Your First Travel Gig

first traveling PT assignmentAfter being a traveling PT for 8 years, I sometimes forget that what now seems like a pretty routine process was very intimidating and complicated at first. This post describes what you can expect in the process of getting your first traveling therapy job. I have another page that you can link to under the “Getting Started” tab. There’s some similar information there, but with a slightly different focus. Here I have tried to focus on the details of your interaction with your recruiters and the order of how this should all happen to get your first job in traveling therapy. Here we go!

Get a License

Do this first. Start working on a license for the state you want to go to as soon as you decide you want to travel. You can start this process after you start looking for jobs if you are still trying to figure out if you want to be a traveler (trust me, you do). But, if you wait too long, waiting on a license can delay the start of a job or prevent you from getting a particular job all together.

Contact a Couple Recruiters

This section was the impetus for this whole blog. I have heard more and more from people that their recruiters are telling them, “If I’m not your only recruiter, then I can’t give you my full effort.” If a recruiter ever says something like this to you, my suggestion is to hang-up and never talk to that recruiter ever again. Of course the recruiter wants you to work solely with them! It takes any competition or reason to hustle for you out of the picture. A good recruiter will understand that you are working with some other recruiters and will work harder to be the one to get you the assignment you want. Recruiters usually work on commission and get their pay from getting you a job. YOU, the therapist, are the commodity, without YOU, nobody gets paid. Seriously, if a recruiter says you have to work with them exclusively, they are playing you – ditch ’em!

Here are the reasons for working with multiple recruiters: First and foremost, talking with a few different recruiters should give you an idea of the going pay rate in a particular area which can vary wildly place-to-place. While different recruiters will have many of the same jobs available, there will be some jobs that are different between companies. Some companies have exclusive contracts with certain hospital systems – it all gets very complicated when you get into the details of how temporary jobs are posted and who they are posted with, but the bottom line is that having multiple recruiters working for you increases the number of potential jobs available to you. Also, when you do get ready to accept a job, having several irons in the fire will give you more leverage in negotiating better pay.

Get Submitted

When you are “submitted” for a travel assignment, it means that you have heard of a job from a recruiter, and you want your resume to be put in the applicant pool for the job. Some jobs will have dozens of applicants, while for others, you might be the only applicant. The number of applicants for an assignment has very little to do with the job itself and likely has more to do with the location of the job and how the facility chooses to post their available position with agencies.

Once submitted for a job, you cannot be submitted for the same job by a different agency – this is where having more than just a couple agencies working for you can trip you up. Early in our traveling, my wife, Kate, and I had 6 different companies we were working with, it got complicated. We had multiple agencies submitting us to the same jobs and arguing with the facility that that each had submitted us first. It was embarrassing – don’t let it happen to you.

Different agencies will vary in how they handle the process of submitting you. Some agencies will want all your information right away, I prefer not to give them my info (references, resume, etc.) until they have found me a job to be submitted for. So, if you can, delay giving a company all your details until it’s time to be submitted – but, some companies just won’t have it and want your info before they do anything for you. Some recruiters may ask if they can submit you for jobs without contacting you first – basically, they find a job that meets your criteria of location and setting, and they will submit you without hopping on the phone to notify you first. If you are working with just one recruiter that you trust, this is fine. Also, if you are searching in an area where there are many people looking, like Hawaii, and want to be one of the first people to apply, then this can be a good strategy. But other than those two situations, I have a hard time justifying giving my recruiter a “green light” to submit me for whatever, whenever. By having the recruiter check in with you, you are keeping control of what jobs you are applying to and where your resume is being pumped out to.

Interview

If a facility you have been submitted to is interested in you, your recruiter will arrange a phone interview for you with the facility. Simply remember that this is your chance to interview the facility as much as it is their chance to interview you. Ask questions, but come into the interview knowing some stuff about the place you are interviewing with. Usually, at the end of the interview, you and the interviewer will report back to the recruiter separately to let them know how the interview went.

The Job Offer

If the interview has gone well, you will receive a job offer. If your recruiter does this verbally, ask that it be sent by email also so that you have it in writing and can crunch some numbers. Swiftly move along to the next step.

Negotiate!

Therapists. We are really bad at this step. But, if the pay seems low compared to what you’ve been hearing through other recruiters, or if there is a benefit that you want that isn’t included in your package, ASK! It never hurts to ask. Don’t underestimate your ability to name a price and see if it can be matched. Remember, YOU are the commodity!

Accept

Don’t get so wrapped up in your negotiating and getting every little bit out of your contract that another therapist signs their contract first and takes the job. Sure, negotiate, but do it swiftly.

 

That’s probably more details than you really need, so I’ll stop here. I’ll again refer you to the “Getting Started” page that is somewhat redundant to this post, but offers some other details including a link to what benefits you should expect or ask for. Happy job searching, I’ll say something here that I don’t say nearly often enough: I love being a traveling PT. If you have the itch to get out there on the open road, you should do it now, because life is a funny thing, and you don’t know how long this opportunity to travel will last. Happy travels!

Tips for Road Trips – Make the Miles More Fun and Sane

I find myself on long road trips at least twice a year. I work my winters in Colorado to be close to the mountains and, more importantly, to be on my skis as much as possible. In the summer, if possible, I like to find an assignment by the ocean. The trek from Colorado to open ocean is a long drive. I’m from Boston originally, so I’m frequently headed back to the Northeast. I love the adventure of long road trips, but they can really wear you down.

Here are some things you can do to make the trip more healthy, comfortable, and, most importantly, fun. There’s nothing better than enjoying the ride and pulling into port relaxed and ready to hit the ground running.

Eat Right.

This is by far the best thing you can do to make yourself feel better over the course of a long road trip. If you truly make the effort to eat healthy along the way, you’ll hit your destination feeling better all over. On my first few major road trips, I fell victim to greasy highway food, fried snacks, energy drinks, and beef jerky. OK, I still fall victim to beef jerky, but if I keep the other temptations in check, a little dried meat won’t hurt – it’s become a road trip ritual! A hallmark of my early travel career was pulling into the next assignment with an upset stomach and feeling really greasy. Eating right is by far the most important thing you can do to feel normal when you arrive at your next assignment.

Order the Salad

Most highway rest areas are going to have a place you can order a salad. If you can’t find a salad, there’s usually some sort of healthy wrap option. Granted, you’ll occasionally find awful stops without any salad, wraps, or even those woeful gas station fruit cups, but if you order a salad every time it’s available to you, you’ll feel better all over and experience less sugar-crash than eating easier and more tempting options.

Skip the Energy Drinks

It’s a road trip – you’re gonna need caffeine. But, please, please, PLEASE, skip the energy drinks. I’ve seen some strange things in highway truck stops, but few stranger than the 32 oz “BFC” by Monster Energy. Who knew such a thing needed to exist!? …that’s a lot of beverage. Energy drinks really take their wear on my stomach. An energy drink here and there may not be the worst thing, but over a several day road trip, your occasional energy drink can easily become a 1-2 a day stomach-smashing habit. Energy drinks lead to all the “no’s” of road tripping: stomach upset, sugar crash, and a tough time sleeping when you need to. Stick to tea or even coffee. I know coffee can wear down your innards as well, but not like that carbonated stuff will. There’s some great widely-available iced teas out there that are made with minimal added sugar and with an actual brewed-tea base, stock up on a few of those for the ride for when you need a little bump.

Seek out the Continental

Continental Breakfasts aren’t known for their nutrient value, but it’s free. If you have a free breakfast available to you that may have some fresh fruit, yogurt, or bagels, this is a much better option than popping into the quick mart at the gas station just before the highway. Given two hotels of similar price and quality, go for the one with breakfast included. It’s the most important meal of the day, and I’m convinced that one of these days I’ll figure out how to correctly use the make-it-yourself waffle machine.

Make Time for Meals, Real Meals

Time management will become a theme here. My first Boston to Colorado road trip was in college during the summer of 2004. Two buddies and I took turns sleeping in the backseat of my parents’ car (after mine broke down less than 20 miles into the trip) while the driver pounded Mountain Dew and Dr Pepper until he physically couldn’t drive anymore. We made the non-stop trip to Colorado Springs in under 36 hours. We were toast at the end of that trip. Of course, at the time, I thought it would be a once in a lifetime trip. It turns out he three of us would repeat the trip two summers later on the way to west coast clinical affiliations. This time, we brought 3 more friends with us and made the full trip from Boston to Huntington Beach, California – Coast-to-coast. We stretched it out and took 3 weeks to enjoy the journey (more on this later). After many, many more cross-country road trips, I have learned to build in time for things that matter.

Take time, every day, to eat one real sit-down meal. It’ll take 45 minutes to an hour extra, but you’ll feel better nourished because of it and ready for the next leg of the trip. Also, if it’s a decent option, Order the Salad.

Pack Some Snacks

Throw some carrot sticks in a zip lock, bring along a container of cashews, throw in a couple pieces of fruit you like. It took me a lot of road trips to figure out this simple thing: if you bring your food with you, you’ll rely less on service station food. Fortunately, there’s usually some food left over at the end of an assignment. I’ll pack what I can for snacks out of the stuff left in the fridge and stop by the grocery store the night before I leave for a few extra healthy foods. When you’re sitting around all day (driving), it’s natural to want to snack to occupy yourself – better a healthy snack than a bag of Fritos.

Travel PT Road trip

Our loaded car on a brief side trip to Glacier National Park. We arrived in the off season and had the park totally to ourselves. The national parks always make awesome side-trips.

Enjoy the Journey

It’s a really hard thing to do, but set a couple extra days aside so you can enjoy the ride. Afterall, “it’s about the journey, not the destination.” Fortunately in the case of travelers, the destination is also part of a larger journey, but I digress. Bottom line, take your time, build in side trips, and enjoy these road trips that can either be a hell bent charge to reach the end, or they can be some of the coolest memories of your life.

Root, root, root for the away team

One thing I love to do on long trips is to catch a road game. It’s a lot of fun to go cheer for your home team as the visitors. Check out your team’s schedule ahead of time and see if there’s somewhere you might be able to catch them while you’re both on the road. If you can’t catch your own team, just find a game that interests you, it’s cool to see different stadiums and it really breaks up the trip.

Side Trips

“If you aren’t taking side trips, you are not on a road trip. You are only driving.” -I just made that quote up, but I like it.

There’s the quirky roadside attractions: The Corn Palace, a 30ft Van Gogh, World’s Largest Ball of Yarn. There’s winery and brewery tours – better done AFTER a day of driving. And there’s the endless list of museums and halls of fame. My list of must make stops if you’re driving near them includes: Lincoln’s Tomb (Springfield, IL), Graceland (Memphis, TN), Baseball Hall of Fame (Cooperstown, NY), The Bourbon Trail (Kentucky), and add a day for any major national park you drive by. Skip the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, not worth it, sorry Cleveland. America has thousands of roadside attractions that are worth pulling off the highway for – check ’em out!

Exercise

You may have to get up a little earlier in the morning, but some light exercise will make a great impact on the way you feel sitting all day. I personally enjoy a few mile run in the morning, but many of the campgrounds and hotels I stay in are right by the interstate. The added excitement of cars bombing by in an area not known for runners is a little too much for me. My second choice for a workout is the dinky gym in the hotel with a single cable and a stationary bike – enough to get the job done. However, frequently, my best choice is about 30 minutes of room-based exercise.

When I’m doing my in-room workout, I focus on hitting every body part to get the blood flowing, and I like to throw in a few postural exercises. When I say postural, I mean working the upper back and core and stretching out the chest – skip the push-ups, they are over-rated and will tighten your pecs, encouraging you to hunch over the steering wheel for the rest of the day. Work that upper back and scapular muscles by laying on your stomach and raising straight arms in front of you, to the side, and behind in 3 sets of 10 for each position, this will hit a few different group of muscle in your upper back and between your shoulder blades. Stretching the front and working the back helps you pull your shoulders back and over time will promote better posture and mechanics for you. I like to throw a few leg exercises in as well – lunges and wall squats are my favorites in the hotel room. Work the core with some slow bridges (laying on your back with knees bent and lifting your hips off the floor while tightening your abs), and you’ve completed a basic, but good exercise program to get the day going. Now go crush that continental breakfast without guilt, and good luck with the make-it-yourself waffles.

Travel PT Yellowstone Road Trip

The things you’ll see on a road trip…I spy a heard of buffalo out my window.

Use Your Resources

Apps (All mentioned are free apps available for iPhone and Android!)

OMG apps! There’s so many that can help you burn those miles of road with more ease.

A decent GPS app is a must. On my day to day I use Google Maps for navigation, but not on road trips! Waze (incidentally, now owned by Google), is a GPS app with some flare. Drivers live-time report road hazards as they drive. The app will alert you as you are approaching debris in the road, traffic and detours, or even the routine abandoned car in the breakdown lane. The alerts are handy and will help keep you safe. If I need to compare the time between a couple different routes or the time added by detouring to a different city, I use MapQuest. I find MapQuest to have the best options for adding and deleting stops to your trip and easily seeing the difference in trip length.

Beyond the generic GPS to get from point A to point B, there’s thousands of apps that specialize in finding particular services. I mentioned Urban Spoon already for finding food. That’s just my personal favorite, there’s other out there that will do the same job just as well. For finding hotels I use the Hotels.com app to book low prices, but the TripAdvisor app to look up hotel reviews. I also use TripAdvisor for reviews of road side attractions to see if they might be worth stopping. GasBuddy is an app that displays gas station prices including information on when a user last updated the price. GasBuddy helps prevent showing up at closed stations with an empty tank and helps find the cheapest gas every time. I’ve found a couple apps out there for RV users and even for tent camping to review and book campsites – Good Sam is a very popular service and app for RVers.

Grab a Buddy

With a little bit of planning, you can work a lot of friends into a single road trip.

If you’re lucky enough to know someone who needs to go in the same direction as you, it’s fantastic to have a co-pilot (to operate all those apps for you). The right friends will even fly-in to enjoy a segment of your road trip with you. I once had a friend fly in to enjoy a weekend in Vegas mid-road trip – what a weekend! There’s a lot you learn about yourself while alone on the open road, but having some company makes the miles fall away much easier.

Couch Surf

I stay with friends whenever I can. On a road trip last fall (of course, from Boston to Colorado), I was able to stay just one night in a hotel on a three night trip. Night number two I spent with friends in Chicago – we went out for dinner and enjoyed catching up. I then woke early the next morning and put the pedal to the metal to make a house party in Denver the next night – way too much driving for one day. But, visiting, eating, and partying with friends made the miles seem less like a chore and made the whole trip feel more like a vacation. I would gladly drive two hours out of my way to crash with a friend rather than stay in a musty hotel room. Think of your next trip and get on the horn to see who you can crash with.

Buy Local

Buying local is one thing you can do while passing through a place to do a little good while you’re there. Your money will do it’s part to help the local economy. Also, from an environmental standpoint, if you’re buying local, less goods are having to be shipped places using less gas to get them there. We’re already burning enough gas zipping back and forth across the country with overloaded cars, no need for everything we buy to do the same.

Eat and Drink Local.

To back up for just one moment to the eating well topic, some of my best road meals have been at local, small town bars and breweries.  Small breweries have tasty beers you can’t get anywhere else and usually have great food, even in the most unlikely places. By blindly following my Urban Spoon app to tasty food I’ve discovered killer small town dives and explored cities I otherwise would have zipped right past.  At local restaurants and pubs, you’re getting a meal, an experience, and doing the local economy just a little bit of good.

Travel PT Road trip camping

Camping did not make the list, but it’s definitely worth a mention. When the weather’s right, it’s a great way to save money, meet a couple characters along the drive, and enjoy some of the great outdoors on scenic back roads.

DIY Local.

Enough road tripping and you’ll need a wind shield wiper, a headlight bulb, a quart of oil, or a new axle (different story for a different time). Try to use local mom-and-pop shops. Avoid the huge box stores. Keep the good people of Anywheresville employed by their fellow neighbors who are all helping to sustain their own community.

 

Finally, ENJOY!

Road trips should not be a chore. Enjoy your time out there on the road. The highways of America have a lot to offer in unique experiences and sights. Grab a buddy and a tank of gas, and go see everything you can!

This piece was written in collaboration with Fusion Medical Staffing and originally appeared on their site at:

Getting There: Staying Healthy, Having Fun, and Enjoying the Ride

 

How Should I be Paid?

With any job, there are a number of different ways you can be paid. There’s straight-forward salary, hourly, or some sort of productivity-based pay. Of course, when considering pay for a typical job, there are things to consider besides just the money – health care, retirement, life insurance, employment-related discounts, and the list goes on. In traveling physical therapy, the list gets a little bit longer and more complicated. A traveling therapist has more say in how he or she would like to be paid and needs to determine how much he would like to weight his taxed versus untaxed wages. There are IRS limits on how much you can take tax free in each zip code, but I have been told that taking those upper limits with low taxed pay can be a red-flag for an audit. So, I typically take $20-$30 hourly (taxed) and get the rest of the pay as stipends/reimbursements. I know a lot of travelers think hourly should be near the normal hourly amount a perm PT makes with the reimbursements being in addition to normal pay, but that’s just not the way it works. A more adventurous travel assignment can have some perks that can make the math of take home pay a bit more complicated: a loaner car from a boss, employee housing, a coworker’s mother-in-law apartment, or other non-monetary compensations.
Productivity arrangements in healthcare can get iffy real fast, think anti-kickback laws. I am not a fan of pay-per-code or percentage of billing situations. These can quickly turn an honest therapist nasty. It’s just too tempting to bill an extra modality or therex that may not be necessary when you know your own bottom line is linked to it – I don’t like it one bit. I’ve seen a number of positions, particularly for therapists in management, where bonuses (boni?) are paid for meeting certain productivity thresholds – number of patient visits or units billed. I occasionally see pay-per-visit systems go awry with a therapist seeing many patients at once, episodes of care dragging on, care extenders over-reaching their scopes of practice, patients getting less attention, and therapists getting burnt out. But, I can’t speak too harshly about pay-per-visit, since it is how I’m getting paid right now. Luckily I’m in a practice where all treatments are provided by PTs 1-on-1 for an hour. With the focus of 1-on-1 patient care, I find the arrangement ethically acceptable, but it’s definitely got its pros and cons. I’m well paid for my hour with a patient, but there is nothing worse than an initial evaluation that no-shows and leaves me unpaid with nothing to do for a full hour. I would encourage anyone considering a pay-per-visit position to first strongly scrutinize the care patients are receiving, and secondly, to ask for a little more money than you normally would, because the chances of batting 1.000 for attendance in any given week are slim.

Advance Healthcare Network

From Advance – Click to access their full report

New travelers are always asking me what they should get paid – I don’t know. Pay varies so much regionally and even town to town. It can be real tough to know if you’re making all you can of if a recruiter is taking you to the cleaner’s. Just find a recruiter you trust and get as much as you can out of each contract. I may try to establish a database where travelers can anonymously input how much they got paid on assignment. It would likely be a small sample size, but may provide all of us some information about what other traveling PTs are getting paid in each state. As I mull over that idea, here’s a nice piece that Advance puts out each year based on their survey results of PT pay. I just stumbled across the APTA Workforce Data page, not as sexy or user friendly as the Advance survey, but lots of good info in there if you click around (APTA Members only).

Some advice for the new traveler: Remember that your recruiter is working on commission and doesn’t get paid if you don’t get hired- it is in their best interest to get you on board even if it lowers their own bottom line. You are a temporary worker for a facility that needs help immediately, you are willing to pick up your life and move to that job to fill a position they desperately need filled – this has big value to it. With all these things working in your favor for higher pay, the costs of travel, furnished apartments, and miscellaneous other will likely cancel out a big chunk of the extra moolah. But, traveling PT can be an exceptional lifestyle that is worth so much in personal experience and growth – so get what you can financially out of a contract, but more importantly, just get out and see some more of this world.

In other news, a series of conversations this week have lead me to believe that the travel PT market is rebounding from a couple of more difficult years, I’m finishing up my SCUBA certification with four dives off the coast of the Big Island this weekend, and (in a crazy out of this world experience that only traveling PT could provide) a hospital has bought Kate and I plane tickets to fly out to interview for a possible once-in-a-lifetime travel assignment this fall – we shall see and more on this later.

Keep living the dream 13 weeks at a time!

Email From Traveling Physical Therapists

Traveling Physical TherapistI’ve been getting the same type of question from new traveling Physical Therapists a lot lately…. so let’s hash it out in public. The question goes something like this: “I want to travel, I know where I want to go, but where do I start?”

I have had a “getting started” page for a while now, but just tuned it up, it should be a good companion resource to this blog: http://hobohealth.com/wordpress/faq/

Below I have pasted an email conversation I had recently had (lightly edited for anonymity). I hope this helps some of you out there get your travel career going.

Email:

Hi James,

I am a PT, and I happened upon your blog after beginning to research travel therapy. My husband (also a PT) and I have been working for almost a year and are planning to become traveling Physical Therapists this summer. We have a couple of PT friends traveling now and have gotten some perspective from them, but their experience is still pretty limited.

Thought I would reach out to you for a bit more perspective. Here are a few things we’re curious about:

-best companies/recruiters to work with
-states requiring significant paperwork/time for obtaining license
-what comes first: obtaining a license or obtaining an assignment

Any other tips to get started travelling would be greatly appreciated!

Response:

Very glad you found the site!

My wife and I have been traveling Physical Therapists together for 7 years now… we originally thought we would travel for 2 years. We absolutely love it, and I hope you guys find some fun in it too! I started into travel after 6 months of working in private practice, and my wife started after a year of practice. I think you guys have done it right by getting a little steady experience before jumping into travel. I so often find myself trying to convince new grads to get just a few months of experience becoming a traveling Physical Therapist. So, good work, you’ve gone about it the right way!

We have worked with a bunch of different recruiters and companies at this point, and always search with 2-3 companies when looking for a job. I have heard of people sticking with one company for years, but I definitely don’t think that working with just one agency offers you the best selection of jobs available. I make sure to use recruiters that will have my back if something is not right about an assignment, and who won’t encourage me to continue working an assignment if it is toxic (i.e. ethical or scope of practice issues – rare).

California is notorious for licensure taking forever (4-6 months). I recently heard from someone that New Jersey is a pretty big process too. Otherwise, the process varies state-to-state, but shouldn’t take more than a month or two if you get all your ducks in a row with the paperwork. The more licenses you have, the more complex getting additional licenses becomes. So, I recommend that if there’s a few states you know you want to work in, get all of them now.

Start licensure ASAP, a lot of jobs won’t hire you until you have a license – but some will higher you conditionally with a projected start date if you’ve started the process. I would also get in touch with some recruiters soon. They can help inform you of how long licensure takes for particular states and help you start getting an idea of what kind of jobs may be available where you want to go – some agencies have resources to help you with licensure. New jobs pop up constantly and other jobs are filled quickly, so the sample of actual jobs will change, but the recruiter will be able to help you see what a particular geographic market is like.

OK! I’ve gone on too long. Here’s a simple page about starting travel PT if you haven’t seen it yet. http://hobohealth.com/wordpress/faq/ Let me know if you have other questions, and keep in touch about what happens with you guys!

James

Get a Haircut and Get a Real Job! (Part 2 of 2)

This is part 2 of a 2 part blog on the job market and job finding in traveling physical therapy. Find part 1 here.

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For the last seven years, I have been working as a travel PT. What a job! Every few months, I tell my recruiter where I want to go, what practice setting I would like to work in, and a few weeks later I have a job that fits my criteria.  …Or at least that’s how it worked until the past 6 months.

Key West, "Home of the Sunset." Also, by car, it is about half way between Colorado and Maine.

Key West, “Home of the Sunset.” Also, by car, it is about half way between Colorado and Maine.

My wife and I have been trying to find jobs in Southern Maine. We took our first shot at Southern Maine for the first half of the summer, but struck out. We were searching during a drive back to New England from Colorado, via Key West… a side-trip I recommend on any roadtrip. After we left Florida and were heading north through Connecticut, two possible job locations started to come together. Two jobs in Northern Maine and two jobs back in a sweet mountain town in Colorado. While turning around to head straight back to Colorado sounded like the most convoluted roadtrip ever taken, the chance to spend the summer playing in the mountains was pretty enticing. In the end, the Colorado jobs had one major flaw, Kate and I would be working opposite schedules and likely only have one day off together each week. What’s the point of travel PT if you don’t have the days off to enjoy your “home” town. To be honest, we weren’t psyched about heading to Northern Maine, but we recognized that it was the smart job to take – There were two jobs, they started on the day we hoped to start working, the location was relatively close to where we really wanted to be, and we were totally striking out on Southern Maine.

A couple blogs back, I wrote about our time in Northern Maine. The assignment turned out great. Goods jobs, good people, good times, but just a really, really far drive from everything. We had a few things working against us in looking for a job at the beginning of the summer. 1. We needed two jobs, not just one; 2. We only had active licenses in three states: Alaska, Maine, and Colorado; 3. We, as always, were pretty picky about our jobs. 

There were a couple things we could have done differently to address our above weaknesses: 1. Nothing can really be done about us needing two jobs instead of one, it’s the only downside about traveling with a companion. 2. We could have kept more licenses active to expand the potential search area. We previously had Massachusetts licenses, but had let them lapse. If we had applied for New Hampshire licenses, we could have lived in Southern Maine and commuted across the border to New Hampshire; 3. We could have been more flexible about what jobs we would work. We turned down SNF jobs based on setting alone, if we were more willing to work in a greater variety of settings, we would have found work more easily.

By mid-July, we were back on the job search, hoping to start-up down in Southern Maine the Monday following our Friday wind-down up North. Got it?

Northern Maine sure is beautiful, it's just really far from everywhere.

Northern Maine sure is beautiful, it’s just really far from everywhere.

After a few weeks of searching for jobs, it wasn’t looking good, again. Friday came and went, we moved out of our rustic one room cabin in Northern Maine and headed down to our condo in Old Orchard Beach (OOB). We had hoped to spend the next several months living in the condo in OOB, but after 4-5 months of keeping an eye towards the Southern Maine travel PT market, it seemed like a job, nevermind two jobs, was going to be really hard to come by. It was time to pull out the stops. Along with our recruiters searching for jobs for us, we were conducting our own search for clinics that might not be willing to work with a staffing agency but that would entertain hiring an independent contractor. I’ve written in the past about finding independent contracts, but it wasn’t meant to be this time. A couple phone conversations with office managers and clinic owners yielded nothing. It seemed that just as a job would start to look promising, someone who was willing to sign on permanently would swoop in and take the position.

I try to stick with 2-3 companies that I trust to find me the assignments I want. But, in a situation like I was finding in Southern Maine, it was time to start calling around to the agencies further down the list. “Phishing” was something I rediscovered through calling recruiters further down my list. Phishing is when you see a posting online for a job, but when you call the company advertising the job, the job doesn’t exist. They say something like, “Oh, someone just took that job. Let me see what else I have in that area for you.” Bottom line, the job doesn’t exist, it never did exist, and they’ll post the same imaginary job online next week. They just want to get information on you and see if the can talk you into taking a different job. It’s dishonest and dirty.

Luckily, one lesson had been learned from the search through Southern Maine several months earlier. We might need to expand the search beyond Maine’s borders if jobs continued to be elusive. We had considered New Hampshire licenses, but New Hampshire has a longer process for licensure, and it didn’t seem like having our NH licenses would make all that many more jobs available to us anyways. We each had an expired Massachusetts license and a number of friends living around the Boston area. We had started the process of re-activating our Massachusetts licenses, but had several states to get verifications from before the licenses would be ready. While we waited for the licenses to come through, we shifted gears to focus on Boston instead of Maine. Quickly, we had some options popping up. On Kate’s first phone interview in Boston, difficulties continued. The interview started backwards. Kate was to call the facility, rather than the facility calling her – the way it usually works. After several minutes of trying to make the receptionist understand that she was calling in for a scheduled interview, Kate was asked to call back later. So, she did call back a few minutes later. This time, she was connected to the person she was scheduled to interview with, except he connected her to a supervisor who told her that they were not interested in hiring a traveler at this time. By far the strangest interview either of us has ever not had.

Within the following week, two jobs had been offered in the Boston area, but as always happens, opportunities in Maine were popping up at the same time. In the end, a decision had to be made and 1 bird in your hand is worth 2 birds that are not in your hand (or something like that), so we accepted the Boston jobs. It left us with a couple weeks off, but it was far better to know the job searching was done. So a couple weeks were spent doing a lot of work around our apartment, doing a lot of couch-surfing at friends’ places, and sneaking in some beach time. One last speed bump and work would start on Monday…

Thursday before we started work, a scare – Our Massachusetts PT licenses would not be ready until Tuesday and our new boss was threatening to cut off the assignment if the licenses weren’t in hand when we were scheduled to start work. A series of frantic phone messages to the MA licensing board, an email, and maybe even a fax somehow produced our licenses on time.

Our view of Boston from our new abode. I'll be enjoying this view daily over the next 12 weeks.... guess we're down to 9 weeks already.

Our view of Boston from our new abode. I’ll be enjoying this view daily over the next 12 weeks…. guess we’re down to 9 weeks already.

…and that’s how we ended up working for the next 12 weeks in Boston. Our housing is another story for another day that also ends well, but the couch-surfing, or more accurately, futon-surfing, continued into the first week of work.

This post has dragged on much longer than I like, so it pains me to keep writing, but I believe this topic of the current job market is a very important one, and there are points to be made. I would like to discuss some highlights from the above story about how my wife and I finally got two jobs nearby where we wanted to be in what , locally, was a very difficult market. 1. We recognized a tough market locally and expanded our search methods through looking independently and using additional recruiters; 2. We were able to improve our possible job options by getting an additional state license and expanding our search area; 3. Even though the jobs we got didn’t start right away, we accepted them because we were willing to be flexible.

This whole post is about being flexible and opening yourself up to more opportunities. Carry extra state licenses, look with a couple recruiting companies, consider varied practice settings, and be willing to be patient for a couple weeks. Traveling physical therapy is a job that has a lot of upsides to it. We may be in a small dip in our employment options, but the market will recover quickly and there are currently numerous opportunities out there for anyone willing to be a little flexible. I hope that you can take some of these strategies, apply them to your own situation, and continue living the dream as a traveling PT.

I personally plan on reinstating more of my expired licenses to expand the possible jobs options. There’s a good job out there in a great location, open up your possibilities and allow yourself to find it.

 

Craigslist

I buy and sell a ton of stuff on Craigslist. If you’ve never been on the site, but know only of the more dubious publicity it has received, I’m here to tell you, “Craigslist is safe, and you probably won’t get kidnapped.” But seriously, I’ve met nothing but nice and honest people during my Craigslist transactions. To sweeten the pot, you can find fantastic deals on just about anything. There’s a blog-turned-book by a Canadian guy demonstrating the general goodwill of people and the good finds of Craiglist. Kyle MacDonald traded one large red paperclip up to a house in 14 even trades over the course of a year! Check it out at his website: One Red Paper Clip

Bottom line, Craigslist and a bunch of other online sites are a great way for you to find things you need on assignment for cheap and sell them when you’re done with them. In some areas, Craiglist isn’t necessarily the go-to site, there may be a better, local option – think about classifieds on the local paper’s webpage. In Maine, I’ve found that Craigslist has a good local popularity, but there’s also Uncle Henry’s, a long-time printed buy-and-sell listing that is now available online. If you’re on assignment near a military base, there’s a good chance someone has set-up a Facebook page to buy, sell, and trade on and around the base.

Here’s my hit-list of the best ways I have used the internet to barter for things I need on assignment:

Housing

My very first travel assignment, I had the staffing agency set me up with my housing. It was a great way to get out there on the road and do the traveling without having to worry about lodging. As I’ve gotten more comfortable over the years with how travel PT works, I’ve gotten better at finding my own housing.

The tough part is, and has always been, finding a place that is: (a.) Furnished; and (b.) available for a short lease. I’m yet to find something that has more in this niche market than Craigslist. Type in furnished and the town you are headed to, and you are bound to have a couple good leads on your pad for the next 13 weeks.

 

AirBnB.com is a newer site that allows people to rent out their places privately. I haven’t yet stayed in a place I found on Air BnB, but have heard of people getting great deals on this site. Depending on your tolerance to being a complete vagabond, you can find anything from a futon to crash on for a night in someone’s living room to a house all to yourself for the length of the assignment. The site allows you to filter your search well to fit your needs and displays ratings from people who have previously stayed at the crash-pad you may be considering.

Car

For my wife and I, we find it very difficult to take long road trips in separate cars. Two drivers in one car allows us to drive longer hours in a day and travel more safely and comfortably. Our solution is to drive one car to our assignment and buy a car when we get there. This also works well in places you may fly into to work like Alaska or Hawaii. We have bought six cars on Craigslist and one RV… only one deal ended poorly. My wife ended up selling a beat up Passat for $200 and a bag of mangoes – true story. More often than not, we are able to sell the car at the end of the assignment for more than we bought it for. Speaking of which, anyone looking for a 1997 Honda Civic in Maine? With only 208,000 miles on it, it’s a steal at $1200.

Hawaii Car

Putting the car I bought on Craigslist in Hawaii to good use. Not the Passat. Put a kayak on it!

The car I’m typically looking at is $3,000 to $5,000, but I have gone cheaper at times, like with the Civic. Two things I can recommend are to ask lots of questions, people are typically willing to be perfectly honest, and take the test drive into serious consideration. On that one deal that went south in Hawaii (the Passat and the mangoes), there were clear signs during the test drive that we shouldn’t buy the car, but got so wrapped up in the mentality of “we need a car now” that we ignored the lousy shifting and ended up transmissionless 2 weeks later.

With with all things bought online, but particularly with cars: BARTER! Everybody on Craigslist is listing their stuff for a bit more than they would actually take to let go of it. Find out how little money they will take!

Housewares

I have this buddy who used to be a traveler, but fell in love with a dietitian on assignment. Now, they are married and have a great house in a cool neighborhood. This guy buys everything on Craigslist and isn’t afraid to walk away from anything but a spectacular deal. I was visiting him a few weeks ago and as I walk into his kitchen he’s really ( I mean REALLY) excited and blurts out, “Guess how much all the appliances in this kitchen cost!” This guy has gotten a full top-of-the line kitchen for chump change including a killer oven, fridge, and microwave.

As a traveler, you can’t get too weighed down with larger appliances, but any furnished apartment is going to be lacking something you need – a toaster, a microwave, a grill, a decent coffee pot. Hop online, see what’s available. You can typically get good stuff so cheap that if it doesn’t fit in the car at the end of the assignment, it won’t hurt to part ways with it.

Surfboard

One of the Craigslist surfboards… just remembered that a teenage girl sold it to me. Hence the neon green ankle strap.

Toys

I don’t have a ton of toys. They take up a lot of space in small apartments, and it’s much easier to travel light. But, come on, there’s some stuff you just need. In Hawaii, I bought a surfboard at the beginning of the 6 month assignment and bought a second board halfway through. I surfed three days a week on these boards, used the heck out of them, and was able to break even by selling them on Craigslist when it was time to leave.

In Colorado, it’s ski and camping equipment. For anyone who spends significant time doing outdoor sports, you know there’s always something better, stronger, more light-weight, more durable, and better than what you have. I have also found that the upgrade doesn’t need to be brand new. There is a huge marketplace online for gently-used gear. There’s a slew of auction sites like Ebay that will do the trick if you know exactly what you want, but if it’s something you need to get the right size or fit, you’ll probably find yourself right back on Craigslist finding someone local that you can meet, take a good look at what they’re trying to sell, and come to a price that leaves both of you feeling like you ripped the other person off. And when you’ve worn out whatever it is you bought, there’s someone out there on the internet looking for that very thing who is willing to give you money for your worn out junk. What’s more American than that!? Happy bartering and safe travels!

——————

I had written this a couple months back for another travel website, so it needs some updates:

-The Civic sold 3 days after being posted on Craigslist.

-Using Craigslist, we found and bought a car that we hope will last us for the next several years. It has a small dent on the bumper, but got it for thousands less than we would have at a dealer.

-We started a new assignment around Boston this week. Found an awesome apartment just outside the city, across the street from the beach… on Craigslist.

Ask James

Hey everyone. It’s hit that time of year where April comes around and I realize I haven’t posted in 3 months. Don’t worry, I haven’t been working too hard, just skiing too much. 🙂

I thought one quick way to get back in the blog-habit is to post a recent email conversation I had with a new traveler. I think he was asking the right questions and made the right decisions in the end. Maybe our conversation can help someone else out there who is working on getting into travel PT.

Happy reading and happy travels! I’ll write again soon.

 

New Traveler: My wife and I have ventured out to begin traveling therapy. We left sunny SC and drove 2800 miles to cloudy OR last week. My wife had a for sure job but my opportunity fell through somewhere around Wyoming.

But now I have been contacted by a SNF and they want to offer me a contract directly.

They asked me to name a price and I asked to have time to think it over a while.

I have a little idea of what to say because I know what the travel company is paying my wife. But before I respond to them I am hoping to get some advice from y’all.

Here are my details: This will be my first job; I graduated in December. It’s going to be a 6 month contract. I have no experience in a SNF but I had 2 clinical rotations in outpatient (1 manual focused), 1 acute rotation, and 1 inpatient rotation.

One traveling company recruiter told me I should make 1400 dollars a week if they didn’t cover housing or insurance. I have both through my wife’s job.

Any thoughts?

Thanks

HoboHealth: Awesome to hear you guys are taking the plunge and hitting the road!!!

I have two thoughts. If the SNF job sounds like something you wouldn’t mind doing, then go for it. But if you’d rather be doing something else, then I think holding out another week or two may yield some good results if you’ve been seeing other opportunities in the area come and go. So, make that decision first… Is this really an assignment that’ll be ok for you? (Also, since you haven’t done SNF before, are there other PTs to help guide you? …the more the better.) Do you need another recruiter?

My 2nd thought is that $1400 sounds really low to me. I know therapists that made about $1500 wkly after taxes through an agency on their first assignment after only 6 months PT experience. Figure on top of that (or whatever your wife is making) that the agency is charging another $10-$20 an hour. That’s a lot of bargaining room for you. I would say as a new grad doing an independent contract $1600 is a very acceptable starting place for take home ($40/hr). I think you should aim higher $2000 ($50/hr)? I’ve heard of independent home health contracts going as high as $70/hr. Depends how ballsy you’re feeling…. Doesn’t hurt to ask. Also, just make sure you’re getting what perks and reimbursements you can.

Here’s some links in case you haven’t read them already (the second is some sample independent contracts):
The Job Search
Independent Contracts

New TravelerGonna give you a quick update. I went in for the interview on Friday and loved the facility as well as the other PTs and PTAs. I decided that it would be a great first job for me as a PT. The managers do a lot of the extra stuff like billing, etc so it will allow me to concentrate on solidifying my eval and treatment skills. As you know it’s quite different being an actual PT than a PT student. No one looking over your shoulder and checking behind you.

It is a unique situation. The clinic is considered an outpatient clinic because it is in a retirement village and serves an independent living community as well as a SNF so I will see a wide variety of patients.

The pay is good. It’s right around what we were discussing. I feel like it’s excellent for a new grad. $42 an hour initially and $48 after a month because I will decline the benefits. I am insured through my wife’s job.

Thanks for sharing the link as well. I used some of the pointers from your blog when negotiating the contract. The whole process went pretty smooth. My wife and I are planning to stay in Oregon for 6 months and then move on. We want to hit up Alaska in the next year. Maybe y’all will still be there and we can get a beer.

Thanks for the help. Hope to stay in touch.

HoboHealth: Thanks for the update. Sounds like a great gig and like you made some good decisions over the past few days!

Good luck and keep in touch when you start working towards AK!

THE Housing

Finding an apartment here was TOUGH! …more on this in a minute.

There’s a lot of different ways to get your housing on travel assignment. By far the easiest way is having your staffing agency set up the housing for you. If you don’t know the area and really have no preference on location, the housing is typically pretty nice and turn-key ready. On the other hand, you could take the tax-free housing stipend and find housing on your own.

There is a financial advantage to figuring out the housing on your own and taking the cash. It keeps all the money in your reimbursement package and away from the resources it takes for a staffing agency to find and arrange your housing. In fifteen-or-so assignments, I’ve only had my recruiter get housing for me once. If you haven’t searched for your own housing on assignment, you’d be surprise at the amount of temporary and furnished housing that is available. Craigslist is how we almost always find our housing. If we can get to the assignment a few days ahead of time, that’s usually enough time to hit Craigslist hard and find good housing in a fun neighborhood before work starts.

It turns out Anchorage rental housing has a 98% occupancy rate. That’s REALLY high. We were lucky enough to have an open invitation with friends in Wasilla, whom we ended up crashing with for over 2 weeks. [whom?] There was so little availability in rentals around Anchorage that we really didn’t get a chance to see many apartments. Luckily, among the 3 apartments we looked at, was a nice two bedroom, utilities included, deck, washer/dryer, and parking.

The apartment is more than we like to pay for rent, but with a location convenient for work, plenty of room for visitors, and slim pickings for other options…. it’s worked out just fine. Which is a lovely segue to the larger message: With a little patience in finding housing and finding a job everything works out just fine. As a travel PT or PTA, you may go a week or two without a job or work for a week while living in an extended stay with all your junk in your car, but IT ALL WORKS OUT JUST FINE.

The Things We Look For In An Apartment:

-Furnished               -Short-term lease

-Washer/Dryer        -WiFi

-Parking                     -Utilities included

 

THE Job Search

I promised a few blogs about how we got all our details settled on this current assignment. Given the location (Alaska) being so far away, the popular season we are here in, and a number of other unpredictable factors, setting up this assignment was tricky.

In the past, I’ve worked with a few travelers who have negotiated their own contracts, but Kate and I had never done this. I’ve had some interest in it, but not enough to actively pursue it. There are advantages and disadvantages to both using a recruiter and going the independent route. When you do have a recruiter from a staffing agency, they are your advocate, your negotiator, and your first point of contact for any issues you may have on contract. Also, while we typically choose to arrange our own housing and travel, many staffing agencies will handle this for you if you like.

On the other hand, as an experienced traveler, having the securities of a recruiter as a third party representative comes at a cost. …a real monetary cost. The idea that really attracts people into arranging their own contracts is that you eliminate the middle man and the cost that goes with paying the middle man. Therefore, an employer can dish out less and you get the same or more.

On this assignment, we had a friend in the Anchorage area who was willing to drop our names around town and find some potential employers for us. This worked, this worked very well. Kate quickly got a job offer with a private practice just outside Anchorage. There was a period of stress where she had to be willing to be her own advocate and ask for certain details in her compensation package. Now, she is making good pay and has many of the tax free benefits that a recruiter would be able to offer. The clinic she’s working for has even allowed her to use a car that different therapists have driven over the years, SWEET!

My contract took a little bit longer to develop. I continued to search with a few recruiters, but nothing was really working out. I found a lot of jobs that had repeat travelers lined up for the summer or were just too far from town. We had already started our road trip to AK when another contact of my friend called wondering when I was available. The job hadn’t popped up on any of the searches because the director didn’t want to work through a staffing agency. As it worked out, my benefits are comparable to what I would make through an agency, but by eliminating the middle-man, the clinic is likely paying far lower than they would pay a recruiter… WIN-WIN!

Ultimately, we’re pleased with the jobs we’ve found. The jobs are where we wanted, when we wanted, and are professionally/mentally stimulating. The story of our success negotiating private contracts on this assignment does come with a warning. There were additional stresses having to negotiate our own benefits without a recruiter as a go-between. Also, we would not have been able to negotiate if we hadn’t worked with so many recruiters in the past. Also, if something were to go wrong with the contract, the assignment, or anything it’s on us! The buffer through a middle man is a nice comfort that frequently comes at only a small cost to the clinician.

Here are a few things that I recommend are in your contract whether you go it alone or work through a recruiter:

-Guaranteed 40 hours pay

-A 30 day notice clause for either party to end the contract

-Travel, housing, and licensure fee reimbursement

-Negotiating any planned days off ahead of time

-Holiday schedule and pay

I do have friends and past co-workers who have made their own contracts. We did not do this, the places we were working for had used contract staff before and had their own contracts. I have seen some independent contract examples if you’re interested.

 

 

The THE Series

The THE series. Of all our travel assignments this one has been the toughest to find THE housing, most unique in finding THE jobs, and longest of THE roadtrips. We left our apartment in Aspen 4 weeks ago today, we have put 4,500 miles on the car, racked up 8,000 frequent flier miles, and will finally move into our new place in one more week in Anchorage.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I feel like one role of this site is to develop a knowledge-base of travel healthcare experiences in an environment not influenced by recruiting companies. Everything Kate and I have been through over the past 6 weeks needs to be shared with other travelers, and can be used as a template for how-to and how-to-not.

Expect in the coming weeks the THE series: THE housing, THE job search, and THE first few weeks (a working title). Thanks for tuning in, travel safe.