I have a friend who has been considering going to PT school for a few years now. He’s about my age, well beyond undergrad where he earned an engineering degree, but moved out of that field a while ago. He’s an entrepreneurial type and would definitely be on the path to private practice if he chooses to become a PT.

He wrote me an email with a question regarding whether or not becoming a PT is economically “worth it” these days, and I realized that my answer would not only make for a good blog post, but that it would be so much more beneficial to him if I could get some of you to weigh in with your thoughts. As you’ll see in the comments below, this is quite a passionate topic with a variety of opinion on the subject.

Struggling economics in healthcare business and dropping reimbursements have some asking whether or not PT school is worth it.

Questioning the Value of a career in Physical Therapy

Here was his email:
“I’ve been trying to figure out, realistically, how much a PT could collect from insurance for 1 PT visit on avg.  I found a great article of PT benchmarking that says from govt insurance, a PT should be able to collect $90 for each visit of 3.4 work procedures averaging 11 visits per PT per day.  However, it only mentioned that private insurance will vary.  I’m looking for a conservative #.  I know it will vary, but maybe a number that the majority of a visit could credit.

It’s tough to find any concrete data on this.  $90 per visit at 11 visits a day, seems like a strong amount to me for an individual private practice.

Still just trying to economically justify (as if I were buying a business) trading 3 yrs of income and $120k of debt to do something for myself that I would enjoy and look forward to every day.”

Assessing the value of a physical Therapy degree vs the cost or debt it requires

And here was my response:
The per/visit reimbursement for any given patient really varies based on what insurance companies you’re in network with. Some insurances only pay $50/visit which isn’t enough for most practices to cover their own costs to treat that patient. Some pay way over $100 for the average visit. (Note to readers: if you’re well versed in reimbursement averages, please share your knowledge in the comments below)

I’m glad that you want to analyze these numbers up front, but things are likely to change quite a bit between now and when you’ve graduated and have enough in-field experience to start your own practice. You’ll likely have to work in a practice for a few years before opening your own. Though the demand for PTs will grow, the amount that employers can pay them may not grow as quickly. Reimbursements are getting worse over time even though costs are going up like with any other business. So I wouldn’t expect to be setting the world on fire as a new grad when it comes to your salary the first few years out.

With all that said, you’d be making a big mistake to only look at the numbers as you make this decision. In the end, Physical Therapy is a wonderfully rewarding profession. I know you already made note that you see it as something you’d “enjoy and look forward to every day,” but I really can’t overstate the importance of that…  I place an enormous value on being able to use my hands and mind to help people live in less pain; and I can’t imagine sitting at a computer/phone all day. So a really important question you need to answer for yourself is: “Am I likely to see significant value simply in the work of a Physical Therapist? Will I still really enjoy doing this type of work even if I’m not making $xxx,xxx?” Only you can answer that question.

There are plenty of Physical Therapists I’ve met through the years who have a “job” that I would find as unappealing as the above-mentioned desk job. And some of these PTs are Practice Owners! Never-ending paperwork and insurance/Medicare hassles, the need to see multiple patients per hour and often more than one patient at a time, etc. It doesn’t have to be this way. But, if you don’t actively avoid this scenario, it’s an easy one to end up in as a PT (employee or practice owner alike).

You have to actively look for and/or create a business/clinic scenario that supports and encourages your ability to help people, as opposed to your ability to see tons of patients each day and eke another percent of profit margin wherever possible (and in whatever way is necessary regardless of its affect on patient care). Creating a cash-based practice is the way I ensured that for myself, but it’s not as quickly scalable a business model as traditional insurance-based clinics. So my earning potential in this business model probably isn’t as high as someone who can go open 10 successful insurance-based clinics. With that said, I also place huge value on avoiding many of the hassles a multi-clinic insurance-based practice owner has. To me, it’s totally worth the trade off; but for others, it may not be.

So I’m a little torn in my answer to this because I know that earning potential and finances are very important, and I’m personally not sure if the average salary of a PT will outpace inflation in the future. On the private practice side of things, staying profitable will always be possible but will likely become harder in the future as well. However, if you’re in it because you love the work you’re doing, and you use some foresight and business savvy, you can buck the trend and make sure that the amount you’re earning makes you happy as well.

And now I’m passing the mic to my colleagues…. please give my friend your answer to his question in the comments section below.

I really want this to be a dialogue among my colleagues, my friends and prospective future PTs, and anyone else considering PT.

 

Interested in Becoming a physical Therapist without all the Headaches mentioned above and below.

I and a growing number of physical therapists around the world are proving that it’s possible! Creating a private practice where and your staff treat patients the way you know they should be treated, and not have to argue with insurance companies and accept lower and lower payment for your service overtime.

It’s never too early to start learning the business side of this career, because you certainly won’t learn much about that in PT school.

Click here to learn “The 5 Characteristics Common to All Successful Cash-Based Practices“.

There are a good number of happy, successful physical therapist and practice owners that started their journey on this webpage and consumed the content of this website and podcast on their path to becoming physical therapist.  

drjarodcarter is pt school worth it

 

 

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