Earning Six Figures in Six Months as a New Grad Physical Therapist

Guest Post by Traveling Physical Therapist Jeff Camara, PT, DPT


EARNING SIX FIGURES IN SIX MONTHS

We can all agree that the cost of obtaining a graduate degree vs. the income for physical therapists isn’t exactly an equal ratio. I knew this going in to my career choice as a physical therapist. However, I still decided to choose a career that would fulfill my life, despite the enormous amount of debt I would have to take on to get there.

I decided early on while still in graduate school that Travel Physical Therapy (Travel PT) would be the best career path for me, as it would not only help me financially, but give me the freedom to explore the country and work in various settings. I can’t say that my other physical therapy friends made the same decision. Following school, many of them have had to move back home in order to save their paychecks as New Grad PT’s and get on their feet.

Many physical therapists would say that you can’t make a six-figure salary or ever pay off your debt in this career. Well, I am here to tell you how I not only earned those six-figures, but I did it in just six months as a New Grad PT.

HOW IT STARTED

My girlfriend, and fellow physical therapist, and I were fortunate enough to land six-month Travel PT contracts at an outpatient ortho clinic in northern Virginia as new grads in 2019 (shout out to Whitney and Jared at Travel Therapy Mentor for help with finding those contracts as well!).

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During my first six months as a new grad PT at this travel position, I learned a ton and loved the clinic– not to mention my awesome co-workers instantly became great friends and we enjoyed exploring a new area of the country. I was able to earn a high paycheck every week by starting my career as a Travel PT, making over $7,000 per month after taxes. This added up to roughly $43,000 after taxes in my first six months of work as a new grad! Comparatively, some new grad PT’s hardly make that much in twelve months after taxes at some lower paying salaried positions.

With one month left in our first ever Travel PT contracts, the pandemic had hit. As the country panicked, I started to see other travelers’ contracts come to an end, and the permanent PT’s at our clinics were losing their caseload and being furloughed. I knew I had to shine in the clinic, or I was going to be next. Fortunately for me, I already had a great rapport with my patients and was able to continue to provide them with valuable treatments whether it was in the clinic or through telehealth. I took initiative and managed my own schedule, which made it possible for me to maintain around 90-95% of my caseload. My hard work led not only to not losing my travel contract, but to having my contract extended.

Despite this contract extension, I still had my doubts, as jobs are rarely secured as a traveler, so I began the job hunt to gain that security. I was fortunate to have one of my co-workers reach out and ask if I would be interested in working home health PRN. Without any home health experience, this company was willing to bring me on board and train me. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. This was perfect for gaining some experience in the home health world in addition to diversifying my paycheck in case my travel contract got cancelled.

STEPPING OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE

At this moment, I was still working 40 hours per week in the outpatient clinic at my travel contract, while starting to build a caseload with the home health company PRN. My outpatient schedule was perfect for this, providing me with 3 short days working 7am-2pm, leaving me plenty of time to hustle and earn money on the side with home health PRN hours.

Jeff2The flexibility with home health is great. I would be sent referrals daily, and it was up to me to either accept or deny each patient, based on my own schedule with my primary job, and based on how much extra I wanted to work. I started with 2-3 patients after work, 3 days per week, which quickly adds up. It wasn’t easy at first being more the “outpatient ortho type of guy,” but I started to pick it up quickly. I had to step out of my comfort zone and learn a lot about the OASIS documentation (aka the death of home health), but I got into a rhythm and started to push how many patients I could see in a week. I started out with 5-8 patients, then 8-10, and before you know it, I was able to see 15-20 home health patients per week, in addition to my outpatient job, while still having weekends off.

FINDING A BALANCE

When working 7am-7pm, or some days even later, you realize quickly you need the weekends for yourself. We all hear about the “burnout” in healthcare professions, and I remained mindful of that, making sure I was still finding joy in what I was doing. Many of my coworkers didn’t understand, always asking “how do you work so much?” In all honesty, I found it quite easy, because I was actually enjoying a large part of it. There is something satisfying when working hard and seeing results, you know?! Well, what if those results were not only seeing your patients getting better, but seeing growth in your bank account.

THE RESULTS

In the midst of this pandemic, despite uncertainty with the job market, and despite being a relatively new graduate, I have been fortunate to not only maintain a full time physical therapy position, but to pick up extra work too. In addition to working in outpatient ortho full time as a travel PT, plus home health PRN, I was also able to start my own LLC for a cash-based home health business.

Working an average of 60 hours per week for the last 6 months between these 3 jobs, I have been able to achieve my financial goals and more. From May to November 2020, I have been able to earn over triple the amount of my coworkers who work permanent positions in the outpatient clinic.

Jeff3My take home, after tax pay has been approximately $80,000 in the last 6 months. I REPEAT, AFTER TAXES! This is the equivalent to making a gross salary of around $120,000 in just 6 months, from one travel PT contract, part time home health, plus the start of my own LLC in the last two months.

Today the average physical therapist makes approximately $50-55k per year after taxes (not including retirement contributions). I was able to make that amount in 4 months, during a pandemic! One can see the potential for growth at this rate. I hope through my story I can help to show other therapists the possibilities that are out there, especially for those who want to pay off debt quickly and are willing to hustle hard early in their career to do it.

IF IT WAS EASY, EVERYONE WOULD DO IT

At the end of the day, you must ask yourself what is important to you. You might be reading this thinking it’s totally unrealistic for you. I sacrificed a lot to reach this goal. It hasn’t been easy doing late dinners throughout the week, less sleep, no daily gym session, more time driving, an increase in notes brought home, and less time spent with my significant other. This would certainly be more difficult for someone in a different life circumstance than me, for example someone who is married with children, or just needs more personal leisure time or time to de-stress.

For someone who is not familiar with working this much, it would be very hard and draining to do day in and day out. I think I am someone who hardly stresses during work and doesn’t get overwhelmed easily, so working multiple jobs comes easy to me. I have actually worked several jobs since I was in undergrad, so it’s something I’m used to. However, this is certainly not a pace that I could keep up, nor would I want to, forever. This is more so a way for me to get ahead financially early in my career to have more options in the future. Being able to pay down debt and invest early puts me well on my way toward financial independence!

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Below is an excerpt from a Harvard Business Review article that I found interesting:

The American Dream on Steroids: “The first thing that becomes clear is that successful professionals are working harder than ever. The 40-hour workweek, it seems, is a thing of the past. Even the 60-hour workweek, once the path to the top, is now practically considered part-time, as a recent Fortune magazine article put it. Our data reveal that 62% of high-earning individuals work more than 50 hours a week, 35% work more than 60 hours a week, and 10% work more than 80 hours a week. Add in a typical one-hour commute, and a 60-hour workweek translates into leaving the house at 7 am and getting home at 9 pm five days a week.”


MY RECOMMENDATIONS

When I tell people about my current lifestyle, they typically respond with, “there is no way I could ever do that.” This is most likely true, and I wouldn’t recommend this for many people. For those who struggle already with their 40 hour work week, I would recommend against this type of workload.

However, for those therapists that may be thinking about getting a second job in order to hustle and make more money to meet your financial goals, I would highly recommend to look for a PRN home health job, versus a second outpatient or acute care job. Home health provides great flexibility and higher pay, and it gives you the freedom to take on as many patients as you desire within the time that you want.

I am not saying this is only way to make money, nor am I saying that money is the only important aspect in life. For me, the thought of being financially free someday keeps me grinding. My goal is to work hard and hustle during the beginning of my career to help meet my financial goals and increase my savings, so that I can work less in the future and shift my focus to other pursuits, such as having a family.

Now, after hustling for the last 6 months, I have decided to take some time off from work to spend the holidays with my family and friends. This sacrifice, I believe, has been well worth it to be able to take several weeks or a month off at the holidays. After this break, I am looking forward to going into 2021 and getting back at it again!


ABOUT JEFF

jeff9Jeff is a travel physical therapist originally from Massachusetts. He earned his Doctor of Physical Therapy degree at American International College in May of 2019. Jeff was a multi-sport intramural champion in college and enjoys friendly competition in all sports and games. He has lived in 9 different states so far and loves traveling to new areas, hiking, and riding his motorcycle. Jeff and his girlfriend, Megan, are hoping to sign new travel physical therapy contracts at the start of the new year. The best way to contact Jeff is through Facebook or email at jcamara6@yahoo.com.


We would like to thank Jeff for sharing his story in this inspiring article! If you’re also considering pursuing travel therapy to help set yourself up for a strong financial future, please feel free to contact us and we can help you get started on this path!

~Whitney & Jared, Travel Therapy Mentors

Achieving a Positive Net Worth in 2 Years with 6 Figures of Debt: Yonas’s Story

We’ve written extensively about how travel therapy, among other strategic financial choices, has helped put us in an amazing financial position. But we’re not the only therapists who have taken advantage of this career path to achieve financial freedom! Today we’re bringing you a financial success story from a fellow traveling therapist who was able to achieve a positive net worth (assets minus debts) in only 2 years after graduating with his Doctor of Physical Therapy degree! We hope Yonas’s story will further inspire you about the possibilities in your career path as a traveling therapist! Check out his story to learn more:


Achieving a Positive Net Worth in Two Years with Six Figures of Debt: Yonas’s Story

Background

I am a 28-year-old Doctor of Physical Therapy, and I graduated in May of 2018 with six figures of debt. I recently achieved a positive net worth after strategically making simple moves within two years.

I still have student loan debt but have chosen to not rush to pay this debt off, while instead focusing on investing for my future. The amount of assets/money I have is now more than my debts, which equals a positive net worth. I would have never thought I would be this excited to be above water, but here we are today!

How Did I Get Here?

Below I’ll discuss the simple moves I completed to achieve a positive net worth in just two years out of school. These may or may not be easy depending on your goals and situation. Everyone comes from a different starting point, and each person has different goals, life situations, and opportunities.

Personally, I am a first-generation Eritrean. I do not come from a family of wealth. As the son of immigrants, I was instilled with the values of working hard and saving. I never thought about debt or finances until recently. I became interested in how to manage my debt, so I started listening to audiobooks and podcasts on my commutes to work, which is where I learned about most of the tools to help set me up for financial success.

With a bit of research, hustle, and determination, anyone can improve their financial situation.

Here are the 5 steps I used to reach a positive net worth:

  1. Live below your means
  2. Increase income
  3. Automate
  4. Be consistent
  5. Surround yourself with like-minded people

Let’s dive into each one of these steps to see how you can utilize these strategies too.

Live Below Your Means

Spend lavishly on things you love and save immensely on things you do not care about” — quote by author Ramit Sethi, from I Will Teach You To Be Rich

I am pretty low maintenance and do not value many expensive, material things. I do value experiences. I save a good chunk of my paycheck and splurge occasionally on experiences.

For example, during a recent weekend, I went to Yosemite National Park and rented out a cabin with friends. I am living my best life and saving money as well.

I also give credit to my Instant Pot. I am able to cook nearly anything in it. It is great because I can make affordable meals, it makes large portions, and it saves time. As a solo travel therapist, I have lived in places that do not have stovetops or full kitchens, often allowing me to save money on housing costs. Even with these accommodations, I have not had a problem eating well with the Instant Pot. A big “money saver” food is rice as a side. I have eaten over a hundred pounds of rice over the years. My staple dinner is cooked chicken, vegetables, and rice. Yummy for a good price.

This may sound extreme to some, but I am happy with how I am living my life. These are just a couple examples of how I am able to live frugally and put aside a lot in savings. You need to figure out what is your savings comfort level, and make moves accordingly.

Increase Income

Unfortunately, the job market for physical therapists doesn’t always allow for the highest paychecks depending on your setting and location. However, thus far in my career, I have focused on only taking higher-paying jobs in order to improve my financial situation.

I am flexible on setting, location, and am open to moving anywhere in the country. My first job was a permanent job in a large teaching hospital. It was a great learning experience for my first job, but I could not stay there if I wanted to reach my financial goals. I put in my one-month notice and applied for higher-paying travel PT jobs. I have also worked higher paying Per Diem jobs.

In my short two years as a PT so far, I have worked in the ICU, CCU, SNF, ALF, LTC, home health, outpatient, and acute care settings. I have been exposed to many settings from the many travel contracts and PRN jobs I have taken. There is always something new to learn, and if you’re strategic in choosing your positions, you can find high paying jobs while experiencing a variety of settings and learning new skills.

Automate Your Decisions

In order to stay on track financially, I automate my savings, my payments on expenses, and my investments. I automate everything to where I do not have to think about it, thus making it easier to reach my financial goals, be sure not to miss any payments, and having money automatically directed towards savings. This strategy psychologically trains me to not even expect the extra money from my paycheck that is automatically allocated to my bills and my savings accounts.

I am currently saving about 60-70 percent of my paycheck. As part of my savings, I maximize my Roth IRA retirement account. I invest in the same fund every month and plan to do so for as long as I can. This money will benefit me in retirement, and some of it can hopefully be passed down to my future kids or beneficiaries one day. Outside of my retirement contributions, I currently do not invest in any additional brokerage accounts, as I want to hold money to invest in real estate for now. This is a personal decision to diversify my savings.

Remain Consistent

It is important to have an end goal and motivation to stay consistent. What’s the point of making money if you do not have any intrinsic motivation?

I hope to one day be financially free, allowing me the freedom to work because I want to, not because I have to. I also love volunteering and would love to have more free time for this.

Surround Yourself with Like-Minded People

It’s important to hang out with finance rock stars or like-minded people. You are the average of the 5 people you hang out with most (~Jim Rohn). Since the pandemic currently makes it tough to hang out with anyone in person, I try to listen to people who not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk in the finance world. I do so via audiobooks or podcasts, so I can internalize their mindset on money which helps me in my own life. Everyone has an opinion, and it is best to listen to people who have a track record of success. Growing up, I was the kid who never read a book unless if it was for school; however, I am currently on track to read/listen to at least 24 books this year because of the valuable content I have gained.

During the first few months of my first PT job, I had the mindset to pay off my loans ASAP and put the majority of my paycheck toward loans for peace of mind. There is nothing wrong with this, and it’s a great strategy for many people. However, after listening to many podcasts and books, I have changed my mindset and prefer to use the money toward investments and not rush to pay off my loans. I would rather pay myself first and set myself up for a positive financial future, than rush to pay back my student loans at this time.

Future Goals

I am unsure of what the future holds for me. I am currently saving a chunk of my paycheck in a high yield savings account and maximizing my Roth IRA retirement account. I know that in the future I do plan to invest in real estate. I would like to live in a unit, and rent out the others. Hopefully, I can buy property at least once a year and see where the investment goes from there.

Recommended Resources

Below are a couple of life-changing books that changed my mindset on finances. I would recommend checking these out if you’re looking to get into a better financial situation!

  • Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
  • I Will Teach You to be Rich by Ramit Sethi

A resource I wish would’ve been available to me as a beginning travel therapist is “Rate My Therapy Company” Facebook group. I created this community to fill a need of therapists not knowing what kinds of companies they would be signing contracts with. This group allows therapists to rate companies and provide valuable information on factors like pay, setting type, and company culture.

I love talking about my story, so if you have further questions about it, you can email me or send me a Facebook message—I am an open book.

Best of luck to you as you pursue your own path to financial freedom!


Yonas Tekeste is a travel physical therapist originally from Chicago, Illinois. He graduated with his DPT degree in May of 2018. He is currently taking a month-long break from travel contracts to spend more time with family in Illinois. He enjoys listening to podcasts, playing sports, hiking, and attending social events in his free time. The best way to contact Yonas is through Facebook or email at Yonastekeste@gmail.com


We would like to thank Yonas for sharing his story with us! Please feel free to contact Yonas to learn more about his financial strategies. You can also contact us if you have more questions about starting a career in travel therapy to help set yourself up for a better financial future, as we and many other traveling therapists have done!