Alternative Revenue Streams
Combine both your passions and physical therapy education to help your financial success
By Jared Bonacquisti, PT, DPT
Physical therapists enter the field because they are passionate about helping people, staying active, and affecting their communities in a positive way.
However, guided by this passion and desire to help others, they often don’t realize that there is a crisis in this country for physical therapists: debt. Many physical therapists are beginning their careers with educational debt from both their undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Physical therapists obtain their degrees, line up their first jobs, and take the licensing exam, and once they pass, they can celebrate a major achievement. However, this momentous professional achievement comes along with the need to determine how much they can put toward paying off student loans while living their life at the same time. It isn’t easy to manage a budget and navigate debt, and it does take some practice to figure out at first. In June 2020, the average outstanding balance in education-related loans was $142,489, and the average physical therapist debt alone was $116,183.1,2 Now consider the annual income for a physical therapist, $84,263,2 and you start to see a picture where money can get a little tight when you are trying to pay off loans and manage your other expenses as well.
In 2017, a survey was conducted to see how student debt affected the life choices of physical therapists. Many stated that they had to push off life events like having children, getting married, or buying a house due to the amount of student debt they accumulated over their years of education. California, New York, and the metropolitan centers of Texas and Pennsylvania are some of the areas with the highest cost of living3; however, this does not mean that the pay is commensurate with the cost of living. In the survey, physical therapists who live in these areas and are within three years from graduation only saw their pay rise from approximately $70,000 to $72,000.2 This is a major issue and continues to be a problem for the field of physical therapy and the healthcare industry as a whole. While systemic changes are necessary to truly address the cost of education and student debt, what can physical therapists do on an individual basis to supplement their income, given the constraints of their financial situation?
Physical therapists, just like others in helping professions, require downtime, vacations, time off, and financial stability to avoid burnout and to remain engaged and fully present in their patients’ care. They may want to take a vacation with their family, or not worry about meeting their weekly numbers if a few patients need to cancel due to their own family matters.
One way to address this problem is to create an alternative revenue stream. Physical therapists should remember that the profession gives them the opportunity to put their hands into many areas. They are masters of movement, have knowledge in exercise prescription, can run movement screens, and can even be seen as the first point of contact providers for potential patients.
When starting any alternative revenue stream, it comes down to asking yourself one thing: What are my passions, and how can my physical therapy education help me become a leader in that world? A background education in physical therapy offers the ability to excel and contribute in many different areas. For example, if you like CrossFit, you can create a mobility program for CrossFit athletes; if you like soccer or any other sport, you have the insight of what it takes to be successful in that sport and the common injuries that are prevalent. This knowledge you have makes you a unique resource for potential clients of your program. Maybe you like to teach other physical therapists or just teach in general, in which case you could build your own continuing education course for physical therapists or create and deliver presentations for the general public. With access to the Internet and social media, now more than ever, physical therapists have access to so many people around the world who are looking for physical therapy knowledge and services. We just need to deliver the right information and opportunities to the right people.
In the year 2018, I developed an idea for an alternative revenue stream to provide training and skill-building for young athletes playing football. This program, Kinetic Football University, combines the skills I know about the game and my knowledge of physical therapy to build something that can help young athletes stay healthy while moving toward their goals on the field.
When I started my program, it morphed multiple times before I found a formula that worked well. The culture I built kept clients around during the “growing pains,” and I was able to build from year to year. Now, three years in, we have consistently grown from three clients to over 40.
We are healthcare providers, but our careers as physical therapists give us the most flexibility to reach a variety of clients and patients. Use your knowledge, find your passion, and get out from under the loans and financial constraints you may have. Alternative revenue streams may help you obtain a better work-life balance, a happier career, and the ability to combine your passion and schooling, allowing you to help many more people on their journey toward a pain-free and healthy lifestyle.
1APTA. “APTA Report on PT, PTA Student Debt Delivers Stark Assessment.” https://bit.ly/3xVJWqs. Published June 1, 2020.
2APTA. “Impact of Student Debt on the Physical Therapy Profession.” https://bit.ly/3aRWJ3Q. Published June 2020
3Leonhardt M. “This Map Shows Which U.S. States Spend the Most (And Least) On Household Expenses.” https://cnb.cx/3n99nP7. Published April 16, 2021.
Jared Bonacquisti, PT, DPT, is owner of Kinetic Football University and clinic director at Kinetic Physical Therapy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.