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Storygirl

What do you know about being a Physical Therapy Assistant

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This topic came up in another thread, and I thought I'd give it a thread of its own. If you are or know someone who is a PTA, can you share your experiences with the training and the job?

DD17 is considering it, but she is not committed to the idea yet, and we are still gathering information. There are two schools that we plan to visit that offer PTA training -- a local one where she could continue to live at home, and another one in my hometown. She could probably live with my dad. If anyone is willing to offer up their experience and advice, I'll post my questions. (And anyone else can add questions, as well).

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Okay, I can't resist. Here are a couple of questions to start things off.

1) One of the schools that we are considering is a state college that focuses on degrees for career training. So a community college, though it doesn't call itself that. The second school is newly on our radar, so we don't know much about it yet, but it is a private career-training school (it has a vet tech program, a culinary arts program, etc.). It would be slightly more expensive than the state college.

The private school says the degree can be completed in 18 months. The state school says it is two academic years plus two summers. Their courses are not identical, though there is some overlap. I think the state school's program sounds a little more rigorous. The private school would be potentially faster and more convenient, but I'm wondering if the education would be better at the state school. We will visit both and ask questions, but if anyone has thoughts about the pros and cons of the choices, it would be helpful.

2) My other big question at this time is whether we really want DD17 to be launched into this career by age 20. Because she would be working with (presumably) adult patients, most of whom would be older, I'm just wondering if being on the younger side would be a drawback. She definitely has young, girly looks and more of a quiet manner than a take-charge attitude. I'm wondering if people won't take her seriously. And also, what protections would there be for a young girl in this kind of job, where she is working closely and physically with adults (especially assuming many of them would be men)?

3) And job placement. How helpful was your school with finding jobs? What kind of facility do you (or does the person you know) work at?

Edited by Storygirl

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A couple of things to look into:

What certifications are required for the job and how one gets them.  Some schools promise an easy path to a medical technology career, but don't provide the necessary experiences to be able to get the certifications and licenses.  I know in my program (sonography), there are lots of shady providers who say you can get the degree in a shorter period of time, but what they don't tell you is that they don't provide the clinical experience needed to be able to even sit for the exams and you can't get the clinicals without a program.  Look at the BBB for complaints about the private school program.  

What are the reputations of the programs?  Pass rate for licensing exams?  Job placement? 

As far as worrying about your daughter's age, the clinical experience should help her develop the skills and assertiveness to be able to handle patients.  A good program should prepare her.  From most of the PT environments I have been in, the work area is open and she should have adequate supervision. One can get an RN and be fairly young and be exposed to much more than a PTA.  

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Not sure if this helps you but we are spending a lot of time in PT right now.  Everyone one of the assistants are really interns who are getting hours and moving on to more school to become a PT or other careers.  We have been to two different places and it is like this for both of them.   

 

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54 minutes ago, dirty ethel rackham said:

A couple of things to look into:

What certifications are required for the job and how one gets them.  Some schools promise an easy path to a medical technology career, but don't provide the necessary experiences to be able to get the certifications and licenses.  I know in my program (sonography), there are lots of shady providers who say you can get the degree in a shorter period of time, but what they don't tell you is that they don't provide the clinical experience needed to be able to even sit for the exams and you can't get the clinicals without a program.  Look at the BBB for complaints about the private school program.  

What are the reputations of the programs?  Pass rate for licensing exams?  Job placement? 

As far as worrying about your daughter's age, the clinical experience should help her develop the skills and assertiveness to be able to handle patients.  A good program should prepare her.  From most of the PT environments I have been in, the work area is open and she should have adequate supervision. One can get an RN and be fairly young and be exposed to much more than a PTA.  

Thanks! This is a good list of things to ask about and reflects my concerns about the private training school.

I did notice that their overview of the courses listed two academic years of classwork -- September of 2020 to May of 2022 would be about 18 months, for example, but really is still two school years. 18 months just sounds faster than two years, but is about the same amount of time. Also, they list a block of clinicals after that, so I suspect they may not provide that necessary experience. The state CC, on the other hand, has clinicals interwoven throughout the program.

We will definitely do more research. Thanks -- this gives us some specific things to sort through.

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50 minutes ago, itsheresomewhere said:

Not sure if this helps you but we are spending a lot of time in PT right now.  Everyone one of the assistants are really interns who are getting hours and moving on to more school to become a PT or other careers.  We have been to two different places and it is like this for both of them.   

 

I wonder if the assistants you have worked with are doing their clinical rotations, which are required as part of their training and education. People training to be PTAs have clinical requirements, but so do those who are working toward being a physical therapist.

I think physical therapy school is a long shot for DD. It's a doctoral level degree now, and it's very competitive to get into PT school. She works hard and gets good grades, but is an average, not advanced student. The PTA program would let her work in the field with the lower level of training.

One of the disadvantages that we've discussed is that if she tires of being a physical therapy assistant, she would have to retrain for a different career, because the training is so specialized for that one kind of job.

However, she does think she would enjoy it (she did a job shadow at a physical therapy program one day recently, and she also had physical therapy for an injury), and she does not have another specific career goal in mind. And it can pay very well for a two-year degree.

 

Edited by Storygirl

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absolutely do the one where the program gets you into the clinicals.  that should always be part of the program - telling you to go find that, without giving you the leads, is lazy and cheap on their part and I'd wonder what else you're not being taught.

ds has a coworker who did something like that - and couldn't get an internship because the program didn't make those connections for the students.  and without an internship, she can't graduate.  so, she's doing something completely unrelated.

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Okay, checked the private school on BBB. There is one complaint of bedbugs in the dorm (not important; DD wouldn't be in the dorms). And one complaint that they had to pay upfront for all 18 months of coursework but then were dissatisfied with the program and could not get a refund.

That is definitely a drawback, compared to going to the state college and paying tuition by the semester.

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She should talk to the school about plan B options.  There may be a bit of crossover with other medical fields such as radiology, sonography, etc.  There would still be some retraining, but it may be shorter.  

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Look also into OTA not just PTA.

One can work at schools, special Ed preschools, or early intervention too- so there’s the possibility of working with kids and summers off too 🙂 not just hospital/ rehab type jobs 

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I've been in PT for almost a year now due to a severe shoulder injury-- and will continue in PT at least through Christmas...

I would not consider a PT assistant necessarily a 'career' track.  I see a career as something that could potentially support a person/family.  Something that offered growth potential without having to go back to school full time just to move up. 

I LOVE my PT and the assistants.  All of our trainers(assistants) are 20 somethings and ALL are headed into another 'career'.  PT assistants do not make enough money to support a family on-- it is great if you have a roommate and need a job to help put yourself through college... all of our assistants make about $15 and hour or less.  My actual PT makes LESS than a local PS teacher and works more hours (no summers off!)-- he is looking at going back to college to get his teacher certification-- most likely to be a coach-- this would give him better benefits too.

 

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2 hours ago, Storygirl said:

This topic came up in another thread, and I thought I'd give it a thread of its own. If you are or know someone who is a PTA, can you share your experiences with the training and the job?

DD17 is considering it, but she is not committed to the idea yet, and we are still gathering information. There are two schools that we plan to visit that offer PTA training -- a local one where she could continue to live at home, and another one in my hometown. She could probably live with my dad. If anyone is willing to offer up their experience and advice, I'll post my questions. (And anyone else can add questions, as well).

Being a PT assistant is supposed to be a high needs area. BUT....I heard OT assistants have even higher needs. She might wish to look in to that too.

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18 minutes ago, Jann in TX said:

I've been in PT for almost a year now due to a severe shoulder injury-- and will continue in PT at least through Christmas...

I would not consider a PT assistant necessarily a 'career' track.  I see a career as something that could potentially support a person/family.  Something that offered growth potential without having to go back to school full time just to move up. 

I LOVE my PT and the assistants.  All of our trainers(assistants) are 20 somethings and ALL are headed into another 'career'.  PT assistants do not make enough money to support a family on-- it is great if you have a roommate and need a job to help put yourself through college... all of our assistants make about $15 and hour or less.  My actual PT makes LESS than a local PS teacher and works more hours (no summers off!)-- he is looking at going back to college to get his teacher certification-- most likely to be a coach-- this would give him better benefits too.

 

Jann,

I’m not sure if what you are referring to as assistants or trainers are actual PTAs. PTAs can treat clients but need to be overseen officially by a PT. Your trainers may not be PTAs.

In my LCoL area, PTAs work at the hospital and in schools and are making to start  $40 per 30 min session for session based pay or decent salaries with benefits.

Edited by Hilltopmom
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The state CC does have an OTA program, as well, and we plan to look into both programs, though DD seems drawn to PTA.

It's interesting to hear that physical therapy is an underpaid job in some areas. The Occupational Outlook Handbook says,  "The median annual wage for physical therapist assistants was $58,040 in May 2018."

We happen to live in city that is a major medical center and our state capital, so I would think that job prospects would be good here. We can look into where recent graduates have obtained jobs.

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1 hour ago, Storygirl said:

I wonder if the assistants you have worked with are doing their clinical rotations, which are required as part of their training and education. People training to be PTAs have clinical requirements, but so do those who are working toward being a physical therapist.

I think physical therapy school is a long shot for DD. It's a doctoral level degree now, and it's very competitive to get into PT school. She works hard and gets good grades, but is an average, not advanced student. The PTA program would let her work in the field with the lower level of training.

One of the disadvantages that we've discussed is that if she tires of being a physical therapy assistant, she would have to retrain for a different career, because the training is so specialized for that one kind of job.

However, she does think she would enjoy it (she did a job shadow at a physical therapy program one day recently, and she also had physical therapy for an injury), and she does not have another specific career goal in mind. And it can pay very well for a two-year degree.

They do nothing with patients. Just grab charts, clean tables and set a weight in the machines every once in awhile.  Most PT’s are not paid enough here to offset school loans. 

Has she looked into being an OT?  There is great demand in that area for one and she might really enjoy it.  My niece was able to get an internship two summers ago to she if that was what she wanted.  

Edited by itsheresomewhere

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6 minutes ago, itsheresomewhere said:

They do nothing with patients. Just grab charts, clean tables and set a weight in the machines every once in awhile.  

Has she looked into being an OT?  There is great demand in that area for one and she might really enjoy it.  My niece was able to get an internship two summers ago to she if that was what she wanted.  

PTAs generally work directly with patients, doing physical therapy, although they have to work under the supervision of a physical therapist, who determines the treatment plan.

She doesn't think she is interested in OT, though I have talked to her about it. OT requires a master's degree at least, and in some places requires a doctorate. An Occupational Therapy Assistant degree is a two year program, however.

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9 minutes ago, Storygirl said:

PTAs generally work directly with patients, doing physical therapy, although they have to work under the supervision of a physical therapist, who determines the treatment plan.

She doesn't think she is interested in OT, though I have talked to her about it. OT requires a master's degree at least, and in some places requires a doctorate. An Occupational Therapy Assistant degree is a two year program, however.

Very familiar with what a PTA does.  I will have to ask but I wonder if there is an insurance issue here ( very sue happy state) that makes them not work with patients. 

Does she like fitness? We have a neat thing here with people leaving the PT field and becoming personal trainers. They either get fed up with the red tape or burn out and take their knowledge to another similar field.  They make good money and are sought after.  As they understand the body and different injuries and can work with it to the fullest. 

Edited by itsheresomewhere

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She is a former ballet dancer -- just gave it up this year after being in a professional track training program. So she likes being active and fit. She has never worked with weights or done other sports, though. If she decides to pursue a four-year university degree, exercise physiology is one of the majors she is considering. She doesn't want to be a dance teacher, but maybe she would like working with people one on one as a trainer. She would have to gain an idea of what it would be like, because right now I think she has no clue, having never worked out in a gym.

One of the reasons she likes physical therapy is because she enjoyed doing her PT when she had an injury. I found that odd, myself. 😃

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I have been hearing a lot on the news about private career centers closing, and their credits do not transfer anywhere.  You wouldn’t have to worry about that at a public school.  

I have also heard that they don’t always actually place their students into clinical training, at private career centers.

This is from national news and your local place may be fine, but there have been some scandals in the news lately.  

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56 minutes ago, Storygirl said:

She doesn't think she is interested in OT, though I have talked to her about it. OT requires a master's degree at least, and in some places requires a doctorate. An Occupational Therapy Assistant degree is a two year program, however.

Yes, the OTs are being told now to go directly to phd and not to graduate till they get that done. Our last ABA in-home worker was in her doctoral program for OT. They're still utterly clueless and too scattered and unspecialized, don't get me started. I'm not sure if that same advice is happening for PT.

I think, like the others are saying, that the PT/OT assistant jobs might not pay the living wage she wants. They're a cost-saving device for schools. There's also the question of whether she likes the work environment. For instance, our ps just told us ds would do his OT time with an OTA if enrolled. So think about who the patients would be for the field. 

If she likes the body, has she thought about doing straight nursing? And has she done career testing? Definitely do career testing if it makes a difference in directions of schools. If the school will have 3-4 programs that all could work for her, then she has more flex. 

Has she looked into other tech programs? I have a friend doing ultrasound tech right now, and she's enjoying it a LOT. She shadowed the different health care fields before choosing, so that would be another thing to do.

I think as long as the school has reciprocity agreements with other schools, you're fine. Some states have for-profit technical colleges that don't have those agreements, and those can have problems. But if it's part of the consortium with credits that transfer, you have no issue.

Edited by PeterPan
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My BIL is an OTA and he did home health care for several years (as an OTA) and he also worked at a children’s home.  

He did not like all the driving with the job where he drove to different homes, but he is a real people person and liked all his clients.  He had some elderly people and some people who had been injured.  

He liked his job at the children’s home for years (more than 10 years), I’m not sure why he left.  I think there were some changes and he didn’t like it as much.

I know he has pros and cons for his schedule, he works on Saturdays fairly often, but he can also drive my nieces around during the day.  

Edit:  I know very little about it, but I don’t think he has ever considered working in a school or has any desire to work in a school.  So I don’t know what range of jobs there are, but they are definitely not all in schools.  

Edited by Lecka
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Can she volunteer/shadow/work at a PT office this summer? Not just for a day?  My dd21 is interested in becoming a physical therapist. She loves athletics and is very interested in nutrition and the body and sports. As part of her exercise science undergrad, she has taken a few nutrition classes and will get some kind of certificate for personal training and nutrition (not the same as a real nutritionist, but somewhere in the realm of personal training) next semester that she can use for her little side gig of personal training while she’s in school.

She had knee surgery in September and physical therapy until about February. During pt, she talked to her pt about wanting to become a pt. She was able to get a job there this spring, part time working a couple afternoons a week (not sure what her title is, but it’s minimum wage, data entry, etc). That has been so positive for her and has really helped her see that this is something she could do for her life. 

Some kids just know what they want to be, but she’s not that kid! She has changed majors a couple times. Having experience in the pt practice has been so helpful for her. 

This is probably not particularly helpful for your situation, but I thought I’d share. 

I don’t know anything about PTAs. It sounds like a newer field along the lines of nursing or dental hygiene. I’d check with local PT offices to see if they are utilized in your area.  I could see it being big business, though. Our local orthopedic surgery center is very very busy...

 

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I don't know about the salary. I didn't choose my career path based on whether it would earn me a high salary or not. I wanted a job that I would love. DD will have to determine her own priorities in that regard. The statistics on PTA salary seem fine for me. Especially if you consider that she could be out working, making decent money, while others her age are still in school, racking up debt. The average salary for a PT in our state is $50-60,000. Obviously, those who are just starting out will make less to begin with. I'm surprised people think that is too low. I wouldn't expect her to have to be the main breadwinner for her future family (though you never know what is ahead).

She's not interested in nursing, and I wouldn't steer her that way, because I don't think it's a good fit for her (my mom, grandmother, aunt, and their cousins were all nurses).

She really doesn't have an idea what she would like to do. She may choose something entirely different, but she isn't drawn to anything right now. She hasn't done career inventories, but she has done multiple personality profiles in a class at her Christian school, so she is growing an understanding of her strengths. She wants a job where she gets to move and be active, and does not want a desk job. She is an extrovert and likes to help people, and she is not an academic type or a problem solver (which is why I doubt she would pursue any school beyond a bachelor's or associate's degree). She gets good grades in high school, but I would not consider her school to be rigorous.

PTA seems to be a good fit for her. But we aren't closing the door on the option for doing a four-year degree. She just doesn't know what she would study. She is in the weak to average range for her math ability, so something that requires heavy sciences is probably out (which is why I think the odds are low that she would get into physical therapy school).

Edited by Storygirl
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I don’t know how similar but my sister is an OTA.  She got her bachelor’s in integrated health or something along those lines, and then went to OTA training. It was maybe nine months? I honestly don’t remember but definitely wasn’t two more years.

She does not make enough to support a family, even with the extra she makes for having a bachelor’s degree.  She traveled with an agency for a while and made more and then settled down in the Midwest.  I don’t know exactly what she makes, but she has made the comment that she could not support a family on it. I suspect it’s around $15 an hour, as she said once that she makes less than I did as a brand new paramedic ten years ago. 

I don’t believe there are PTAs in my area yet, but I know it’s supposed to be a high growth field.  All the schools and private PT groups here hire doctoral level PTs only.  The nursing homes might be different, though.

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7 minutes ago, WendyLady said:

Can she volunteer/shadow/work at a PT office this summer? Not just for a day?  My dd21 is interested in becoming a physical therapist. She loves athletics and is very interested in nutrition and the body and sports. As part of her exercise science undergrad, she has taken a few nutrition classes and will get some kind of certificate for personal training and nutrition (not the same as a real nutritionist, but somewhere in the realm of personal training) next semester that she can use for her little side gig of personal training while she’s in school.

She had knee surgery in September and physical therapy until about February. During pt, she talked to her pt about wanting to become a pt. She was able to get a job there this spring, part time working a couple afternoons a week (not sure what her title is, but it’s minimum wage, data entry, etc). That has been so positive for her and has really helped her see that this is something she could do for her life. 

Some kids just know what they want to be, but she’s not that kid! She has changed majors a couple times. Having experience in the pt practice has been so helpful for her. 

This is probably not particularly helpful for your situation, but I thought I’d share. 

I don’t know anything about PTAs. It sounds like a newer field along the lines of nursing or dental hygiene. I’d check with local PT offices to see if they are utilized in your area.  I could see it being big business, though. Our local orthopedic surgery center is very very busy...

 

The state CC program requires students to have 40 hours of observation before they apply. She's going to have to fit that in somewhere, though I'm not sure it will happen this summer. She may be able to have early release during next school year, because she has fulfilled her required electives for graduation.

She has a job for this summer, but she could do it part time, if she did find something else part time at a PT office. I'll run the idea by her. I give her lots of ideas that she doesn't follow through on, so we will see what she thinks.

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I went to a jobs course for teens recently and the presenter had great advice. She said - a lot of teens get stuck because the worry that the initial choice they make is their only choice for life - which is way too permanent and scary. And that’s not how most careers work.

So she encouraged the kids I was with to just get a job or sign up for a training program that interests you, and complete the training. And get that job. 

Then look around to see if there are stepping stones to your next job. 

Most people change jobs several times and get various certificates/training along the way. 

It sounds like you’ve done your research and it sounds like a great opportunity. And totally do-able. And if she loves it, then great! And if she doesn’t, then she’s got some great experience and can use it as a stepping stone to something else...

1 minute ago, Storygirl said:

. I give her lots of ideas that she doesn't follow through on, so we will see what she thinks.

^^^ this I know all about! 🤣

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I think PT pays a lot more than PTA.  

 

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My husband asked the PTA where he has gone and he said it pays in the low $30,000s.  I think $50,000 seems way off.  Maybe it does pay much more in your area, though.  We are in a rural area here.  

 

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2 hours ago, Medicmom2.0 said:

I don’t know how similar but my sister is an OTA.  She got her bachelor’s in integrated health or something along those lines, and then went to OTA training. It was maybe nine months? I honestly don’t remember but definitely wasn’t two more years.

She does not make enough to support a family, even with the extra she makes for having a bachelor’s degree.  She traveled with an agency for a while and made more and then settled down in the Midwest.  I don’t know exactly what she makes, but she has made the comment that she could not support a family on it. I suspect it’s around $15 an hour, as she said once that she makes less than I did as a brand new paramedic ten years ago. 

I don’t believe there are PTAs in my area yet, but I know it’s supposed to be a high growth field.  All the schools and private PT groups here hire doctoral level PTs only.  The nursing homes might be different, though.

Around here, the PT (the one with the doctoral degree) does the assessment and creates the plan.  The plan is typically implemented and supervised by the PTAs.   And salaries around here are between $22 - $50 an hour.  

1 hour ago, Lecka said:

I think PT pays a lot more than PTA.  

 

That is because  PT requires a doctorate (7 years of school) and a PTA is usually an associates (2 years.)  Yeah, it makes sense that one would pay more than the other. 

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I asked yesterday at the nursing home I was at(for work) while standing around waiting for someone.  The girl I talked to said they do have PTAs there, and they make about $14 an hour. Like everywhere else, they implement the plan the PT has put into place.

While it can’t support a family, $14 an hour is reasonable here.  It’s very LCOL and wages tend to reflect that. For comparison I was just offered a social work position at $15 an hour.

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My BIL was a PTA for a while, but that was too long ago to be useful information. He eventually became a prosthetist instead. He loves it. You might see what she thinks of that idea. There are also people that fit and make orthotics. I would think those jobs might appeal to a similar group of people that would like PTA, in case you need more ideas.

I have a friend who is an OTA, and she worked for an agency that contracted with nursing homes and home health care. I don't know what she made (she recently changed jobs due to physical limitations), but she made more than what I'm seeing on this thread for OTAs. However, if she didn't have a "facility" where she could see patients one after the other, she had to manage her own schedule, drive all over creation, etc. with no reimbursement for miles and things like that. So, if you work for an agency that sends you to facilities, you have a really good deal.

I am guessing that PTAs have similar kinds of opportunities where the pay varies or other things have to be factored in to see if you really get the average salary. It may also vary a lot depending on local health system or major insurances at play in the area.

 

 

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