positions.
Job Satisfaction and Work-life Balance
Working in a private practice setting offers more autonomy for PTs who manage or open their own practices, as self-employment offers great freedom to mold work hours and time off. The work-life balance can be better than in hospital-based settings with cash-based practices, which takes away the stresses of dealing with insurance. Private practices tend to offer a bit more freedom to PTs, as they are not typically as strictly structured as hospital-based system positions, which can lead to improved job satisfaction.
In some cases, hospital-based positions can also offer a better work-life balance if there is a lower volume of patients with minimal to no overlap in patient care times. “PT mills” are common in private practices where multiple patients are seen at one time and PTs see high numbers of patients per day (such as 20-30 patients). These types of private practices can quickly lead to burnout and low job satisfaction.
Long-term Career Prospects
Both private practice and hospital-based PT positions offer room for advancement. As a PT in the private practice setting, you may advance your career by serving as a clinic or regional manager depending on how large the company is. You may even be a franchisee for a larger company. As a PT in the hospital-based setting, there is the opportunity to move into rehabilitation director roles or other hospital leadership roles up the chain of command. PTs in both settings can opt to become certified in a specialty area or pursue teaching as a clinical instructor or enter academia as a professor.
Real-life Case Studies
Joy Noble (she/her), Doctor of Physical Therapy at Pelvic Pride Physical Therapy & Wellness in Baltimore, MD, shared her experiences and career trajectory to working in a private practice setting in an interview with PtEverywhere.
Q: What led you to becoming a physical therapist, and what was your path to this career like (e.g., if this is a second career, what you did before and why did you switch)?
A: My path to becoming a physical therapist doesn't follow the typical model of becoming injured as a young athlete, going to PT and falling for the rehab career. In high school I wanted to be an architect, but after completing an internship my senior year I realized that wasn't the field for me. I found that I needed to work around people and architecture didn't give me enough of that. After a conversation with a family friend, I set my sights on physical therapy. I did some shadowing hours, decided on an undergrad major that would check all the PT school prerequisites, and set off on my journey to becoming a physical therapist.
Q: What settings have you worked in and how did they differ? Are there certain benefits or drawbacks to each setting and if so, what are they?
A: I started my career working in an insurance-based private practice outpatient orthopedic clinic. After a few years there I started doing travel therapy which took me to a few different locations—all outpatient orthopedics but this time they were big name therapy companies. Now, I own my own private pay pelvic floor therapy clinic in Maryland. Prior to opening my own clinic, my jobs all felt very similar—however, I found working for a private practice was great as it was family-owned and they were much more accommodating to life. We also made sure to celebrate every birthday and big achievement by the clinic team. Unfortunately, that gets lost in the big-name clinics and it is up to the clinic staff to take care of their own. It may seem silly, but it is amazing how much it helps build team morale when we can celebrate together and feel appreciated. This is why I have made it a priority at my clinic to provide that similar feeling including celebrating the big and the little stuff, providing lunch for team meetings, and planning quarterly outings that get us out of the clinic and chatting about more than work and therapy.
Strategies to Maximize Your PT Salary
Regardless of which setting you choose to pursue, always negotiate your salary and benefits package. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive. Back your requests with data on previous salaries or current salaries in the geographic marketplace.
Look at the whole package, including continuing education funds, PTO, time off for child births, loan repayment assistance, healthcare coverage and costs, and more. Leverage your experiences and elaborate upon any certifications, specializations, or unique skills you may have and don’t be afraid to ask for more.
The bottom line? Know your value and sell yourself to get the best physical therapist salary!
Ensure that whatever setting you are in, you can track, schedule, and bill more efficiently with the best PT management software.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, it is up to each PT to weigh the potential benefits and drawbacks of private practice and hospital-based settings. How much do factors such as job stability, potential for leadership roles or professional development, potential for earning, ability to negotiate wages and benefits, and connections and resources matter to you? What setting best fits your personality? There is no single right answer, as this depends on the context of your own situation and values as well as each individual clinic.
PtEverywhere is used by PTs nationwide, try it out today!