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Toni Talks about PT Today

So You Want to Be a Physical Therapist

Published December 5, 2007 8:53 AM by Toni Patt

I read the comments about last week's blog with interest. I noticed several references to reconsidering physical therapy as a career choice. That got me thinking. If I had to do it today would I still choose to become a PT?  I don't thinks so. I couldn't afford the cost and I couldn't make the time commitment. Back in the day (1980s), it was a four-year program. Post professional education didn't exist. I was able to work my way through college and earned my degree with minimal debt. It wasn't easy, but I could do it. If I hadn't have been able to work, I wouldn't have been able to go to college.

Today it's different. The time commitment can be seven years or more. The cost is staggering. Working while in PT school is practically unheard of now. A person could graduate and then spend the next 10 to 20 years paying off debt. That combination puts the profession out of the reach of many individuals who would make excellent therapists. These are people who want to be therapists for the right reasons. I have yet to hear one comment from the Vision 2020 group addressing this. I don't quite understand how setting the cost at the point it discourages those who would make the profession stronger helps the profession.

In the comments there was also a debate about salary and level of education being disproportionate. I wasn't aware there had to be a linear relationship. The problem results from the high cost of education in a world with decreasing reimbursement. Reimbursement rates will continue to decline. In that environment, salaries will not increase. To say that is causing a crisis in health care is an understatement. The reality is-beyond a select few-no one is going to get rich being a physical therapist. A decent living can be made, but there is a salary ceiling.

I am a one income individual. On my salary I am able to own a home, truck and two horses.  I have a question for those who say the salary is too low.  What income level are you shooting for? If money is your goal, there are other professions that pay more with equal or less education. Maybe you should consider one of them.

Prestige was another comment thread. We must have it. If I hear that one more time I am going to lose it. My dictionary defines prestige as "prominence or influential status achieved through success, renown or wealth." My dictionary is a little old so the definition may have changed.  To me that sounds like wanting status because you have a title-not because you did anything. I would rather have respect. Do I have to define that? Respect is earned. As defined, prestige sounds like it is given automatically. In that case, anyone with a certain title has prestige whether they deserve it or not. If you want status, become a physician, run a corporation or win the lottery.

Sadly, in these discussions about becoming a therapist and what it means to be a therapist, I saw no mention of providing patient care. I read nothing about providing quality care that makes a difference in someone's life. What happened to being a therapist to work with children? Or to work with athletes? Or because a therapist made a difference in your life? If becoming a therapist depends upon money and prestige, I think we were better back in the days when I went to school. I wonder if Vision 2020 took that into account.

posted by Toni Patt


PingBack from

October 2, 2012 2:55 AM

I think its very sad that people who took the same pre req courses as medical students, suffered through all the chem, bio, physics, and then did years of schooling to get a DPT are not called doctor. We are DOCTORS OF PHYSICAL THERPAY and its time we get paid like it.

chris lands, pt student March 19, 2012 3:15 PM

I agree whit JACK GOLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Come on Pts!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We don't deserve less money or respect than other professions (physicians included), so I hope we can make a better profession. I'm from Argentina and here, I have to study for six years to become a Physical Therapist.

Not to salary ceiling.

I don't want to the a physician, run a corporation or win the lottery I love my profession and I want respect and good salary it's to difficult to understand?

I want the better for all Pts over the world. Greetings.

will san, chidren - pt August 9, 2008 7:34 PM

I first received my Masters in PT a little over 8 years ago.  I went back to school, via a transitional program, to obtain my DPT.  I think those that have their DPT should be referred to as doctor.  Chiropracters refer to themselves as doctor.  Dentists refer to themselves as doctor.  Why shouldn't we?  Bill Shakespeare bellow seems a bit upset that some in his profession have earned the right to be referred to as doctor.  Jealousy?  I enjoy great realationships with physicians who refer to me as doctor.  Does it create confusion on the behalf of patients.  It doesn't have to if you promply explain that you are a doctor of physical therapy.   The DPT doesn't mean that you are going to be doing surgery.  But, it does mean that you have reached the hight of your professional education in your chosen profession.  The only thing we should consider higher, academically speaking, than any professional doctorate (including MD) is the PhD.  And, again, I affirm that we should aim for the stars when it comes to salaries, responsiblity, etc.  Those that don't care about others, those that don't want to serve others need not apply.  This should be a given.  But, there is nothing wrong with wanting/expecting to make a VERY good living a what you are good at...especially when you have spent so much time and money obtaining your degrees.  I personally didn't rack up a huge academic debt.  I was able to pay my Masters in PT off the first few months out because I went to a great public school (yearly tution $7,000), kept my living expenses super low, and worked throughout highschool, undergraduate school, and graduate school.  It is possible not to be drowning in debt when you graduate.  It is possible to make more.  It is possible to get more respect.  Don't listend to the mamby-pamby's posts below.  Even if you do just make $70,000 (or so) a year, with smart/wise investing you can retire wealthy...the key is to start young (the miracle of compound interest).  You don't have to be satisfied with a small house, an old pick-up truck and a few horses (cats, dogs, etc) to be your sole companions.  Please aim higher than this.  Only by this mentality will we elevate our profression in the next decades.

jack gold, physical therapy - director March 7, 2008 1:01 PM

I am a director of several clinics...I make a base salary of $120,000 per year.  Additionally, I make bonuses...between $50,000 to 100,000 per year.  Of course, I work my butt off and am highly productive in terms of quality of patient care, patient and physician satisfaction, revenue earned, etc.  I have been a physical therapist for 8 years now.  I believe that physical therapist should demand more in hourly wages and salaries.  It should be a given that we want and need to help others/patients.  But, we need to look after ourselves and our families.  I'm tired of the salary ceiling and so many physical therapists be so complacent about it.  Perhaps these therapists need to work part-time for a little extra day-care money.  But, for me, this is my chosen profession and career.  I place no ceiling on my expectations for salary potential.  I believe that we should be making near what many physicians do.  More to follow...but my point here is that we should not be satisfied with making a living.  I want to be rich.  I want to provide as much for my childeren as possible.  I'm tired of seeing others (often less educated) make millions while we just look on.  How many of us have had to bow to others just because they make more and have more money...I want to be the one calling the shots.  The PT field is no longer just for the lonely woman who wants to just earn a meager living or earns some extra day-care money...sorry!

jack gold, physcial therapy - director March 6, 2008 1:54 PM

I truly love what I do, I never have a routine day.  Each day is different, even on days when I may have an almost identical schedule with the same patients wanting those M, W, F appointments.  Each day they come in with a different complaint or a noted improvement.  What I have recently encountered involves the move to the new DPT.  I had lunch with a friend who happens to be a PA with an orthopedic group.  They have a good working relationship, but not a business or financial relationship with a PT group in town.  Many of their PTs have earned their DPT.  They are introducing themselves and patients are calling them, "doctor".  Fine.  However, when my PA friend refers a patient to PT, the patient questions why the PA is referring to the Doctor.  Or, why the Orthopod is having the patient seen by a PA only to be referred to another doctor.  It has caused some. . .questions to be raised on the part of the orthopedic group.  However, I have seen an increase in referrals from those doctors.  The silver lining.  Even if I were to become a DPT, I will always want to be, Carl, to my patients.  It is that therapist-patient relationship of trust, caring and mutual respect that I love the most.  So all of you high school and college students out there, remember, become a physical therapist if you know that it is the therapy that you want to DO,  and do not become a physical therapist because that is what you want to BE.

Carl Bruno, PT - Owner, Grace PT January 18, 2008 8:19 AM
Fredericksburg VA

I am extremely uplifted after reading your post.  I am currently a junior in college with the intent to pursue a doctorate degree in physical therapy, once I graduate.  I've wanted to be a physical therapist for about 6 years now and not once has might point of interests strayed, until recently.  I've been reading so many articles and forums about how a physical therapy career pathway is one with low pay and routined days.  After reading your post I am reassured that this is the right career pathway for me. And I can't wait!

Aisha, student December 24, 2007 1:58 PM

Hey Toni

I am a high school student and I have read many of your comments. I have some questions about physical therapist and would like to know if you can answer some of them. I would be extremly grateful. Please send me an email if you wich to help me.

thank you

jacki bosch, student December 5, 2007 5:08 PM
asheville NC

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