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Consider Your 5 Year Goals When Choosing Your First Physical Therapy Job

Making career decisions are not easy for everyone, especially when you are a new graduate. Let’s face it, without experience and with the lack of guidance universities provide on the subject of careers (yes, this is a problem!), you are left to discover the best place to start your career on your own.

At this point, you went through 3 years of physical therapy school, passed your national exam and now you are ready to make some bennies! It is an exciting time but it can also be extremely overwhelming. You need to study for the NPTE, and think about your first physical therapy job. There are so many variables to consider; location, setting, retirement benefits, mentoring, residency, permanent vs temporary/contract. Of course, you also want to get a good hourly rate or salary, and health insurance is important as well. Here are a few things to consider when you are trying to make a choice about what jobs to apply for and

The goal of this article is to provide you with some high-level considerations when you are trying to make a choice about what jobs to apply for and which job to take.

Choose growth

Choosing growth means having the ability to advance yourself in knowledge, ability to perform in social roles other than as a PT and advancing your core happiness. Make sure you are putting yourself in a situation that advances those aspects of your life.

Do not chase the pay

In my opinion taking a job only for the salary or hourly rate as a new grad may not be the best idea. New grads generally need some assistance with billing, patient relations and adapting to a new work life. Of course, there are many wonderful places that pay you well and offer these types of benefits but make sure they are legit. If you are looking for a higher than average pay rate make sure you are considering location, setting and the ability to have peers to consult with.

Student loan repayment

Do your homework and never forget to ask a potential employer about assistance repaying your student loans. There are many areas of the country that need therapists and are willing to give you sign on bonuses and repay your loans. Again, see number 2 but always consider loan assistance in your pay package and always ask for it, the worst they can do is say no.

Strong knowledge base

This one fits in with number 1. Having a peer group at work that can help you with difficult patients, work, and personal situations are key for new grads. Work can be hard. It can be emotionally challenging. If you are able to find a great place to practice as a PT and have a “work family” to be with it makes your life much more enjoyable. Finding a “work family” is not always easy and it takes time to nurture but it will pay off exponentially.


Find a location that you are comfortable with for a number of years. If you take a job that is out in the boonies and you are a city gal/guy you may find it difficult to stay in that job. It is ok to take jobs that are out of your comfort zone but remember that when you go home you need to have things that are important to you.

Applying and interviewing for jobs is a wonderful time in a new grad’s life. Make sure you are looking towards the future and your ultimate happiness when considering a job. Finding the right peer support, setting, location and working relationships helps to decrease stress on new grads. The money will come. You made it this far! Make sure happiness is your long term goal.

About Justin Johnson

Justin graduated from Central Michigan University with his DPT in 2008 and earned his GCS designation in 2011. As a permanent PT Justin has worked at large teaching and trauma I-IV hospitals . As a traveling therapist Justin has adventured to critical access hospitals, regional hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. During the winters Justin can be found on his skis and is an active National Ski Patroller with Mt. Baker Volunteer Ski Patrol in Bellingham, WA. During the months where there is no snow he can be found on two wheels. Justin currently resides in Bellingham, WA. You can reach him at [email protected] or

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