How to proceed when you don’t want to be a physical therapist anymore? What alternative jobs (or side jobs) are there for physical therapists and physiotherapists?
Every month, thousands of physical therapists seek information on this topic on the internet, in countries like France, the United States, the United Kingdom, etc.
Personally, I have always had a parallel career alongside my physical therapy practice since I obtained my physical therapy degree in 2012.
I appreciate many aspects of our profession as physical therapists, but there are also aspects I’m less fond of. Therefore, I have chosen the option of having two professional activities.
👉 In this article, I have decided to share my experience, research, and thoughts, often in discussions with fellow physical therapists, about career transition when you are initially a physical therapist.
My goal is not to convince you to change your profession.
I have had the material and financial means to completely stop working as a physical therapist for several years, and yet I have not made that choice.
August 2023 update: 7 months after writing this article, I decided to stop working as a self-employed/salaried physical therapist, but I continue to practice physical therapy through my work as an editor and writer for my own website, where you are now!).
I know there are a thousand reasons to be happy to be a physical therapist, and some people work passionately for 40 years (or more!) in the field 💙.
I simply want to show that there is (in theory…) a way out for those who feel trapped in their career as a physical therapist.
Any comments or testimonials are welcome in the comments section! Happy reading 🙂.
Last update: October 2023
Disclaimer: Affiliate links. Complete disclosure in legal notices.
Written by Nelly Darbois, a trained french physical therapist, scientific writer, and entrepreneur.
Why consider changing careers when you’re a physical therapist?
To my knowledge, there are no statistics on the number of physical therapists in United-States, Canada, France or United-Kingdom who wish to change careers. Nevertheless, the topic comes up regularly in discussions in almost every setting I have encountered as a physical therapist:
- During meal breaks with my colleagues who work in hospitals or rehabilitation centers.
- In Facebook groups for physical therapists and on social media.
- In conversations with other self-employed physical therapist colleagues in my area.
I would even wager that every physical therapist has at least one example of a colleague who has made a career change! In this regard, I’ve compiled the experiences of career transitions from some friends and acquaintances who are physical therapists 😁.
Another point to consider: here are a few phrases that are typed into Google by physical therapists in US, Canada and UK tens of times each month (some of them might make you smile!):
- non clinical jobs for physical therapist
- life after physiotherapy
- regret becoming a physiotherapist
- physiotherapy bad career choice
Changing careers, switching paths, is, of course, not unique to physical therapists.
I haven’t found empirical data that lists the main motivations for changing careers when you’re a physical therapist. So I’m simply listing the advantages and disadvantages of the physical therapy profession as I perceive them.
Advantages of the physical therapy profession ☑️
Here are some of the advantages I see in the physical therapy profession compared to other careers.
- Job security: As of the time I’m writing this, there are 1659 job offers for physical therapists in France on Pôle-Emploi alone (Pôle-Emploi is the French national employment agency. It serves as a central hub for job seekers and employers in France.). For comparison, there are currently only 63 job offers for my second profession, web content writing / health freelance writer.
- Geographic mobility: If you want to change regions, you encounter relatively few difficulties compared to other high-demand professions. Just on Pôle-Emploi, there are dozens of job offers in all departments, including highly sought-after areas like the French Riviera.
- Salary: Whether in employment or self-employment, as a physical therapist, you earn more than the median salary in France (€2,000 net for full-time in 2020; Insee). You may, of course, find it insufficient compared to other professions with shorter studies or less physically demanding work. Nevertheless, it remains a fact: even when adjusted for hours worked, physical therapists generally fall into the wealthier half of France. See my article on the salaries of employed physical therapists in France (soon in English).
- Feedback, patient recognition, the feeling of having provided a service: This is a criterion that is, of course, difficult to objectively evaluate. However, it seems to me that as a physical therapist, you receive more frequent feedback from satisfied patients than in other professions (for example, in digital, human resources, or telemarketing).
- Likability factor: When you say you’re a physical therapist, it’s considered quite prestigious. Physical therapy often ranks high in surveys asking French people about their preferred professionals (source: Harris 2015).
- Diversity of positions: Finding a position, whether as an employee or self-employed, is generally possible. So you have the choice of employment status (independent or employed). But you also have the option to work with different populations: children, the elderly, athletes. And in various settings: rehabilitation centers, public or private hospitals, private practices, home care, thermal spas, and more.
Disadvantages of the physical therapy profession ❌
I find it even more challenging to list disadvantages that are widely agreed upon. Here’s my attempt:
- Subordination to doctors, surgeons, or the Health Insurance System: A study conducted on Austrian physical therapists shows that one source of dissatisfaction among employed physical therapists is the lack of autonomy and recognition (Latzke 2021). This is one of the reasons that led me to switch from employment to private practice. In private practice, some physical therapists are dissatisfied with the agreement with the Health Insurance System, which limits their ability to set their rates more freely, even when patients are willing to pay out of pocket. This also dissatisfies me (especially considering our limited margin of maneuver), which is why I have another professional activity (healthcare web content writing) that allows me to set my rates directly with beneficiaries, without intermediaries!
- Mental or physical fatigue: It is recognized that physical therapists (and healthcare professionals in general) are exposed to high levels of stress (Puhanic 2022). Every month, dozens of physical therapists search for “Is physical therapy a tiring job?” in their search engines! (However, it would be necessary to see if it is more common to find one’s job tiring as a physical therapist compared to other sectors.)
- Lack of intellectual stimulation after a certain period, routine, or the feeling of having explored every aspect of the profession. Personally, it is this specific point that has led me to dedicate a significant portion of my weeks to other professional or associative activities that provide a different or more significant intellectual stimulation.
- Feeling unable to meet patients’ expectations: Some patients are very demanding and perpetually dissatisfied. This is not necessarily their fault; they would probably like to be different too. But sometimes, we have no control over it. We can find ourselves in uncomfortable or untenable situations, which can sometimes lead to burnout from not being able to satisfy the people we are helping. However, some physical therapists may never experience this.
- Isolation and lack of professional contacts: This is something mostly described among self-employed physical therapists, in the study I mentioned about the satisfaction of Austrian physical therapists (Latzke 2021).
In publications on the job satisfaction of physical therapists and healthcare professionals, it is reported that intrinsic factors (the work environment) have a greater influence on job satisfaction than extrinsic factors (salary, career advancement) (Puhanic 2022).
If the balance of advantages and disadvantages is unfavorable for you, I will now list some alternatives to the physical therapy profession. First, without straying too far from the path, and then starting from scratch or almost from scratch.
I provide some information on various professions (salaries, required training, missions). I may create more detailed content on those I know best if you wish (please make your requests in the comments).
12 career ideas where you can leverage your physical therapy skills
Don’t want to start from scratch? Looking to reuse some of your knowledge or skills acquired as a physical therapist? Here’s a selection of professions that allow you to do just that! With salary ideas and some advantages and disadvantages.
I’ve also included some personal notes for the professions I’ve practiced or considered.
1. Teaching in a physical therapy school faculty or in PTA School
Mission: Deliver courses to physical therapy students (or physical therapist assistants) while they are in school, manage schedules, supervise internship returns, and oversee the thesis.
Salary (in France): Starting from €2,300 gross per month. 6 weeks of paid leave during school holidays + 5 additional days.
Constraint: You will need to live near one of the PTA or PT School.
Education: You will need a diploma in healthcare management (Master’s level) or a Master’s degree in lot of countries
Some physical therapists become healthcare management trainers in nursing schools (IFSI) or in schools for other healthcare professionals (especially occupational therapists).
It is also possible to teach occasional courses at PT School. This is what I did for several years. The hourly rate is around €25 gross (in France). Preparation time is not paid. In other words, if you take the time to prepare, update, and improve your courses, it’s very poorly paid when calculated on an hourly basis.
You can also be paid for conducting oral exams or thesis evaluations. In this case, the pay is a bit better, and preparation time is less significant.
2. Consultant/Trainer in Continuing Education
Continuing education organizations are looking for physical therapists for occasional or regular missions, or for full-time positions.
Mission: Deliver in-person or online courses to professionals (usually healthcare providers). Sometimes the courses are already prepared, and sometimes it’s up to you to create them.
Salary: Variable, roughly equivalent to a salaried physical therapist’s income.
Constraint: Frequent travel within the region or throughout your country may be required.
Education: A physical therapy degree may be sufficient.
Many physical therapists also establish their own continuing education organizations to provide training covered by the national French programs related to continuing education. Those I know who do this usually continue to practice in private practice or as salaried therapists alongside their education work.
3. Teacher in Professional Health Pathways
Starting in high school, some young people specialize in the healthcare and social sectors (support, healthcare, and services to individuals, etc.). These are the programs that can lead to professional or technological high school diplomas. This can occur in high schools or apprenticeship training centers.
Mission: Prepare and teach theoretical or practical courses to teenagers in subjects more or less related to healthcare. Organize and grade exams. Potentially manage internship returns.
Salary (in France): A regular high school teacher starts at €1,891 gross per month and can earn up to €3,264 gross per month.
Constraint: Not all students in these programs have necessarily chosen to be there. Unlike adult continuing education, there may be more of a risk of having to deal with discipline issues or less motivated individuals.
Education: A physical therapy degree (DE) may be sufficient.
I had applied to be a health teacher in a high school (just for the experience of trying something different). I had some leads, but they were for very short-term contracts (a few days) more than 40 km from my home.
4. Corporate Wellness Presenter
In lot of countries like France, the government financially encourages companies to invest in actions promoting health and quality of life in the workplace. Most companies have budgets (sometimes significant) for this purpose. Physical therapists are among the professionals who can provide these types of services.
Mission: Conduct conferences, workshops, or even individual consultations for employees of a company.
Salary: These are services provided under a company status, secondary self-employed status, without a fixed salary. Half-day sessions are typically billed at several hundred euros.
Constraint: Many physical therapists and other professionals want to develop this type of work, so there is strong competition. You need to be skilled at networking or rely on word-of-mouth to secure contracts.
Education: A physical therapy degree may be sufficient.
5. Healthcare Manager & Clinical/Rehab Liaison
Mission: Healthcare managers coordinate the work of physical therapists and support staff, ensurethat patients receive appropriate care, manage budgets and resources, and implemente policies and procedures to improve the quality of care.
Clinical liaisons work to ensure a smooth transition for patients from acute care settings to rehabilitation facilities. They assess patients’ needs, coordinate admissions and discharges, and facilitate communication between different healthcare teams to optimize patient care.
Salary: Slightly higher than that of a salaried physiotherapist. On average, healthcare managers in the United States earn a competitive salary, often ranging from $80,000 to $120,000 per year or more.
Constraint: You must be interested in managerial roles and be willing to work under higher authorities.
Education: While a bachelor’s degree may be sufficient for entry-level positions, some healthcare managers pursue a Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a healthcare focus to advance their careers.
6. Fitness Coach
Opportunity to work in gyms, associations, or even independently, offering sessions at home, in businesses, or outdoors.
Mission: Deliver fitness classes or supervise workouts with goals related to well-being, health, weight loss, or sports.
Salary: Gym instructors often start at minimum wage. It is possible to work as an independent contractor and bill clients directly, but income varies widely depending on the activity.
Constraint: A physically and mentally demanding profession.
Education: Having a physiotherapy degree allows you to obtain a fitness instructor certification directly in France. There is no need for additional training beyond the DE de kiné to start working as a fitness coach.
7. Copywriter / Health Web Content Writer / Freelance Health Writer
Mission: Write articles on health topics for websites owned by media outlets, companies, traders, or individuals.
Salary: In salaried positions, some start at minimum wage or slightly higher. As a freelancer, incomes vary widely. Some struggle to make ends meet, while others earn over €5,000 net per month.
Constraint: Primarily a desk job.
Education: A physiotherapy degree can be sufficient, but you need professional or volunteer experience in writing.
8. Other Healthcare or Veterinary Professions
There are numerous pathways to enter human or veterinary healthcare professions when you already have a physiotherapy degree. These may include becoming a doctor, psychologist, dietitian, veterinarian, veterinary assistant, midwife, nurse, and more.
Mission: Provide examinations, treatments, and preventive actions for physical and/or mental health.
Salary: Highly variable depending on the profession and employment status.
Constraint: It may require returning to school for a few years, even for professions like nursing or psychology.
Education: You must go through a few years of additional training, even if some of it can be skipped thanks to the PT’degree. Access can be facilitated compared to students fresh out of high school.
9. Assistant Professor / Researcher
In recent years, there has been a career path for assistant professors and researchers in the fields of midwifery, rehabilitation sciences, and nursing.
Mission: Deliver lectures to university students and engage in research projects (while seeking funding), supervise student research projects.
Salary: An assistant professor in the regular class starts at $2298 gross per month and ends at $4026 gross per month.
Constraint: There are few positions available considering the number of physical therapists with a doctorate.
Education: You must have at least a doctorate (Ph.D.), which involves completing a thesis. Sometimes, post-doctoral work (an additional 2 years) and/or qualification may also be required.
I considered this career path myself at one point. I even pursued a Research Master’s degree a few years after obtaining my physical therapy degree and considered pursuing a funded Ph.D.
However, I didn’t want to dedicate three or more years of my life to a single research project, and it can be challenging to juggle other activities alongside a Ph.D. I discovered health web content writing and chose a different career path, where my work is more widely read!
10. Employee in a Healthcare/Marketing/ Sales / Recruiting Company
Many private healthcare companies hire employees. These companies are sometimes interested in professionals with a healthcare background who have transitioned to other roles, providing a fresh perspective.
Mission: The role varies depending on the position you’re aiming for. It could involve virtual or in-person outreach to healthcare facilities or professionals, writing healthcare content for the press or websites, designing new products (physical or digital), and more.
Salary: Compensation varies widely, from entry-level positions at the base salary to over $3,000 net per month or more with career progression.
Constraint: You’ll be competing with graduates from business or marketing schools. They may lack a healthcare background but bring other strengths to the table.
Education: A degree or professional experience in marketing or business may be necessary.
I have the opportunity to collaborate monthly with companies in this sector as a consultant or content writer. It’s enriching to be exposed to this industry, which is quite different from healthcare facilities.
I also regularly receive offers to be hired as an employee by these companies because they are interested in the perspective of a clinician from the field. However, I’m not currently looking to become an employee again.
Examples of job titles in this category include:
- Product Manager
- Customer Success Manager
- Community Manager
- Content Manager
- Project Manager
- Chief Happiness Officer
- Account Executive
11. Entrepreneur or Solopreneur
Many physical therapists create startups or engage in side businesses alongside their careers as physical therapists. Often, this involves starting a side business alongside their regular work, known as a side-business.
Mission: Varied! It depends on your ideas, collaborators, funding, and more. At the beginning of an entrepreneurial project, you often handle multiple tasks, including research and development, sales, communication, partnership search, financing, accounting, and more.
Income: Extremely variable. Some entrepreneurs may struggle to earn a salary (or even accumulate debt), while others earn thousands of dollars net. It’s more accurate to speak of revenue in this context.
Constraint: You need a unique idea and enthusiasm for launching and developing an entrepreneurial project. It’s not just about creating the perfect product in your eyes; it’s about finding the perfect product for people who need it!
Education: Your physical therapy degree is technically sufficient in terms of regulation.
I’m what you might call a “solopreneur.” I provide Wikipedia consulting and content writing services, online Wikipedia courses, but I work alone.
Over time, this blog/website Fonto Media has become my main source of income, but it took a lot of trial and error, sometimes success, and four years to decide to focus on it full-time (even though that wasn’t my initial intention when I started—I didn’t know where it would lead me!).
12. Alternative Health or Wellness Therapist
I intentionally placed this option last because it’s the one I see mentioned most often! There’s nothing wrong with suggesting it, though. The list of non-conventional practices provided by physical therapists is almost endless: acupuncture, wellness massages, hypnotherapy, microkinesiology, kinesiology, osteopathy, Pilates instructor, yoga instructor, and more.
Mission: Physically or mentally support individuals to help them feel better, achieve their health or wellness goals, or more.
Income: Non-conventional health practitioners often charge around 40-50 euros for a 45-minute to an hour session, gross, or even more. However, schedules may not be as full as those of physical therapists, especially at the beginning of their practice.
Constraint: After being accustomed to treating patients whose care was often covered by insurance or health plans, you’ll need to transition to a model where patients’ sessions are rarely, if ever, covered by health insurance or mutual insurance companies.
Education: Your physical therapy degree may be sufficient for non-conventional treatments, but physical therapists often pursue additional continuing education. For regulated practices, such as becoming a psychologist or psychotherapist, you’ll need a Master’s degree or other qualifications in addition to your physical therapy degree.
I myself had a highly specialized non-conventional practice. I offered individual teleconsultations billed at 100€/hour (with one month of follow-up via email and the sending of a summary to the treating physician if needed) to individuals with hyperhidrosis.
This condition is one I’ve been researching and creating factual articles about based on international scientific literature for 11 years. I had between 0 and 4 teleconsultations per month, then I stopped to focus more fully on Fonto Media.
There are at least 12 other groups of jobs & careers (probably many more) where you can leverage your experience as a physical therapist!
Physical Therapists / Physiotherapists Who Completely Changed Their Careers!
I’m sure you have examples around you of physical therapists who have completely changed their careers. They now have jobs that have nothing to do with physical therapy (although you can always find connections!).
In theory, having studied physical therapy and practiced this profession does not prevent anyone from taking a completely different path!
Here is a list of professions that people in my circle, who were physical therapists at some point in their lives, have chosen to pursue:
- Web Developer
- Data Scientist
- Shelter Caretaker
- Web Designer
- Community Manager
- Interior Architect
- Real Estate Agent
- Stay-at-Home Parent
- Product Manager
- Graphic Designer
Some individuals also decide to combine one of these activities with physical therapy, at least initially, to try it out.
6 Ideas to Consider Continuing Your Career as a Physical Therapist… Differently?
Are you absolutely sure, 10,000%, that you’ve truly exhausted EVERY aspect of the physical therapy profession? In this section, I outline all the paths you can explore as a physical therapist, just in case some of them inspire you!
Transition to Private Practice (or Employment)
To my knowledge, physical therapists successfully transition from private practice to employment, or vice versa. The motivations are varied, and there are pros and cons to both!
In employment, you can work in various settings, such as:
- Public or private hospitals.
- Rehabilitation centers or specialized rehabilitation facilities (for athletes, burn victims, pediatrics, neurology, geriatrics, therapeutic education).
- Thermal establishments. In some, you exclusively perform massages, while in others, the tasks are more diverse, including therapeutic education, coaching, and group activities like walks.
- Home care services for children, where you provide services at their homes or schools.
If you wish to change jobs and locations frequently, consider temporary positions as well.
💡 In addition to checking job listings on websites, don’t hesitate to apply directly to facilities through spontaneous applications. This is how I obtained most of my salaried positions in Corsica, Brittany, Jura, or Savoie.
In private practice, the possibilities are numerous:
- Providing physical therapy exclusively at patients’ homes.
- Working alone in a private practice or with others as a substitute, assistant/collaborator, or owner. This can be in a multidisciplinary health center, solo practice, well-equipped large clinic (with a gym and hydrotherapy), or with minimal equipment.
- Providing services to sports teams (part-time).
- Working in a rehabilitation or clinic setting.
- Offering group classes (Pilates, yoga, fitness, walking, therapeutic education, prenatal workshops, etc.).
Some physical therapists choose to specialize in a particular field for various reasons: passion, intellectual curiosity, to be recognized as an expert, or to stand out…
Here are some fields in which physical therapists commonly specialize within conventional care (based on Google searches for the most associated specialties with the term “physical therapist”):
- Sports physical therapist.
- Pediatric physical therapist.
- Vestibular physical therapist.
- Women’s health physical therapist.
- Breast cancer specialized physical therapist (senology).
- Pelvic floor physical therapist, often specifically for women (often associated with abdominal rehabilitation), men, or children.
- Maxillofacial physical therapist.
- McKenzie physical therapist.
- Hand rehabilitation.
You might also consider taking on occasional assignments as a forensic expert as a physical therapist or find a specialized physical therapist position to test out this way of working.
Some individuals enjoy their role as a clinical physical therapist but prefer not to devote too many hours per week to it. This is exactly my case! I have organized my work as follows:
- When I was employed, I worked at 80%.
- After having my second child, working even at 80% as an employee was no longer flexible enough to balance other professional activities. So, I transitioned to self-employment (among other reasons).
- I provide 30 to 50 patient sessions per week maximum in private practice, with 5 to 8 weeks without patients per year. I exclusively work as a home physical therapist to reduce overhead costs (and because I enjoy this mode of practice).
Many people work part-time as physical therapists in clinics or providing home care while also engaging in other professional activities such as:
- Part-time work as a trainer in a physical therapy school.
- Continuing education trainer.
- Self-employed entrepreneur.
- Corporate consultant.
- Sports team physical therapist.
These are some of the most common supplementary jobs. However, I also know physical therapists who work as web developers or health content writers :)! Contrary to common belief, you can combine physical therapy with a commercial activity!
Several general platforms connect physical therapists with patients for teleconsultations. However, the demand for this type of service from patients is still very low. There are probably more physical therapists on these platforms than patients!
Some companies are starting to develop more targeted services for patients, sometimes in partnership with healthcare facilities. They hire physical therapists to remotely supervise rehabilitation.
This is particularly common in the United States, but we are starting to see it in France as well.
This is an option to explore if you are attracted to the idea of working from home, which is often referred to as full remote work!
However, please note that if your main motivation for diversifying is to earn more, teleconsultations are probably not a good option. In reality, 30 minutes of teleconsultation takes much more time than 30 minutes face-to-face, even with good tools: connecting a little earlier, handling any technical issues and the person’s difficulties, and writing a report afterward, etc. At least, that’s been my experience!
Work as a Physical Therapist in Another Country
Some French physical therapists go to work in other countries such as Quebec, Canada, Switzerland, etc. You need to complete certain procedures to obtain an equivalent diploma.
I have written a detailed article on how to become a physical therapist or work as a physical therapist in Switzerland.
Create Your Blog or Online Media Dedicated to Physical Therapy?
When I first wrote my article, I didn’t mention this possibility. However, seven months later, I know that with a lot of work (and probably some luck too!), it is possible to make a living from your physical therapy knowledge by disseminating it in a different format than through individual or group patient care, or teaching: by creating your own media.
Of course, this is still anecdotal, but it’s a possibility!
Feel free to let me know in the comments if you would like me to expand more on this point!
How to Finance Your Career Change as a Physical Therapist?
Financing your career change will depend on several factors:
- Your current status (self-employed or employed).
- Your status since you started practicing.
- Whether you have already received any funding for continuing education or not.
- The year you decide to change careers (laws regarding professional development funding change VERY often).
- Your future activity: Do you need to undergo training? How long will it take?
Here are some tips to follow, of course, once you have determined which profession you want to pursue. Sometimes, the financing method is one of the factors that helps us decide when we are hesitating!
- If you need training, contact institutions that offer the training you are aiming for. Just by visiting their websites, you will already have information about possible financing options. Contact them in any case. They often have staff whose job is specifically to help future students finance their education! It can be a university, a school, or a private organization.
- Also, ask physical therapists in your network who have changed careers how they went about it. You can also find examples in the Facebook Group for physical therapists looking to change careers (link at the end of the article).
- Consider self-financing by saving money. Or continue working as a physical therapist for a while until your other profession takes off or until you find a job.
- Contact an organization that specializes in career change. However, I do not know if these organizations use truly effective methods. I imagine they do their best.
Conclusion: Should You Quit the Physical Therapy Profession?
Clearly, it’s not for me to decide for you whether or not you should quit the physical therapy profession!
I believe it’s normal that, at some point, we all contemplate this question. It’s the case for almost all the physical therapists in my personal network, including myself!
There are intrinsic reasons, specific to the field of physical therapy, and extrinsic ones, such as major life changes (like having a child or experiencing significant health issues).
Wanting to quit the physical therapy profession is one thing, but to answer this question, one must consider what to do instead: how to use the newfound free time, and how to continue meeting financial needs (and current commitments).
I hope this article has provided you with some insights! If you have any experiences to share or questions, feel free to leave them in the comments 🙂.
You may also like:
Experiences of new physiotherapy lecturers making the shift from clinical practice into academia. Physiotherapy. 2010 Sep;96(3):240-7. doi: 10.1016/j.physio.2009.11.009. Epub 2010 Jan 15. PMID: 20674657.
Sondage Harris. 2015.
Written by Nelly Darbois
I love writing articles based on my experience as a physiotherapist (since 2012), scientific writer, and extensive researcher in international scientific literature.
I live in the French Alps 🌞❄️, where I work as a scientific editor for my own website, which is where you are right now.