The Ultimate Guide for Hiring the Best Physical Therapist Staff

  • a couple of weeks ago
  • / By Chad

You might feel like a superhero when you’re helping patients regain their quality of life, but even superheroes have their limits. At some point, you’re going to need to hire staff if you want to keep growing your practice.

You, personally, only have so much time in a day. Most private practice owners don’t want to work extreme hours, but on the off-chance you do, you should recognize that it’s not productive for a business owner. You should be working on your business; not in your business. 

Furthermore, being exhausted or stressed out can hamper your ability to provide patients with the highest level of care. 

Hiring is one of the most important decisions you can make, both in terms of gaining time freedom and ensuring your patients are well cared for. But if you’ve tried to hire in the past, you already know it’s not as easy as posting a job and seeing who bites. 

Private practice owners are at something of a disadvantage  when it comes to hiring – especially when compared to HOPTs and POPTs practices. 

This can often make finding the right person to add to your team difficult for a number of reasons (more on this in a moment).

This guide will show you what to look for in an all-star candidate so you can start building a successful team. In the first half, we’ll cover some preliminary work to help you get clear on who your ideal hire is.

And in the second part of this piece, we’ll provide actionable steps to take during the interview and hiring process. 

Hire for Personality

Before we can answer the question “How do you hire a great PT?” we need to take a step backwards and ask:

How do you become a great PT?

As we’ll discuss below, the right fit for your practice may not have a ton of experience under their belt. If you can identify some of the personality traits that make a good PT, this could help you identify an ideal candidate who perhaps doesn’t have the most polished resume.

How do you identify these traits? Use yourself as an example.

Before you start hiring, think about why you got into private practice. What motivated you then and what continues to motivate you now?

If you currently have some employees, try and figure out what motivates them (or ask them directly). There’s no “right” or “wrong” answers, but when it comes to hiring, you want someone who is in sync with you and the rest of the team. 

For example, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being motivated by money or making a high salary. But it’s unlikely that someone with this as their primary motivation will be happy in private practice when they could take home higher pay at a POPTs practice. 

Money is a byproduct of the job, but the deeper intrinsic value of helping people who need it is what really defines the success of your practice. Think of your “why” as your culture—the mission and vision you’re working towards each day. Every person you hire, whether it’s a PT, a receptionist, a marketing person, or billing specialist, should fit within this same culture and share your goals for a thriving practice.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time

You’ll need to decide whether your new PT (or other staff members) will work part-time or full-time. There’s no single best solution here, and pros, cons, and costs can vary greatly between the two.

Here’s some food for thought:

Patient Volume and Revenue

The more work hours, the more patients you can treat and the more revenue you can bring in. However, part-time PTs can be helpful for filling gaps, such as when another PT is on vacation. 

Time Freedom

When you have someone who can run your practice even when you’re not there, you can either use your time to treat patients to increase your revenue or work on other goals. Both part-time and full-time employees can help you earn more time freedom, but you’ll have more time to play with a full-time PT.

Salary and Benefits

It’s no secret that it costs more to hire full-time than part-time. The salary is higher, which means the payroll taxes are higher. Plus, you may have to offer benefits or perks to your full-time PTs that you wouldn’t have to with a part-time PT.

Personal Investment and Integration

There’s always a risk that a part-time PTs won’t be quite as invested in your company as someone who is there all the time. They just won’t have that deep connection to your company, and even if they want that connection, they’ll have less time to invest in it.

New College Grad vs. Seasoned Pro

A Career in Physical Therapy

Like the part-time versus full-time scenario, you’ll also need to decide whether to invest in a new college grad or go with a seasoned professional physical therapist. Again, there’s no clear best solution here, so do some soul searching. 

Even though new grads may lack experience, this also means they (hopefully) haven’t developed bad habits, are trainable, and are eager to get started. You may also be able to pay a little less as they don’t have experience.

But keep in mind that PT school isn’t cheap. This list of most affordable PT schools puts the lowest tuition at around $33,000, but most PT schools are much costlier than this. New grads are leaving school with a lot of debt and may have high expectations for salary as a result.

On the other end, a professional physical therapist with experience can be valuable, especially if you’re hoping for a “turnkey” approach to hiring. They may integrate into the daily flow better than someone fresh out of school and start taking some of the workload off your plate immediately.

One possible downside is that seasoned pros typically expect their salary to match. That shouldn’t be an automatic deal-breaker, though, as even a well-paid PT can deliver a high return on investment. Look at your financials to see what you can afford to pay (more on salary in the next section) and how much revenue they need to generate for the salary to make financial sense.

What Is a Fair Salary?

10 States with the Highest PT Salaries
States where PTs have the highest salaries on average.

Context is important when it comes to handling salary discussions. Both employers and employees are bringing their own needs to the table, but looking at industry averages can help you find a fair compromise. 

That’s why you should do some preliminary research before you begin the hunt for a new PT. And from this research you should be able to answer questions like:

  • What is the starting base salary of a physical therapist?
  • What is the average physical therapist salary per year? 
  • How does my local area compare to the national average?

According to Salary.com, the average salary for all physical therapists in the U.S. is $86,524 as of 2019. However, you may find that salaries in your state are either higher or lower than this figure. 

As per another report, physical therapists earn significantly more than the national average in Nevada, Alaska, New Jersey, New Mexico, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Texas, Massachusetts, and Virginia. The states with the lowest average salary include Vermont, South Dakota, Maine, Idaho, North Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, and Colorado.

10 States with the Lowest PT Salaries
States where PTs have the lowest salaries on average.

You can see the full report here to understand the potential for your state. 

But you don’t have to stop there. Remember, these figures are averages and don’t account for things like experience or credentials. You may find the going rate in your area to be higher or lower than the state average. Consider the local economy, the candidate’s experience, and what they can bring to the table to help you decide on a fair salary.

Physical Therapist vs Chiropractor Salary
Does a massage therapist make more than a PT?
Does a chiropractor make more than a PT? Here's how the average salaries compare for each position.

Now that you have a clearer picture of your ideal hire, it’s time to begin the search and start the interview process.

Another thing to keep in mind, especially when hiring new grads, is to look at how PT salaries stack up to other, similar industries. 

Don’t Gloss Over the Job Description

How to write a Great PT Job Description

Though physical therapists can guess what their role will be, don’t treat your job description as a generic formality. A standout description can make your position even more competitive so you have more qualified PTs to choose from. It’s a direct reflection of your company culture, brand image, and overall success, so treat it with care and importance.

So, what does a strong job description look like?

So, what does a strong job description look like?

Invest in a good headline. Headlines can be the deciding factor on whether a candidate reads the rest of your description.
Introduce the job. Don’t just jump into qualification or duties, but rather set the tone for your brand, reputation, and why a candidate should consider you.
Talk about your practice. Paint a picture of what it’s like to work there, the patients you serve, history, values, and mission.
Give an overview of the job. Include role responsibilities, whom they’ll report to, and what a typical day might look like.
Be clear and realistic about what you’re looking for. From experience to personality traits, this section should define what a successful candidate looks like.
Infuse personality. Cookie-cutter job descriptions attract cookie-cutter candidates. Your job posting should be inspiring, creative, and targeted to attract top talent—not just job seekers. 
Be clear on next steps. Include specific instructions on how to submit a resume, cover letter, transcript, credentials, or anything else you need to qualify the candidate for a first-round interview.

Pre-Screen Candidates

Every moment you spend on lackluster interviews is time away from treating your patients. The best practice is to pre-screen candidates and only move forward with the ones that show the most potential.

  • Hand over some of the pre-screening processes to your front office team (e.g., print resumes and cover letters, look for certain qualities)
  • Do first-round phone interviews to save time and trim your shortlist
  • Don’t go into too many details on the pre-screen—focus more on personality and cultural fit

What Questions Should I Ask During the PT Interview?

Your in-person interviews should be designed to learn more about education, experience, and thought processes. You want someone who can think on their feet, is motivated to perform their best, and will be coachable. 

You may be able to add to this list, but here are some questions that can help you determine all of the above:

  • What were some of your most challenging cases, and what therapies did you use?
  • How do you track and measure a patient’s progress?
  • How do you motivate patients to continue their plan of care?
  • How do you keep family members engaged throughout the recovery?
  • Talk about how you resolve disagreements with other doctors/PTs or office staff.
  • What does a typical day at your current job look like?
  • What led you to become a PT?
  • Tell me about the types of patients you’ve treated in the past (e.g., children, geriatric patients, athletes).

Introduce the Team

Successful hiring is as much about culture fit as it is about skills and experience. A PT that doesn’t jive with your current ecosystem either won’t stick around long or will upset the balance you’ve worked hard to establish.

As part of the interview process for serious candidates, introduce them to your entire team and watch how they click. You can even assign them to observe each team member so they can get a feel for how the practice runs. 

Or, you might even let each member of your team ask a question to learn more about the PT. This will help the candidate feel more involved in your practice and see your office culture first-hand.

Test the Waters

In a previous blog post, we covered the value of the work interview. This is a great way to see the PT at work and test their clinical decision-making skills, comfort level, and demonstration of everything they’ve told you about themselves so far. 

Many practices (and businesses across industries) also implement a 90-day trial period to ensure they’ve made the right hire. This allows you to take on a new hire with lower risk and expense. If they end up not being a good fit, the dismissal process will be much easier. 

It’s also beneficial to the PT. They’re testing the waters just as much as you are, and they’ll have an easier exit if they find they’re not in the right place.

Set these expectations up-front so your new hire knows exactly what is required of them.

Share Your Vision

How to Interview for a Physical Therapist Position

The most important thing when interviewing PT candidates is to ensure they fit your vision for the practice, both in the short and long term.

Your vision isn’t just a framed document hanging in your office, but rather the words, actions, and processes you use every day. It’s why you got into PT in the first place, where you want your practice to be in one, five, or ten years, and the values you maintain to help you reach those goals. 

Every employee in your organization must share that same vision and know what they’re working towards. Sharing this vision early in the hiring process can set the stage for a successful, rewarding experience for both sides. 

Next Steps

Hiring, and getting the right people are your staff are important for the continued growth of your practice. And in addition to personnel, you want to make sure you have the right marketing systems in place so that you can keep your PTs’ schedules full. 

We have tons of additional resources, hiring tips, and marketing best practices for you to explore the PT Resource Center

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