The outpatient setting — often referred to as an outpatient clinic — is the most common work setting for physical, occupational, and speech therapist professionals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 33 percent of physical therapists, 22 percent of occupational therapists, and 17 percent of speech language pathologists work in outpatient settings.  Outpatient Clinics can be either privately owned by an individual therapist or rehabilitation group, or corporately owned by a regional medical center or a for-profit company. In addition, some outpatient therapists start clinics using the services of a therapy franchise that provides back-office support and branding. The Outpatient setting is the preferred setting among a majority of therapists.  In myPTsolutions’ 2014 therapist interest survey, 36.44% of the 450 respondents named Outpatient as their work setting preference.  Opportunities to work in specialty outpatient settings; such as pediatric, sports performance, spine, manual treatments, or pain clinics, have an even stronger draw for therapists who want to develop their professional skills in that specific area.

Benefits of being an outpatient therapist

Therapists who work in outpatient settings — either owned by themselves or by someone else — may be attracted by the following benefits:

  • Motivated Patients. Outpatient therapy rewards the therapist with unlimited opportunities for success. Most patients who seek services from an outpatient clinic are highly motivated to improve and eagerly cooperate with their therapist.
  • Flexible Hours – no weekend work! Most outpatient clinics provide services between 7am and 7pm, Monday – Friday. Some outpatient therapists are able to work four, 10-hour days and enjoy a 3-day weekend, or one full day off during the week.
  • Complex Treatments – Outpatient therapists never know what kind of condition will walk through their doors. The wide range of outpatient treatments keeps their job interesting and full of new challenges.
  • Iron Sharpens Iron. Outpatient therapists benefit from learning from other therapists. Because of the complexity of determining the cause and treatment for each patient, outpatient therapists are always studying the latest research, attending courses, and consulting with colleagues to further their education.

Challenges of the Outpatient Setting

However, working in an outpatient clinic also has unique challenges. High achieving therapists may experience frustration due to the following factors:

  • Difficulty finding coverage for vacations and medical absences. Outpatient therapists in small clinics often find themselves in a difficult position as the sole provider in the clinic. Some owners choose not to take vacation, rather than deal with the headaches of finding coverage. In addition, outpatient therapists who start their own clinics may end up working long hours to keep up with patient demands.
  • Tension between managing a business and patient care responsibilities. Outpatient therapists are required to wear many hats. Scheduling, marketing, networking, hiring, managing employees, planning social events- all of these tasks may be expected of an outpatient therapist in addition to treating patients.
  • Reimbursement Concerns. Payment for outpatient services usually comes from private insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, or from out of pocket patient payments. Payers often set limits on what they will pay for services and how long they will pay for them. Outpatient clinics may encounter frustration with ongoing cuts in reimbursement amounts from insurances and payment denials dues to disputes over medical necessity and documentation.
  • Slightly lower compensation than other settings. Outpatient therapists may have to accept lower salaries to work with a specialty population or in a highly desirable location where there is a surplus of therapists. Greater competition among therapists for outpatient jobs leads to lower salaries than in other harder to fill settings, like Home Health.   
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Ownership opportunities – Outpatient Therapists are blessed with the option of opening their own private practice.  Although only 5.59 percent of physical therapists chose this option in 2012, it is always a possibility. Practice ownership can result in wonderful rewards and tremendous satisfaction, but there are many factors to consider before starting a private practice. Members of the APTA can research starting a practice here.

Signs of a great outpatient employer

If you choose to work for a private practice clinic, rather than open your own, it’s important to find an outpatient employer who matches your treatment philosophy and expectations.  The best way to find a new employer is by working in the clinic on a temporary basis or as a contract therapist. This allows you to get to know the facility before making a permanent commitment. If this option is not available to you, make sure you know what questions to ask as you interview with the facility director.  Visiting the clinic in person can help you decide if your skills and personality match the clinic’s culture. If you are unable to visit due to distance, speaking with other therapists who have worked at the clinic may help, as well.

Average pay rate for outpatient therapists

The outpatient setting can be lucrative for therapists. According to the May 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual pay rates for outpatient therapists who work in an office of a Health Care Practitioner are as follows:

  • $85,720 – Physical Therapists
  • $87,120 – Occupational Therapists
  • $86,880 – Speech Language Pathologist

These salary estimates are based on United States national average. Visit this Salary Wizard to calculate a more accurate estimate of your potential earnings, based on your specific location.

Online resources for outpatient physical and occupational therapists, and speech language pathologists.

To learn more about working as an outpatient therapist, you can visit the following online resources:

Are you ready for your next therapy position? If you’re interested in an exciting new career in an outpatient clinic, myPTsolutions can help. Our experienced recruiters work with physical and occupational therapists and speech language pathologists for placement in opportunities across the country. To learn more, contact myPTsolutions today!

Spotlight on Outpatient Therapy was last modified: by



  1. May 26, 2016


    I am a new grad physical therapist searching for a job. I have interviewed with a total of 6 outpatient orthopedic clinics, but I’m finding that none of them meet all the criteria I have outlined. I know as a new grad, I shouldn’t be picky in choosing my first job but I want to make sure I don’t put myself in a position where I’m unhappy. My number one choice is where I completed my last clinical internship, but the hours of the full-time position they are offering don’t fit my lifestyle.

    With that being said, if there is an outpatient orthopedic full-time physical therapist position in the San Diego area, I would be interested in knowing more about it!

    • May 31, 2016

      Thanks Chelsea for checking in! One of our therapist employment specialists will touch base and see if we can help.

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