Physical therapists and occupational therapists assist people who have injuries and illnesses, but their focus is different. While physical therapists help to improve patients' movement and manage their pain, occupational therapists teach patients the skills needed to perform activities of daily living such as feeding or dressing themselves. Physical therapists usually have doctoral degrees, while the minimum educational preparation for occupational therapists is a master's degree. Therapists in both professions must be licensed to practice, and they work in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes or private practice.
The average annual wage for a physical therapist was $79,830 in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But location matters -- physical therapists in some areas of Texas can earn over $122,000 a year. Occupational therapists, on the other hand, earned an average annual wage of $74,970, a respectable salary, to be sure. But even one of the best-paying areas for occupational therapists, northeast Florida, only had an average annual salary of $102,950.
Industry and Wages
Within the clinical arena, physical therapists who worked in home health care in 2011 had the highest annual wage at $89,150, according to the BLS. Home health was also the best-paying work setting for occupational therapists, with an average annual salary of $85,540. But the real surprise for physical therapists was management, scientific and technical consulting services, with an average annual wage of $91,020. Occupational therapists didn’t fare as well in that area, with an annual average salary of only $77,410.
If you want to maximize your income as a physical therapist and don't mind extremes of heat or cold, consider moving to Nevada or Alaska, with average annual salaries of $97,810 and $91,990 respectively. Nevada was also the best-paying state for occupational therapists at $94,800, followed by the District of Colombia at $85,120. North Dakota paid the least for occupational therapists with an average annual salary of $53,200, and was also the lowest-paying state for physical therapists at $62,720.
Some metropolitan areas offered wages well above the national average for a physical therapist. The McAllen-Edinburg-Mission of Texas boasted an annual average salary of $122,160, according to the BLS. El Paso, Texas, was also above average with an annual average wage of $105,400. In contrast, nonmetropolitan areas in Nevada had an average annual wage of $99,250. Occupational therapists fared best in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, where the average annual wage was $98,920 in 2011. The nonmetropolitan area of northeastern Pennsylvania, however, reported an annual average wage of $54,500.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Physical Therapists
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011 29-1123 Physical Therapists
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Occupational Therapists
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011 29-1122 Occupational Therapists
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.