“How do you rationalize becoming a physical therapist with the amount of student debt you will have post-graduation?”
A question I am commonly asked is “How do you rationalize becoming a physical therapist with the amount of student debt you will have post-graduation?”
However, the question I have is.... how do you rationalize not treating your patients you want to help, but won’t because of money? How do you rationalize going on about a career you “love” but won’t pursue because of future debt?
Personally, I rationalize my dream career because of passion not a dollar sign. I have a fire I in my soul to treat my future patients, to change other people’s lives, to leave my foot print in the field of physical therapy, and to make a difference as future female entrepreneur and DPT in this field.
Of course money is important, and big financial decisions should be given logical and rational thought. Therefore make the best decision based on your values for your career.
However, passion is what drives my decision because it is uncontrollable enthusiasm, energy, and the spark the lights me inside to pursue physical therapy.
So what can you do to get ahead of this problem or start a broader conversation about this topic?
1.You are not alone
Student Debt is part of a much larger systemic problem, and physical therapists are only a drop in the bucket. The average physical therapist has about $154K student debt with an average income of $86K per year. It is one of the worst healthcare fields when it comes to debt but it is not the only one. Medical Doctors and Surgeon’s average debt to income ratio is $208K:$246K, Dentist $285K:$156K, and Pharmacists are at $166K:$126K.
Please note these are averages based on the surveys referenced in this article, student loan debt and income vary based on a variety of things like school, location, specialty, ect...
Psychologists, physiatrist, lawyers, occupational therapists, and speech pathologists are among other professions who struggle with a less than ideal debt to income ratio.
Yes, that is a ton of money but want to know the great thing about physical therapy? Unlike some of the professions mentioned above, physical therapists have amazing autonomy within their scope of practice!
2. Get Creative
Have you played tennis all your life? Cool, take your knowledge of tennis and merge it with your physical therapy education and make your dream career a reality. Have you been a Crossfit coach or an Athletic trainer and now have your DPT? Well You take what knowledge from both fields and merge it into one. Sounds like another dream career to me.
This is what makes physical therapy great! It is one of the few professions where you have freedom as a professional. You can take your DPT into fields where you are already considered an expert and no one can stop you.
You can do this with your own physical therapy clinic, as a side hustle, do mobility screenings, treat many through social media, or however else you want to do it. Here’s a secret, you can make more money as a DPT this way. When you have the skills and expertise to help a specific population that you understand they will pay for your time.
As a weightlifter for the past three years I only go to the DPTs who understand what I do, Olympic level swimmers only see DPTs who understand swimming, and a patient who just had a stroke is only going to go to the DPT who understand rehabilitation after a stroke. People pay money for what they value, especially the athletic individuals.
3. You have/had options
You may still be thinking, “uhh but the schools are still so expensive.” Do more research. If money is that big of an issue apply to the instate schools, apply to schools where living is less expensive, pick the local school where you can live at home, or shoot your shot and apply to that dream school that may be very expensive. However, be smart about this decision. You just spent 4-5 years obtaining your bachelors degree so keep the debt as low as possible when searching for DPT schools. Apply to graduate school scholarships, grants, choose the least expensive DPT program, start saving money now, see if your schools offer Graduate Assistant positions that reduce your tuition, and look into state residency so you can qualify for instate tuition at some point during the three years.
4. Start early
Flashback to when I was talking about how you can do amazing things with a DPT, Well if you're a prospective DPT student, you can also do amazing things as a pre pt!. Just like you have to stand out as a DPT applicant, you will also have to stand out in the job market as a physical therapist.
So start now, learn high dollar skills where you cannot be replaced. Learn how to run social media, edit podcasts, edit videos, and get leads for other physical therapists and businesses. These skills will take some time to master but they are skills you can continue as a student in physical therapy school because they allow flexibility.
Today’s world revolves around the internet, whether we like it or not. We are constantly on our phones, so why not learn how to use them to make us money? One person averages at about 9 hours of phone time per week and the average hourly rate for a newer social media freelancer is about $32 per hour. If you take those 9 hours at $32/hour you now have another $288 a week, $1,152 a month, or $10,363 a year from doing something you already do daily. Also, most corporate social media companies charge around $2,000 a month so you are saving that business money by doing it for them. That is just the beginning, the more experience you have and the more skills you master the more you can charge.
Resources to get a head start:
- Fitbux – Helps track your personal student loan debt based on your criteria
- Scholly App - Scholarship app
- Smart Success Physical Therapy – learn those high dollar skills to do what you want as a DPT
- Accepted System – for the pre-PTs. Learn those high dollar skills and get accepted into your dream school.
5. Take the cap off your earning potential
As a student you can only save so much money but the amount of people you can serve is infinite. Instead of just focusing on how much money you can save, focus on changing the mindset to go outside of the box and think about how much money you can make. When you stop outside the box this is when you are diving into the nontraditional skills that can make you crazy cash, allow you to work with a flexible schedule (even during PT school), and allow you to take out less student loans; therefore be in less debt. Stop putting a limit on how much you can do, stop limiting your own potential, and stop settling for student loans with high rates.
“Stop making excuses on why you can’t achieve your dream career.”
All in all, try to change your perspective and stop making excuses on why you can’t achieve your dream career. If you are still complaining about money and physical therapy, then this career may not be the best option for you. It's arguable that if you were truly passionate about physical therapy, you'd let your passion fuel the innovation our profession desperately needs. Ultimately leading to an unlimited potential of how much you can serve and earn in your career, all by using this amazing doctor of physical therapy degree.