Making a Full Time Therapist’s Salary Working Only Half of the Year

A major consideration for many therapists when considering a career path is pay. Debt to income ratio is a big factor in this concern for making a higher salary. But, for some, the desire to have a higher income may also be to avoid burnout by being able to work less hours while still earning a decent paycheck.

Since I announced that I will be semi-retiring this year by transitioning into only working 3-6 months per year from now on, I’ve had many therapists contact me with questions about how this could be possible at only 29 years old and only three years out of PT school.

For me, this is possible because I’ve spent my three working years as a Travel PT, with a strong focus on saving and investing a large portion of my income. But this could also be possible without a large investment portfolio. Even a new grad could work only half the year and still make the equivalent of what many of their classmates are making working all twelve months.

How is this possible you ask? Well, there are a couple of different ways.

Home Health

One way is by working PRN in home health in an undeserved area. You can take higher paying PRN contracts with more than one home health company and work as many hours as possible for half of the year. There are many home health jobs in rural areas with very high paying PRN jobs and seemingly unlimited hours available. Going this route, it would be possible to work only six months and still make $60,000-$70,000/year.

Travel Therapy

The other option is taking two (13 week) travel contracts per year. This is exactly what I plan to do in 2018, and maybe for the rest of my career, while possibly transitioning to one contract per year at some point. Working only two contracts this year means that I will have made the equivalent of a full time salary by the time my current contract ends at the end of June. That will give me July-December to travel internationally and to spend time with family, without having to work.

Pay Comparison

Let’s take a look at what you could expect to make in two travel contracts per year in terms of annual salary. Two contracts would be 26 weeks of total work. Whitney and I have averaged $1,680/week after taxes since we began traveling three years ago. Multiplying those two numbers will show us what we can expect to make per year when working only two contracts.

$1,680 x 26 = $43,680 (with zero allowances and a tax home in VA).

If you’re thinking that this isn’t a normal full time salary for a therapist, then you probably aren’t taking into account this being after tax pay.

After taxes, a new grad with a starting salary of $60,000/year would actually make $43,700/year (also assuming zero allowances and working in VA).

$60,000/year is a little low for a starting full time permanent salary in my opinion, but I have talked to many new grads that make this much or less per year at their first jobs. That means that a new grad taking two travel jobs per year could make the same amount after taxes as they would if they worked the entire year making a $60,000/year salary.

Travelers on the west coast can make quite a bit more than what Whitney and I have averaged in weekly pay for our assignments on the east coast. That would make this an even more compelling option, especially for new grads who would like to travel domestically or internationally before settling down in one area.

Battling Burnout

There has been a lot of talk lately about burnout in the medical field. Rapidly rising tuition costs, higher entry levels of education requiring more schooling, decreasing insurance company reimbursement, and stagnant wages are a recipe for disaster. Some of those talking about burnout have been out of school for 5 years or less, which is an indication of major problems.

By working only half of the year as a traveler, while still making the equivalent of a full time salary, I think burnout would no longer be an issue. Having time to rest and recharge is vital for all of us in the medical field, especially for those of you, like me, who are introverts.

A More Balanced Option

Another option would be working three travel assignments per year, while taking a month off between each assignment. This would lead to higher pay than a full time permanent position, while still having plenty of time to rest and vacation between contracts. Let’s look at how the pay would look in that scenario.

$1,680 x 39 = $65,520 (again with zero allowances and a tax home in VA). You would have to be making a permanent salary of over $93,000/year in order to make that much after taxes!

$93,000/year income while still having 3 months off per year, that sounds like a sure fire way to repay student debt, save for the future, and avoid burnout to me!

A More Extreme Option

Conversely, a therapist with a high savings rate may be able to pay for all of their living expenses with only one travel contract per year, like I am planning to do.

Since graduation, I have saved 80% or more of my income while working four assignments per year, meaning that even if I only worked one assignment per year I would be able to cover all of my expenses for the entire year!

Bottom Line

Travel therapy or working multiple home health PRN jobs instead of a permanent job can be two great ways for a new grad or experienced therapist to avoid burnout by working only 6-9 months per year and still making as much or more than those taking permanent jobs. Having 3-6 months per year to rest, travel, and pursue other interests can be exactly what a therapist needs to be happy and fulfilled.

What do you think about therapists’ pay and the issues around burnout in the profession? Would higher pay or less work throughout the year be helpful to prevent or decrease burnout?

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14 thoughts on “Making a Full Time Therapist’s Salary Working Only Half of the Year

  1. Thank you for this article. Am a tenured PT wit 18 years of experience and still have student loan debt. My husband and I are thinking of selling our practice to become debt free and doing exactwhat you are doing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds like an awesome plan, Carter! I always thought I wanted to own a practice one day but after seeing how many hours other owners work… I changed my mind. I’m sure it would be a nice change to be a well compensated hourly employee while traveling!

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  2. Hey there! What would you say your weekly expenses are for campgrounds etc? I’m trying to figure out how much I want to budget for a camper considering I’ll be spending more in gas driving an SUV that can tow a camper, plus camp ground fees plus a camper payment plus a car payment. I looked in a few state parks and it looked like with water/elec hookups it was about $32/night? Does that seem about right? Do you find they are welcoming to travelers? I saw many who only allowed a 14 day consecutive stay?

    Sorry for so many questions!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, Amber! Whitney and I did a Facebook Live video tonight on the pros and cons of travel in an RV which may be helpful to you. It’s on the “FifthWheelPT” Facebook page!

      We average about $500/month at campgrounds including utilities. We’ve never stayed at any state or national parks because of the limits on stays and them usually not being near jobs. $32/night is okay for a nightly rate but would be way too much if they don’t have a much cheaper monthly rate. Campgrounds love travelers because it’s guaranteed income for them.

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    1. So far I haven’t had to deal with this but likely will this coming year. Health insurance is definitely a mess right now and I think what is best depends on a lot of factors. If working PRN without benefits, your AGI will probably be a big determining factor. If you work few enough hours that your AGI allows you to be eligible for subsidies under the ACA, then those plans can be decent and reasonably priced. Without subsidies the premiums can be outrageous, especially for a family. If I was above the AGI limit with quality for subsidies, I would probably look into the health-sharing ministries out there to have lower premiums.

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      1. Thanks for the article. I have a couple of questions regarding home health. What is the per visit rate range for home health that companies offer? And how many home visits per week do you think are realistically possible given the time required for documentation? Thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think most home health companies use a point system for productivity instead of a certain number of visits since a treatment and a start of care will take different amounts of time to complete. On average 5 patients per day is the target I’ve seen most companies shoot for for PTs. The pay range per visit would also depend on the type of visit it is. An evaluation would pay more than a treatment but I’ve seen $60-$80/visit or even higher in some areas

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  3. Hey Jared, Thanks for the info! I heard you on Choose FI as well. Congrats! I’m transitioning out of a $63k outpatient ortho job and planning on signing my 1st travel contract soon. I plan on doing about 40 weeks of travel per year and focus the rest of the time on real estate. I was wondering if you have any info on the pay differences in setting within travel? In other words how does a HHPT travel gig pay vs an Outpt Ortho travel gig? Thanks in advance! -Elton

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Congrats on the upcoming assignment! I hope it goes well. Home health usually pays the most followed by OP and acute/IP rehab. SNF is usually to lowest paying setting for travel jobs interestingly enough. Feel free to reach out in the future if you need some recruiter/company recommendations!

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