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Paying Off Terminal Degree Loans Outside of PT Academia

by F. Scott Feil, PT, DPT, EdD

There is an overwhelming feeling among the field of physical therapy academia that a wave of well respected and seasoned veteran professors are about to hit that retirement phase of their career. While this is a well deserved and well earned career milestone on their behalf, it is also a little scary to the many programs that will be losing faculty members in these upcoming years. The good news is, there are many young, skilled, and eager DPT clinicians ready to fill the voids left by retiring faculty members.

The bad news is that there are not as many with terminal degrees as academia would like to see (thanks to CAPTE recommendations of 50% of a DPTs program’s faculty having terminal degrees). One of the things that is scaring potential full time educators away is the cost of a terminal degree. While some PhD programs are paid by various grants and allocated funds (although not generally high paying positions), very few EdD degrees are funded, and DSc degrees are hit or miss.

So how can fellow educators, program directors, and universities in general encourage these young DPTs to go forth and spend more money, likely adding to their already large sum of debt in order to achieve a terminal degree and help mold the minds of future generations of physical therapists? It comes down to one word: optionality.

Financial Incentive

It is not uncommon for a physical therapist who has been practicing for many years in the right setting to earn over six figures as a salary. It is also not uncommon for a junior faculty member (meaning a first time professor despite the years of experience clinically) to earn a starting salary of under six figures.

So again, where is the incentive from a financial standpoint of leaving the clinical world to enter academia. If we examine optionality, we can see that teaching (even a full course load) allows for some free hours throughout the week. If a new professor wanted to keep a couple of hours in the clinic to make a little extra money, make up the difference in the pay cut from switching to academia, and keep their technical skills up to speed, this could be a good fit.

If a newer grad DPT student was looking to teach full time eventually, and was entering a terminal degree program that would cost extra, as opposed to being covered, they may even consider opening their own business or clinic (even part time) to fill in those extra hours due to the tax benefits alone of owning and operating your own business.

But even if owning one’s own clinic was not in the cards for an aspiring academician looking to pay down their loans, Physical Therapy should probably just be considered the tip of their iceberg. Doctoral level students and newer grads of terminal degrees have skill sets that are highly developed. It may make the most sense to take the skill sets that they have already developed in critical thinking, problem solving, reading, editing, scientific writing and apply them to a business on the side in attempts to close the financial gap of entering academia.

What should we do?

Here are a few ways to think outside the box to make extra income and pay down your student loans


There are many businesses out there that can help pay off those student loans and that can be started with very little overhead while utilizing skills that a postdoctoral student or graduate already possess. One of the biggest opportunities can be found in writing. Scientific writing and dissertation writing are very challenging. So if you can write for those, you can write for a much simpler publication (whether it be a blog, or a newspaper article, or a magazine article).

You can monetize your own blog by including affiliate links for book or product recommendations you use. You can also get paid to write blog posts for other people and other medical clinics. If you are really up for a challenge one could even write and publish their own book. Then you would not only get paid royalties for each book sold, but can also generate revenue based on any teachings from the book or speaking engagements that may come as a result of being a published author as well.

Digital Marketing

Digital marketing has also become a big market these days, especially within the realm of healthcare. One benefit that newer graduates have is that they are already somewhat savvy with social media. If they are willing to manage a social media account, they could very easily become a Social Media Admin for a medical clinic. They could get paid for posting content for a medical clinic (some of which get paid very handsomely).

Even more lucrative is the business of lead generation. If professors or clinicians were to take their writing skills and apply them to copywriting, they would be able to write ads that sell. Ads that sell means getting new patients, customers, or clients in the door, and what business doesn’t need more leads coming in their door on a regular basis.


One final revenue generator that professors and clinicians should consider in order to help pay off their student loans quicker is teaching. Many professors will say, “but I am already teaching!” and while this may be true, there are plenty of other opportunities to earn more money outside of a core faculty position. One could teach adjunct at another university (either local or online), or a Continuing Education Units Class (CEU), or even better yet, an online practical knowledge course that teaches some valuable life skills that may not earn CEUs but would save the learner a ton of time and struggle.

Regardless of which type of side hustle or side job you decide to take on, it is important to recognize that picking up and polishing new skills sets will make you a more well rounded individual. It will help you find these “lucky” opportunities through the use of optionality. Adding multiple revenue streams to your portfolio will help pay off those student loans quicker, and let you focus on teaching for the main reason you got into it in the first place: your love of teaching and learning!


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