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Life of a PTA

What Am I Worth?

Published January 31, 2014 3:54 PM by Allison Young

There has been much discussion recently about how much people earn. Whether comparison of PT/PTA salaries by region, such as on the ADVANCE website, or in politics regarding raising the minimum wage (don't worry, I'm not going to tackle that slippery slope), people want to know: What am I worth? It's timely though, as I've been perseverating over my hourly wage for more than a year now.

If you're unfamiliar with my history, here's a brief synopsis of my career so far -- I've been a full-time PTA for almost three years. Out of the "graduate gate," I was lucky enough to be employed in my preferred PT setting of a SNF, where I've stayed over these last few years.

When my 2-year "anniversary" came around last year, I felt I was in good position to ask for a pay increase as I'm hard-working, experienced (compared to when I started) and had the most seniority on the rehab staff; which is not much leverage, but it's something. When I finally sat down with my boss, the rehab manager, he was generous with his compliments on my therapeutic and interpersonal skills with the patients, but not so much with the inevitable raise request. As he informed me, the corporate policy of the facility only allows a 1% increase yearly.

I was deflated, to say the least. Without disclosing exactly how much I earn, let's just say 1% would not significantly change my paycheck amount. That was the exact moment the cold hard truth fell hard and unceremoniously in my lap. If I wanted to get a higher pay rate as a more experienced therapist, I would have to find a job somewhere else. If I stay, the new graduates coming out of the PTA program this spring will be earning the same paycheck. However, if I leave and find a different job elsewhere, I would be considered a more seasoned therapist and garner higher pay -- depending on the PT setting of course.

There are a few problems with this plan, however. In my county, we have an accredited PTA school producing 20 graduates a year, basically saturating the market in a 30-mile radius. PTA jobs are hard to come by and becoming scarcer each year. Secondly, I really enjoy working with my rehab team. Working alongside such considerate and talented therapists makes my job easier and less stressful. And finally, with the aforementioned lack of jobs in the area, I'm lucky to have mine, including benefits. As a single mother, I don't have a lot of wiggle room in my budget for a part-time job either.

So what does a quasi-new therapist do when she seeks a higher pay rate than that of an entry-level new grad? Well, as you can see -- I don't know. I'm currently reviewing my options on employment-finding websites without much success. Have you ever been in this professional situation and what did you do? Any feedback and advice will be appreciated here at the crossroads of "do I stay or do I go?"

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I have been there more times than I care to admit.  Not only that, but jobs that disappear because companies close or restructure or just go out of business in the tough competitive market.  I thought I would have a career that had stability, but I've found that is not the case.  When I started, pay rates were higher, but after the economy crashed, and also the 4x per year increase in grads in my area made sure that I would not make again what I had made even as a new grad.  I would say my strategy was to begin to diversify my options.  

Heather February 1, 2014 1:54 AM

I have been there.  Deep in debt with one income to support five family members (two with disabilities).  First, know the approximate rates in your area.  And negotiate hard.  If a company wants to employ you they will pay for your expertise and experience.  You are right, you often have to change jobs to get a higher income.  Also, if you agree to work weekends some companies may pay a higher rate.  Usually per diem gigs turn into full time employment and you can make a lot of contacts with the more places you sign on. Those contacts will land you a job at a higher rate than what you make now.

One percent is not a horrible raise.  People often expect a 3-5 percent raise and that will not likely happen anytime soon.  Remember the company has to pay for office supplies, computers, insurance, support staff, etc. so you can do your job effectively and the prices for those things keeps increasing.  Think of it this way, if you were not a PTA what would your hourly rate be?

Jason Marketti January 31, 2014 10:44 PM

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