AARP Eye Center
| Thanks to the creaky knees and aching backs of aging Americans, it’s no surprise that so many surveys of fast-growing professions rank physical therapy high on the list. The median salary is $75,000, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a sizzling 39 percent growth rate in the coming decade. More surprising, though, is that it’s such a satisfying job, with a recent Forbes survey ranking it the third-happiest profession. (Only clergy and firefighters scored higher.)
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One of the Happiest Jobs on Earth
“People go into this field because they want to help people get healthy and live better,” explains Jody Frost, PT, DPT, PhD, and a spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). “But unlike other health professions, where you might interact with patients for just five minutes, a PT works with people over an extended period of time. It’s a real relationship. That’s what makes it so rewarding.”
But becoming a physical therapist isn’t easy, and the extensive schooling scares off many midlife job-seekers. The field started in the World War I era, initially focusing on amputees and polio victims, but standards have been raised continually, and now require a doctoral-level degree, or DPT. Because the programs are rigorous, very few offer part-time, evening, or weekend options. And for older students, there’s the increased chance that old college credits may not transfer. While entry level salaries are high—between $60,000 and $65,000, reports the APTA—so is tuition for physical therapy education. Expect to pay $47,000 for public programs, and up to $90,000 for those at private universities.
“For someone in their 40s or 50s, this is an expensive commitment,” she says. “People have to ask themselves, `How many years do I have to work to make it worth it?’”