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ADVANCE Perspective: Physical Therapy & Rehab Medicine

Full-Time, or Contract?

Published December 28, 2009 9:26 AM by Lisa Lombardo
Check the news websites these days and very often, one of the top stories is on the downward-spiraling economy and how to survive it. Where to find hot jobs, making the most of unemployment and rethinking career choices are top "sellers" as far as news goes. I saw one such story just this morning. The topic was contract work versus full-time employment (FTE) and which professional fields pay the most dividends. Turns out, according to an AOL.careers/PayScale report of the Bureau of Labors Statistics (May 2008), physical therapy is on top of the list. Contract PTs median annual pay lists at $78,400, a 15-percent increase over the median annual of those with full-time general positions. This applies to therapists with master's degrees as well as doctorates.

The story also reiterated what a lot of reports have stated: considering the state of jobs across the country, physical therapy continues to do well, expecting to hire much faster than average over the next 10 years. Though it takes an investment of time and money to complete the degree required, the returns on that investment are great in terms of employment potential and the ability to dicker for more dollars in your contracting rate, the article stated.

Are you a PT who has considered seeking contract work rather than a full-time position? What are the pros and cons of such a choice?

2 comments

Pros of contract work fall mainly in your ability to negotiate the parameters.  You aren't an employee, so you can request flexibility to meet your needs.  If they need you badly enough, they can accommodate your requests when they might not be able to accommodate the same request from an employee.  You can state up front you won't work weekends.  You can say you have to leave at 3:00 every Tuesday.  If the establishment agrees to that, you are golden.  You can establish a trial period and go your separate ways - no harm, no foul - if either of you feels it isn't a fit.  That is just "neater" with a contract position.   If you are someone who likes a change of scenery, you can establish up front that you'll work for "x" number of weeks and then move on.  You could establish yourself as the vacation fill in person and rotate facilities.  There are so many options as a contract therapist.

Cons of contract boil down to money and attitude.  You aren't comparing apples to apples when you look at salaries.  Contract employees don't get benefits.  That is why the salary is so high.  Make sure you have considered all the perks you'll be missing.  Find out what you out of pocket expense will be, subtract that from the salary, then compare that number to the employee salary.  Consider insurance (medical, life, short-term and long-term disability, dental, vision), vacation and sick leave time (when you are contract, you don't get paid when you don't work), and taxes (as a contract person you are self employed and have to cover the employer's share of taxes), worker's comp (if you are contract, if something happens, you aren't covered b/c you aren't an employee).

Attitude in the form of employees who may resent you being there as a contract person.  It is always wise to tread lightly and make sure you are doing more than your share at first.  Let them know you are there to work and carry your load, especially if you have asked for any concessions (leaving early, not working weekends).

I did a lot of work as a contract therapist, both with a company and on my own.  I loved it.  I enjoyed the variety.  I didn't do my homework on the financial end, so the taxes really caught me off guard.  If I was to do it again, I'd know what to look for and what questions to ask so I could make sure it was the right financial move.  

Janey Goude December 30, 2009 1:17 AM

HELP . HAVE A 3 MONTH OLD PATIENT WITH A FEEDING TUBE. MD DOES NOT WANT HER ON HER STOMACH. WILL LIKE TO WORK ON FLEXOR MUSCLES. THE ONLY THING I CAN THINK OF  IS USUALLY A FOAM MEMORY PILLOW OR MAYBE USE A BOBY PILLOW TO GET WT ON BENT ELBOWS. ANY SUGGESTIONS??

Jacqueline Sax, pt/peds - home care pt December 29, 2009 5:06 PM

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