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The 2018 General Survey of Physical Therapists and Students

by Brett Kestenbaum, PT, DPT


In 2017, we surveyed 1,691 physical therapists and students to get answers to the questions we were most curious about.

We hope that these 26 charts and graphs help you better understand this wonderful profession of physical therapy!

In which PT settings do physical therapy students want to practice? 🤔

There was one clear winner here. The distribution of the other settings might surprise you.

What are PT students’ top considerations for a job coming out of PT school? 🤯

It is NOT compensation. That was shocking to us!

We did some digging into financials... 💵

Find out how much the average PT makes, and what the sentiment is like towards feeling capable of paying off student loans.

What are students and PTs most excited about and most worried about? 😩

Learn about what each demographic thinks about starting a business or practice, real life challenges, and feelings about the profession.

Our physical therapy student and physical therapist survey uncovered some amazing stuff!

This student and physical therapist survey focused on all kinds of things, from preferred practice settings, most important things in a job, to finances, to feelings about the profession.

Our PT student and physical therapist survey questions explored these categories:

  • What physical therapy students and new physical therapists want in a job
  • The financial climate for physical therapists
  • What students and physical therapists are most excited about and most worried about
  • What physical therapists and current students need the most when it comes to career resources

Let's take a deeper look at some of the questions and insights this physical therapy student and physical therapist survey uncovered.

Current and Preferred Physical Therapy Practice Settings 🏥

  • Upon graduation, in what physical therapy setting would students prefer to practice?
  • In what settings do physical therapists currently practice?
  • What is the second most popular and sought out practice setting for PTs?

The setting in which students preferred to practice and the setting where most physical therapists practice were aligned. What was surprising, however, was how the remaining physical therapy practice settings stacked up. Are today’s students developing interests in a wider variety of PT setting opportunities? 🤔

Physical Therapists and Seeking New Jobs

To understand what PTs value in a job, and what prompts them to seek new opportunities, we asked the following questions:

  • How likely are students to pursue a residency program?
  • What are students’ top considerations for a job coming out of PT school?
  • What settings do PTs want for their new job?
  • What is the primary reason PTs are planning to change jobs?
  • Do current PTs have any interest in a non-clinical career?
  • How likely are PTs to pursue a travel PT position? - Download the Ultimate Guide to Travel Physical Therapy

The number of students likely to pursue a residency program was pretty flat. That leaves us wondering why? Aren't there distinct advantages of a physical therapy residency?

When it comes to changing jobs, the primary reason PTs plan to change jobs is because they’re moving to a new location. Over a quarter of PTs are changing jobs because they’re seeking advancement opportunities or increased compensation—but they don't intend to do so by opening their own practices.

This leads us to ask - "Why don't PTs want to be practice owners?"

Interestingly enough, many physical therapists are interested in non-clinical careers. It’s no accident that one of the most popular articles on CovalentCareers Resources is about non-clinical opportunities for PTs.

Are PTs more interested in careers outside of patient care? Is this why physical therapists don't appear to be overly interested in opening up their own practices?

We do some more digging in the survey!

When it comes to new jobs, the NUMBER 1 most important consideration for new physical therapists entering the workforce was not setting, nor was it income or benefits!

We were really surprised to find out what the number 1 most important consideration was for choosing a job. Do yourself a favor, and download the full report! There's way too much great data to fit on this page! 📈

Physical Therapists Focus on Financials

Money and finances are always a topic that generates interest and discussion. We had to probe this subject matter and understand what physical therapists expect to make, what they typically earn on average, and what that looks like in regards to a return on investment in education!

Some of the questions we asked included:

  • As a current PT, what was your starting salary?
  • How confident are students in their ability to pay off their student loans?

The cost of education has skyrocketed in the last few decades: that's no secret. It stands to reason that PT students would be concerned about paying off their student loans; however, a large majority of physical therapy students felt confident in their ability to pay off their student loans. Based on our survey data, it appears that new graduate physical therapists will be well-educated on average starting salaries in their fields and regions, and will come to the table ready to negotiate for what they’re worth!

How Well Does Physical Therapy School Prepare You For Practice? 🙏

To understand a little bit about how well physical therapy school prepares PTs for the real world, we asked questions like:

  • How do PTs feel graduate school prepared them in clinical skills?
  • How do PTs feel graduate school prepared them for business ventures?
  • What professional resources do PT students need, and what resources do current PTs want?
  • Does your workplace offer a formalized (set mentorship hours, goal-setting, etc.) mentorship program?

We weren’t surprised to find that most PTs think that their experience in graduate school prepared them pretty well when it came to clinical skills! How well does physical therapy school actually prepare you for practice? That's a different story . . . While some new graduate PTs might be interested in starting their own clinics or cash pay practices, PT school doesn’t appear to give them the tools and resources to learn how to do so.

If you haven't checked out our ebook on starting a cash-based PT practice, go ahead and download the 25 page book outlining everything you need to know to get started. 💰

We were astonished to find out how many PTs’ workplaces don’t offer formalized mentorship programs. In an industry where it’s almost universally acknowledged that PT school trains you for clinical excellence but not professional practice, it’s shocking to see how many clinics don’t offer formal training to new employees—particularly when many of those new employees might be working their first healthcare job, period. 😱

Perhaps we weren’t that astonished: after all, that’s why CovalentCareers has partnered with FOX Rehabilitation, which offers a formalized mentorship program to all new employees, complete with hours, goal-setting, and a slow ramp-up to full productivity requirements. Check out our FOX Rehabilitation resources page on for more information!

Feelings About The Profession: 🤗 vs 😞

There are changes in the profession of physical therapy, just as there are changes in all of healthcare. We were curious to understand how students and practicing physical therapists felt about these changes, and subsequently how they felt about the profession and the future.

  • If PTs had to do it all over again, would they still choose physical therapy?
  • How do PTs feel about the future of PT?

There was a good mix of optimism and concern reported in these results, but one thing is for sure: an overwhelming majority of respondents WOULD do physical therapy all over again!

There's a trend trend on physical therapy sentiment based upon graduation year. Can you guess what it was? Find out on the last page in the full report! 👀

You might want to sit down when you check out the results of this physical therapist survey. 😱

How do students and physical therapists feel about the future? 🤔

  • Which setting most students want to practice in
  • The desire for non-clinical careers
  • What the average PT earns
  • Whether PTs want to be practice owners
  • Whether PTs would do it all over again

What are career prospects for students and physical therapists today? 🏬

  • The most important thing about a job
  • What career development resources PTs need
  • Physical therapy practice setting breakdown
  • Favorite area of clinical care
  • What makes PTs seek a new job

What kinds of things are most important to PTs today? 👌

  • Residencies
  • Mentorship programs
  • Practice setting
  • Career growth opportunities
  • Ability to learn new skills

What are PTs most excited about and most worried about? 😩

    • Physical therapy student loan repayment
    • Preparation for clinical practice
    • Confidence in the ability to manage personal finance
    • Travel PT
    • Changes in the profession
Download The Guide


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