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Is a PhD after a Doctor of Physical Therapy Worthwhile? CU Anschutz Researchers Think So

Researchers weigh financial considerations of pursuing PhD training in physical therapy – and find long-term earnings were greater than early career earning deficits

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Written by Kelsea Pieters on February 22, 2023
What You Need To Know

CU Anschutz researchers assessed the financial payoff of pursuing a PhD in physical therapy after obtaining a Doctor of Physical Therapy. They found that long-term earnings do outweigh early deficits, and PhD-holders out-earn those with a DPT only. Additionally, there is a shortage of PhD-trained DPTs, as PT programs expand nationwide.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus assessed the financial considerations of pursuing PhD training for those with a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) – and found long-term earnings outweigh early career earning deficits.

They also determined DPT students who pursue a PhD will see greater earnings in their career as opposed to a DPT-only track.

In a study, just published in the Journal of Physical Therapy, researchers employed a survey of DPT program directors combined with national financial income data for physical therapists (PTs) in both clinical and academic settings to assess whether the decreased earnings during full-time PhD training pay off in terms of long term earning potential. Results show that PhD long-term earnings exceed non-PhD DPT earnings even when considering the earnings deficit while pursuing training.

“There has been a growing number of PT programs and a current shortage of PhD-trained DPTs,” says Alexander Garbin, PT, DPT PhD, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “But a lot of DPTs are choosing not to pursue PhD training due to a perceived financial hit. Our intention with this study was to provide tangible data on costs for DPTs who are considering PhD training.”

Specifically, researchers found that while DPTs in PhD programs receive $264,854 less in compensation during their training than their counterparts who are not in school, they receive significantly more in a 30-year period versus clinical PTs (+$449,372) and non-PhD academics (+$372,931). The gains are even greater for academics who are primarily involved in research (+$698,704). 

“The number of DPT programs in the United States increased from 230 in 2013 to 264 in 2021, with dozens more being developed. The need for DPTs trained at the highest level will continue to grow in order to facilitate high quality training of future generations of physical therapists and to expand evidence-based clinical practice,” says Garbin. “The purpose of this research is to inform students interested in taking that extra step in their PT careers that, while there are financial ramifications, there is also significant payoff. Hopefully it will help students make informed decisions regarding perceived financial implications and how they plan to advance their careers.”

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Staff Mention

Alexander Garbin, PT, DPT, PhD