Travel PT Resources

Travel PT Resources

Social media is full of trash, absolute junk. Physical Therapy’s twittersphere and facebook groups are mostly a flaming pile of garbage. Now, don’t get me wrong. Most of the people running groups on facebook and moderating discussions have pure intentions and deep knowledge – for the most part, they are true experts. It’s everyone else who gets involved that ruins it. Social media has leveled the playing field so that everyone’s opinion counts equally. There is no rating to show that one person may have in depth knowledge and experience while another is just a know-it-all crackpot. Vetting info and figuring out whose advice you can trust is more important now than it has ever been.

travel PT tax home rule

There was a particular post on a travel PT Facebook group with a series of completely false answers that led me to write this piece. Someone asked the often-asked question, “How far do I have to travel from my tax home to get a tax-free housing stipend.” Let the wrong answers pour in: “50 miles!” “60 minutes!” “100 miles!” ….people with such confident, concise answers. The correct answer is: “a taxpayer must be on a trip that requires the taxpayer to stop for sleep or a substantial period of rest.”^ …and there you have it, non-specific, open to interpretation, and totally typical of the IRS! That’s not an easy answer, is it? That is not easily repeated, typed into a social media thread, or understood. So, we get repeated, false answers like “50 miles!”

I’m done with the griping part of this blog, let’s get positive. I only share the example of awful information on Facebook pages to illustrate the point that you need to dig a bit deeper to find good resources – there are some fantastic resources out there!

  • There’s a number of blogs out there (like this one, of course!) that offer great travel advice. Rather than going fishing for a correct answer on a Facebook page, reach out to myself (James.Spencer.PT@gmail.com), or any other one of the many great bloggers – we all love to help people discover travel PT. Look around a little bit and you’ll find a blogger that has similar interests as you, like independent contracting, international service work, traveling with kids, traveling with pets, living in RVs – it’s all out there*. If you find a blogger that you identify with personally, you will have found a great mentor.
  • Ask a friend. Surely you have known a traveling PT, or you have a friend from PT school who knows one – or ask a professor at school who likely has a former student that is a traveler. These personal connections are important in finding your way as a traveler. Having someone you can confide in and trust their advice is very valuable.
  • If you have a great recruiter, they will be your greatest advocate and resource. Now, how might you find a great recruiter? Again, there’s some really bad resources for this online bought and paid for by the industry – The advertisers in the margins of this post are not just advertisers, but also companies I have traveled with and trust greatly. If you post on the HoboHealth Discussion Board topic Travel Therapy Companies, I’d be happy to email you with the names of the recruiters I use and trust. Also, I give some more generalized advice on picking a recruiter here: https://hobohealth.com/wordpress/traveling-pt/your-first-travel-gig/
  • Finally, I would be doing myself an injustice if I didn’t self-promote a couple more of my own resources that I think are fantastic:
    • Travel Essentials – these are the best blogs I have written over the past 12 years. You will find the answer to most travel PT questions within.
    • The Media page contains a whole bunch of interviews that are all about the same topic – traveling physical therapy.

Happy travels out there. Please don’t listen to any ol’ know-nothing on the interwebs when it comes to travel PT… or when it comes to any other topic. You’re better than that, and there are great, easy to find resources out there that have the answers you need.

^Sourced via traveltax.com: Tax Court Small Tax Cases (Archive), Daniel P. and Glenna J. Marple v. Commissioner., U.S. Tax Court, T.C. Summary Opinion 2007-76, (May 21, 2007)

*Some bloggers that I think put out great information:

Know Your Role

I’ve had some trouble with delineating the roles in my life lately. I’ve always considered myself to have a variety of different personalities I can tap into – I initially come of as clean-cut, if not preppy, but my music interests lay primarily in heavy metal – very much at odds with my appearance. When on travel assignments, I have often heard I give an initial impression of reserved and quiet – but it doesn’t take long to learn that is far from the truth. For short periods, I have abandoned my clean-cut look for a shaved head and heavy goatee, which has served me well in scaring off tourists in Hawaii and has lead to fun nights blending into the crowd at biker bars in Maine.

I think we all have some multiple personalities within us that can come into conflict at times. I recently have experienced that conflict coming to blows between my personal and professional life… at least internally.

Me (far right) and several other Colorado APTA Members had the chance in early April to meet with my Congressional Representative (center). Central to our discussion was PTs’ Unique Role in the Opioid Crisis.

My Congressional Representative and I have very different views of our world. We disagree on most topics. I find him extreme in one direction, he would likely find me extreme in the other. Our district in Colorado, that I live in and he is elected from, is large and divided in its politics. I don’t think it’s moderate, but all the different extremes exist within it. I feel he should vote more moderately as to represent the average of his district, after all, he was re-elected with only 51.5% of the vote in the last election, hardly a landslide.

While my representative and I disagree on many topics, our lives and common opinions seem to be intersecting on one particular topic – the opioid crisis.

I currently serve as the Federal Affairs Liaison for the Academy of Orthopaedic Physical Therapist within APTA. Simply, this means I keep on top of the legislative issues affecting physical therapist and report back to the Orthopaedic Board. It also means I attend the annual Federal Advocacy Forum, put on by APTA, to meet with our Representatives and Senators in order to advocate for the bills and topics that will benefit PTs and our patients.

In the past couple years, APTA has targeted the opioid crisis. Afterall, Physical Therapists are positioned uniquely to help in reducing the amount of pain pills that need to be prescribed. We have extensive skills in decreasing pain (through exercise, manual therapy, and modalities), we are often the alternative to surgery or injection, and we do not prescribe medications. Every study I am aware of shows our ability to decrease the overall cost of a musculoskeletal injury in contrast to surgery or medication. A big part of Federal Advocacy Forum is PTs educating legislators on what it is we do in our daily work and how our skills can best be used to improve the lives of their constituents.

My Representative has championed responses to the Opioid Crisis and done a good job with it. We may not agree on much, but we agree on addressing the problems that have lead to Americans’ dependence on opioid medications to “fix” their pain or feed their addiction.

I have met with my Representative’s staff over the past couple of years, and very briefly with him. It’s an interesting exercise in burying my personal politics and focusing on what the priorities are for the Physical Therapy profession. I have heard other PTs at the Advocacy Forum ask about this conflict – personal politics vs professional role. The answer is always, simply, you put your personal politics aside for this role – but what about all the other days of the year outside of the Forum?

The whole group from Colorado at FAF. We divided and conquered to chat with as many of our Representatives and Senators as possible. #choosePT

For 3 days per year, at APTA’s Federal Advocacy Forum, I try to be the consummate professional advocating my my profession, my patients, and their causes. However, I only found myself in this role because of my interest in politics and policy. Obviously, I have some deep, deep disagreements with my Representative. How do I reconcile that? I see a scenario where I could end up at a fundraiser for him, funding his re-election through my professional priorities, all-the-while biting my tongue and trying to get everyone I know to vote against him. I’m having a hard time putting this internal conflict to rest.

PT-PAC raises money to contribute to candidates who are supporting PT-friendly legislation. One PT I know, deeply entrenched in these positions and topics, stopped his donations to PT-PAC. He felt his personal politics were so greatly at odds with some of the candidates PT-PAC was supporting, that he could not be involved. I get it – my representative is a personal foe, but a friend of the profession. Where do we draw the line? To what extent do I let my professional roles define me? I often feel strongly about large societal issues and want to act to improve them. But, often, I think I’m just tricking myself into believing I can have an effect – do I completely abandon those large societal topics for the professional priorities that I am actually in a position to affect through face-to-face conversations with my Congressional Representative? Uhg, I think so.

In a different position, I participate in APTA’s House of Delegates as the Delegate for Western Colorado (quite similar to the chunk of geography my Congressman represents). The House of Delegates is a meeting held each year to develop the policies for APTA, and therefor, the profession. Some of the topics are meaty and contentious, while others are snoozers for me. Luckily, there are over 400 Delegates representing every state and specialty area in PT. Someone in that group has a passion an expertise for every topic that is discussed.

I was at a PT conference earlier this year and ended up in a conversation with a longtime PT leader that I respected. We were casually chatting, and with legislative issues and House of Delegates topics on my mind, I asked him a question: “What are the topics we need to be taking on today to make sure Physical Therapy is a thriving profession in the future?” It was like he had been waiting all night for someone to ask him that question…

This aging leader in our profession talked on-and-on about Physical Therapists’ effect on society and our need to speak out on a wide variety of issues external to our profession. That as highly educated professionals, we have a responsibility to drive not only our profession, but also our society, in the right direction to achieve their optimal health and wellbeing.

I don’t know how this guy did it, but he predicted the future. Maybe another 30 years in our professional association will give me the same foresight. The House of Delegates is taking on a large breadth of topics that are societal (political) in nature this year. The topics include Medical Marijuana, vaccinations, naloxone use in PT clinics, and gun violence. You often hear discussion around these topics about whether we should be taking them on at all, or if we need to re-focus on PT-specific topics.

#APTAHOD
A portion of the ballroom at House of Delegates. I have yet to take a picture of this room that gives you the feeling of how big it really is. Walking into that room gives me tingles.

Within my Delegate and advocacy positions, I find a wild contradiction. In my position as a political advocate, I bury my personal beliefs to represent the priorities of APTA. In my Delegate position, I use my personal beliefs to help determine the priorities of APTA. To which extent do I rely on my personal experiences and values, and to what extent do I suppress my personal beliefs to act in a silo as a clinician-leader in my profession?

The most contentious of the House of Delegates motions this year is about gun control. I think it best articulates our involvement (or not) as a profession in social issues, and it illustrates my conflict between personal and professional priorities. The original idea for the motion is quite different from the current version because of collaboration between many PTs from different states and backgrounds. These motions can change and evolve up until the very moment they are passed or defeated. In my opinion, the current (June 1st, 2019) version of this motion is far less political than its original form. It does not advocate for any specific gun control, but would add APTA’s support to performing a CDC study on the health effects of gun violence.

At the outset of writing this blog, I wanted nothing to do with the House of Delegates’ motion concerning gun control, but after writing this out, I want to discuss this topic more. If you are an APTA member, you have access to all of the Delegate discussions leading up to the House. Also, if you are the rare bird who wants to be involved in it all, you can live-stream the house.

As someone who holds positions both in representing the priorities of the profession and determining the priorities of the profession, I’m curious where you think I should draw my line between personal and professional politics. Do I let my personal political beliefs shape the profession? Do I bury those personal beliefs to advocate more effectively for our profession? It all seems very complicated to me.

Links to info on all House of Delegates motions including gun control, House of Delegates motion discussions, and Federal Advocacy Forum. If these kinds of topics interest you, you should probably give to PT-PAC and contact me to get involved in this kind of stuff. Our profession needs more, opinionated clinicians who want to drive the future of PT.

Minimizing for Travel PT Assignments

The ‘ol Accord. Fully loaded, ready to roll.

When I was a traveler, everything I owned fit in or on my Honda Accord. Now, just 2 years departed from travel, I have all this stuff. Most of it has a function, the things that don’t definitely have sentimental value. Regardless of it’s use or sentiment, all of this stuff is… here. In my house.

As I get ready to move from my current home to a bigger house with additional free space (which I’m sure I can fill-up quickly), I am reflecting on everything I own and how it came to be this way. I had great joy living in a camper for 5 months on Martha’s Vineyard. I lived out of 2 suitcases in Hawaii for 6 months – multiple times. A 5×5 storage area once contained all my wintertime equipment and toys – now they spill forth from every closet, rack, and corner.

As I lament my minimalistic-demize, I’ll share these tips with you for down-sizing and keeping small as you transition to your next travel assignment. Come on, Marie Kondo, hugging all my belongings? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Rent Furnished

This one is easy. If you rent furnished apartments, you won’t need furniture or appliances. This simplifies everything as you move place-to-place. Simple.

Airbnb, Craigslist, and HomeAway make it easy to find furnished housing for the short-term. I always had good success in the local classified papers finding things like inlaw apartments above garages (Skowhegan, Maine for that one). Just hop on the interwebs and find the local paper for wherever you are headed and you should be able to access their classifieds online. There remains this percentage of people who haven’t discovered the ease of online buying and selling – you will find apartments in the local classifieds that aren’t listed anywhere else.

It was just awesome living in the camper. I was so connected with nature that summer and had so little with me. Less is more.

9 Month Rule

You’ve got this car full of stuff that you’re dragging around the country. Some stuff is seasonal in nature – for me, ski gear^, but 9 months should account enough for the change of seasons and activities. If you haven’t used something in 9 months, you don’t use it enough to justify bringing it from assignment-to-assignment. Ship it home, send it to a friend, or consider establishing a gear cache (below).

Ditch the Electronics

There is so much you’ll be tempted to bring that you don’t need. You don’t need a better TV. You don’t need to bring video games with you. Leave the DVDs behind. Eliminate all the stuff you might see as a nice luxury for downtime. Your furnished apartment will have an adequate TV. With subscription services, you can order up whatever you want for entertainment while you are on assignment. Besides, hopefully, you are going somewhere awesome that will keep you out of your home most of the time. Maybe with less in-home distractions, you’ll go on more outdoor adventures and make more friends while on assignment. Games, TV, movies, Facebook – it’s all a giant time-suck that doesn’t enhance your life.

One In, One Out

Once you have pared down your belongings to a reasonable amount, you must maintain that small volume. Don’t accumulate! It’s easy to let stuff start showing up and staying – you will regret it the next time you have to move, which may be sooner than you think in the world of travel. Follow the simple “one in, one out” rule – if you bring something in, something must go out!

Need a new shirt? That means one has fallen out of favor in the rotation. If you’re going to buy a new shirt, you have to throw one away. Of course, the more stuff we can keep out of the landfills, the better – always resell or donate. The same goes for anything else you want to buy – want a new book? Then something comparable has to leave. Easy peasy. You’ve been living just fine with what you have. If you get something new, something old must go.

Gear Cache – A place to keep some stuff

I can’t tell you where this lean-to is, but it seemed to have everything I ever needed to live a fulfilling life.

Some stuff you want for “someday,” but you just don’t need it on assignment. Maybe you’ll want it when you’re not traveling anymore and are more “settled”. I have this waist-high gold colored box that I just moved to the new house. I haven’t opened the box in years, but I can’t bring myself to toss it either. The box has old baseball cards, pictures from high school, a class ring… things of that nature.

There’s some stuff you’re going to want to keep, but absolutely can’t travel with. You need somewhere to stash it. Maybe there’s a space at your tax home where stuff can stay, or maybe you need to rent a small storage area. It doesn’t matter where your extra stuff goes, but hopefully it’s cheap in case it stays there for a long time. And, hopefully it’s accessible in case you decide you need something from your storage.

For traveling, you have to lighten your load. Otherwise, transitions between assignments will become overly burdensome. Ditch the stuff you don’t need, travel light, and happy Marie Kondo-ing if you have the spare time.

^Footnote:
My first time up Aspen Highlands Bowl in 2008 – nearby where I live today. A truly inadequate ski selection that day. I was about 4 pairs short of an acceptable ski-quiver.

I believe every avid skier should have at least 5 pairs of skis for a variety of conditions and activities:

  • Rocks ski for the early season and questionable conditions.
  • Everyday ski for you standard mid-season, good-coverage ski day.
  • Powder ski for any epic pow-day, this ski should only be used with the correct combinations of conditions and skill-level.
  • A.T. Set-up – Alpine Touring for back country skiing, traveling to snowy places by foot, or just to earn your turns.
  • Cross Country For exercise when you can’t be on the hill.

This list is meant only as a bare minimum of the skis one should own and is no way meant to limit ski possession. ….perhaps this might explain something about my gradual fall from minimalism…. but what am I going to do? Give away my Powder skis!? Blasphemy.

Interview a Travel PT Recruiter with Anders Group

Last month, at APTA CSM, I got together with Stacy and Melissa, two recruiters from Anders Group to discuss travel PT. The premise of the conversation was getting into some of the “next level” topics that recruiters and travelers never get to discuss together.

At just under 40 minutes long it’s a good listen for your next run, commute, or road trip. Either stream it right now or hit the three dots on the right to download it for later. Happy listening!!!

I’m very happy with the conversation we had and hope all the things we discussed will help you find the assignments you want!

Many thanks to Stacey, Melissa, and Anders Group for taking the time out of a VERY busy conference to chat.

PT Compact Update

Tennessee and Missouri share their borders with 8 states each, more than any other state in the nation. Both are compact states, and both are actively issuing compact privileges. Each has 6 of their neighbors in the compact, including each other. Tennessee has one advantage over Missouri – Tennessee’s neighbor, Georgia, currently has legislation proposed to adopt the compact later this year. Therefore, I hereby rule, Tennessee is the center of the PT Compact World.

You don’t need me to tell you where the center of the compact is. Just look at the most recent national PT Compact Map – you can easily tell we all revolve around Tennessee. Come on Missouri, “show me” I’m wrong. <— hehe, hope you caught the MO joke in there.

The compact has come a long way in the last year. 23 states have adopted the compact – 9 of those are active, issuing privileges to PTs and PTAs. If you’re in a state that has approved the compact already, but is not yet active, don’t worry. Most likely, if your state has approved the compact but isn’t active yet, they are actively working on making it happen.

As of March 15th, 2019

The compact is a scripted piece of legislature that states are individually approving into their laws. Each state has to approve the exact compact language. Any changes in the language would void the compact – essentially, it’s an agreement between states to accept licenses from other states – each state’s law has to match. So, if your state has approved the compact, but isn’t active yet, your state board is working to align its requirements with those of the compact.

It’s complicated, I get it if you don’t understand yet. A great example of an existing state compact is drivers’ licenses. Each state has the exact same language in their laws acknowledging every other states’ drivers’ licenses. That is exactly what the PT profession is trying to accomplish – license reciprocity among all states.

What I have heard about the actual compact experience is very positive. The people I have talked to have gone online, paid their fees, and immediately have license reciprocity! If anyone out there has had an experience, good or bad, with using the compact, lease post in the comments. I think it’s important that we start to collect some info on how the compact is doing in the real world.

There are 23 states onboard and another 5 are currently working towards adopting the compact. There is a very realistic scenario that we could have over half of the country on the compact by the end of the year – that is a very big feat in a very short time! As more states sign onto the compact, the states who are not onboard will find themselves being the odd-man out. States without the PT Compact will likely suffer staffing shortages. In a world where we are expecting PT staffing shortages through at least 2030, I can’t imagine why a state wouldn’t want to decrease whatever barriers it can for workers to come work!

That’s all I’ve got on the compact for now. Please do share any positive or negative experiences you have had accessing compact privileges. Ask any questions you might have. I’ll be replying and writing on this topic in the future as things progress forward.

Travel PT Independent Contract Question


I recently received an email question about setting up your own travel contract without an agency. Here is the question and response.

Traveler:

I was just reading your post on independent contracts. I’m wondering if you were able to negotiate a pay package comparable to what a clinic would pay a staffing company. For my first assignment I found out that the recruiting company took about 37% off the top of what I made. Would you be comfortable sharing how much you were able to get out of independent contracts?

Thanks for you time and help! Really appreciate your website.

 

HoboHealth:

Great to hear from you again. Glad to hear you are enjoying your travel experience!

I truly only did independent contracts when I couldn’t find an assignment through a recruiter in the area I wanted to go – or when there was only one job available and my wife or I needed a second job. I always had the dream of making crazy-money by offering to work for just a bit less than what a clinic would pay an agency, but it never worked out that way. I made typical travel money on my independent contracts.

Two examples of independent contract pay that I can think of off the top of my head: one private practice was paying me $52 per patient in a typically low paying state, another place paid me $1800 weekly. After taxes, those work out to about typical, if not low, for travel money. So, I never achieved the dream of beating the system and making more money than I would through an agency.

I guess my takeaway is that independent contracts are a good way to find a contract when there’s not one to be had, but it never really worked out for me to make crazy money.

Hope that helps, do let me know if you have other questions.

 

For more info on making your own independent contracts, check out these resources, along with examples of actual contracts:

How To Set Up An Independent Travel PT Contract

Travel PT’s Guide to CSM

Travel PT CSM Anaheim
CSM 2016 in lovely Anaheim, CA…. I don’t think we’ll be basking in the sun between courses this year.

Combined Sections Meeting has grown into Physical Therapy’s largest professional conference. With over 15,000 PTs, PTAs, and students expected to attend this year, there’s only so many conference centers in the US that are big enough to hold the conference. The mainstay of the conference has always been the educational programming put on by each of the APTA’s 18 Specialty Sections (Ortho, Neuro, Pediatrics, Women’s Health, etc) – hence, the name of the conference. As the conference has grown in size, so too has the schedule. Many attendees find themselves booked with official events from 6 AM to 11 PM and hopes of socializing outside of those hours. If you don’t prioritize what you choose to participate in at CSM, you will be out of gas by the time the last courses on Saturday roll around.

So, here’s a quick guide to help make the most of your time at CSM, especially if this is your first CSM and you are considering Travel PT as a career path.

Education

Education at CSM comes in three different main formats.

You have your main Education Sessions which take place in a variety of room sizes – from seating for several thousand to just several dozen. These courses are what you should build your conference experience around. Four 2-hour segments of courses are scheduled each day Thursday to Saturday, and they are presented by some of the most prominent experts in our field. If you can build yourself a schedule of the courses you would like attend, most everything else on your schedule can be fit into the cracks. Try to get to these courses early, because they sometimes completely fill up – even in rooms with a couple thousand seats. If you find yourself in a situation where the course you were planning on attending is full or the subject matter isn’t as exciting as you thought it would be, moving onto some platform presentations or the exhibit hall are good options.

Platform presentations are put on throughout the conference and separated by Specialty Section and like-minded topics. These presentation are frequently done by PT Students on their DPT research and are just 20 minutes in length – rapid fire. One presentation happens, there’s a few minutes for questions, and then new presenters start the next presentation. The platform presentations can be a great way to switch up your day and get a lot of forward-thinking research-nuggets in a small amount of time. Look into the topics and see if any time blocks of platforms pique your interest, they can be really great. I stumbled across a time-block dedicated to Global Health Service Projects a couple years ago and heard a lot of inspirational stories about PTs and Students doing fantastic work abroad.

Another form of education at CSM is Poster Presentations. Throughout the 4 days of CSM, hundreds of research articles are presented on posters in the Exhibit Hall. Generally, the researchers will be standing with their posters to walk you through the findings of their research and answer any questions you might have – lots of fascinating topics.

Exhibit Hall

Travel PT CSM Las Vegas
Kate with our good friend Marc Suznovich from New Jersey at CSM 2009 in Las Vegas. Posing in front of the New Professional booth in the exhibit hall. We, with 12 of our APTA friends, had just spent the last 3 years developing the APTA New Professional membership program.

You won’t be able to miss the Exhibit Hall. The hall is a huge warehouse-sized-room full of hundreds of vendors at their booths – with the poster presentations lined up in rows in the back. If you’re thinking about starting travel PT or looking for a new recruiter, look no further. There are a huge amount of travel agencies exhibiting at CSM. This is your chance to interview some of them and get a feel for each of the agencies and what their priorities are.

“Unopposed” hours are the times when there is no educational programming and thousand of people flock to the exhibit hall. While this time is fine for exploring the hall and getting some free schwag, you probably won’t get a chance to chat at any length with a recruiter you may be interested in working with. If you are serious about traveling for an agency, play hooky on an education session and return to the Exhibit Hall to chat during those less busy hours.

Receptions

The main point: You don’t have to be invited, just go.

Various APTA groups will be hosting receptions. These are a great chance to go network with people in whatever corner of PT you are interested in. Professionals love when students show up to these things – if you are a student, go. Typically, there are some free au d’oeuvres and a cash bar. Don’t forget to check if your alma mater is having a reception too. This can be a great time to catch up with old classmates and professors.

The receptions are held as a social gathering to connect people and allow them to network, if you don’t show up, you can’t connect. Go, chat with people – you might end up talking with your PT-hero or at least find others with similar interests. If you’re lucky, you might even make some new friends for life.

Social Media, Technology, and Other Events

Travel PT CSM Nashville
Great friends at CSM 2010 in Nashville, still great friends today. Can’t wait to see these guys at CSM this year.
Left to right: Me, Jeremy, Ben, Allen

What I have describe above is just the bare-bones of CSM. There are so many other meetings and events (official and unofficial) squeezed into the spaces before, after, and during the days’ programming. All of the official events can be found in the APTA Conferences App – here’s the link for the app on Google Play and for iPhone. Take some time with the app to explore what education you may want to attend and what other events may be happening during the conference that you would like to get to. There’s so much going on that it can be a bit overwhelming, but spending some time planning can help you fit the most meaningful experiences into these wildly packed 3.5 days.

A lot of events taking place in the bars and restaurants surrounding CSM can be found on social media, particularly Twitter. The most commonly used tags are #APTACSM and #APTACSM2019. Browse frequently to see what others are doing all around CSM. APTA will be putting out video updates from CSM covering current hot topics in PT and summing up the things you might have missed.

Enjoy your time in Washington, DC! If you want to chat Travel PT, I’ll be strolling around. Reach me on Twitter @hobohealth or by email at James.Spencer.PT@gmail.com.

A Year of Firsts

2018 was my first full year living a settled life – not as a travel PT.

It has definitely been a transition – a transition that I might not be fully appreciating until now. Friends often ask, “Do you miss traveling?” I answer quickly, “Yes”. But, as I reflect, I realize all the things that have gone on in the last year. A lot of the things that I accomplished could only happen once I was done with the travel lifestyle. I loved my life traveling for work between ski slopes and beaches, but this year has been pretty special.

Violet charging around in the backyard of our family cabin in the foothills of Pikes Peak

This is the first year since 2004 that I have lived in one domicile for an entire year. Kate and I bought a house out here in Colorado almost two years ago. After months of DIY jobs and decorating, we are finally feeling a sense of home. Previous to this, we had briefly worked as permanent PTs before our 10-year stint as travelers. Before that, we had each traveled state-to-state for clinicals our final 6 months of PT school. …and prior to that, lived in a potpourri of apartments scattered across the segment of Boston inhabited by Northeastern University students.

I finally lived in Colorado long enough to get acclimated to the altitude. Many say it takes 2 weeks to get acclimated, I insist it takes more like 6 months to truly feel strong. I had grown up outside of Boston, but visited a family cabin in Colorado at 8,000 ft for just a week or two most summers. On most trips, someone got altitude sickness. Whether it be me, a family member, or a friend I had brought along, someone would puke intensely for about 24 hours, and then be fine for the rest of the trip. Now knowing what I know about altitude sickness, we might have approached acclimation a little more seriously.

This sign put up near an aid station about halfway up Pikes Peak made me laugh out loud. A bunch of rescue workers and volunteers were camping out around that part of the mountain… with a helicopter, just in case.

When I was a kid, my family trips to the cabin were usually during the last couple weeks of summer before heading back to school. We were often at the cabin during my birthday which is the same week as the running of the Pikes Peak Marathon. On most trips to the cabin, my family would drive up the “Pikes Peak Highway” to the 14,110 ft summit of “America’s Mountain”. On more than one occasion, we were at the top during the marathon to watch runners tag the 13 mile mark of the race, barely pause, and head back down. We all thought those guys were a bunch a psychos – who would want to do that? At some point along the way, I decided that I too was a psycho who wanted to do it – probably intense nostalgia and just a bit of hypoxia influencing that desire.

This year, I got to check the Pikes Peak Marathon off my bucket list. I was extremely excited and motivated during the whole process of training and through the marathon’s completion. The race went great! I took a relaxed approach and spent time getting food and water at each checkpoint. After resting a few minutes at the top to shoot some pictures, take in fuel, and have a small internal celebration, I soon realized many people were blowing past me to head back down to the finish line. I quickly rejoined the psychos for the 13 mile plunge back to the bottom. I am so happy to have had that experience. I don’t think I’ll do it again… but who knows.

Half way done. Feeling great taking pictures at 14,110 ft while this guy in the purple shirt and lady in the blue jacket both casually pass me and head back down.

I feel like staying in one place and stopping traveling finally let me make some headway professionally. I knew this would be a part of stopping travel, and it’s one small solace in losing several months near the coast each year. When I left my patients every 3-6 months, it was hard to find any sense of professional momentum. Now, working in one place for almost 2 years, I finally feel like I have some personal connection with my patients. I have people who come back every time they have an injury. I have malingerers who are constantly hurt and seem to never leave. I have doctors who expect me to be there for their patients. Most importantly, there is continuity – I get to see all patient cases to their end, and that has helped me grow tremendously as a clinician.

I still frequently joke about going back to travel, if only to make my co-workers uncomfortable, but let’s be honest, I have a house, I have a life here, and I have a kid – I am stuck!

Which brings about the greatest and best addition to my life – this has been my first full year with a kid. I can’t describe the happiness our daughter has brought. It’s a wild experience. At 1.5 years old, I’ve already been strapping her into skis in the backyard. She enjoys it for about 2 minutes, which is probably enough skiing when you’re one year old. People around here typically get their kids on the mountain in this first year – but I’m not so sure we need to be so aggressive about it. It will probably happen just before her 2nd Birthday, but only if the timing is right, and if it’s fun.

The whole fam damily.

I just remembered one other great thing from this year: my Boston Red Sox winning the World Series…. again! The Red Sox winning the World Series this year was the cherry on top of an already incredible year. Just had to mention that. GO SOX!

That’s it for now, but another year of adventures and firsts is just beginning. The whole family will head to CSM in Washington DC to kick off the year, and we’ve been brainstorming other potential air and road trips for the summer. Other APTA conferences have me busy zipping out of Colorado for 2-3 days at a time throughout the year. Hang on, it’s going to be a wild ride, and I’ll keep you updated as we go. Happy New Year!

Travels Well With Others

Physical therapists find ways to live this crazy travel-life in a bunch of different ways and have to overcome a variety of obstacles to find the flexibility in their lives that can allow them to up-and-go to different jobs at any time. People travel with their friends, with their spouses, with their pets, and with their families. Any of these obstacles adds a little complication to travel, but by no means should these be reasons not to travel.

Traveling in an RV has always seemed to me to be the best way to overcome housing struggles. Having your own, mobile space solves many of the difficulties of shuttling kids around from state-to-state or finding a short-term apartment that will allow pets. In 2014, we lived in a camper on Martha’s Vineyard to solve the issue of not being able to find affordable housing. The camper was a major part of what made that one of my all-time favorite travel assignments. There are pieces of our lifestyle that summer that I wish I could make more consistent staples of my everyday life. If Kate and I ever did continue to travel with our daughter, it would be in a camper again – like the Partridge Family of Physical Therapy.

Travel PT Camper Martha's Vineyard
Our pretty sweet set-up on Martha’s Vineyard.

A couple resources:

  • I have been enjoying reading PT Adventures and some of their recent posts on traveling with a baby – some on traveling with a dog too.
  • Highway Hypodermics is a facebook page for healthcare travelers living in RVs. The page has over 5,000 members and is definitely the best resource if you have any questions about living the travel life in a camper.

Travel PT With a Significant Other

If I know anything, I know how to find two travel PT jobs at once, because Kate and I were travel PTs together for about 10 years. I can’t think of a time that we weren’t able to travel to where ever we wanted because we couldn’t find two jobs – though, we did have to be flexible and inventive at times.

Travel PT Kona Waipio Valley Hawaii
One independent contract I worked was in Kona, Hawaii. This is from a day trip out to Waipio Valley. That was a great summer.

Normally, our first line of attack would be to find two jobs close to one central town. This approach would typically work. We never put any effort towards trying to work in the same clinic, but often a recruiter would find us two jobs at the same workplace. The agency would present us as a “travel team” which is advantageous for a facility trying to fill multiple positions – one stop shopping for multiple therapists. This easy solution was sometimes nearby where we wanted to be and not necessarily exactly where we wanted to be (i.e. commuting to work in communities just outside a major city we wanted to live in).  The most frequent settings we would find work together in was in smaller community hospitals (CAH) or working for a home care agency.

Even if you’re not romantically involved with another traveler, you might consider traveling with a friend. Two travelers working contracts together can be a great way to get ahead financially – getting two housing stipends and having only one rent is a great way to keep some more cashola in your pocket.

In the rare occasions that we couldn’t find two jobs in the same area, we would start calling around the area to private practices looking for independent contracts. One of us would have the “official” travel job with benefits, and the other would find an independent contract. Here’s a more detailed post on the process for finding an independent travel PT contract.

Living with a significant other who isn’t a Physical Therapist should not be the lone reason not to travel. I have met many couples along the way who have figured out how to make travel therapy work for them. One good friend (PT) met a Speech Therapist while traveling. They eventually got married, settled down, had kids, the whole nine yards. But, for a while, they took year-long travel assignments – her as an SLP in schools, him in a variety of settings as a PT. Additionally, I know several PT/OT couples who have had the same positive experiences we did – there’s a lot of facilities out there looking for PT/OT teams. I’ve also met many couples traveling as a PT with a non-healthcare worker (even one PT/recruiter couple!). If the non-therapist doesn’t have an easily portable job, he typically has to be more flexible in his work – odd jobs, seasonal work, Ridesharing driver, Amazon delivery, etc. With a little determination to get on the road, it’s easy to work odd-jobs for a few months at a time in many regions of the country.

Traveling when you have add-ons (family, pets, etc.) ultimately comes down to the final conclusion that so many things in travel therapy do – flexibility helps! The more flexible you can be with where you’re willing to travel, what setting you’re willing to work in, or what you’re willing to live in, the more opportunities you’ll have. A little flexibility goes a long way in finding happiness through traveling therapy.

THE BEST Travel PT Job

I get questions like this all the time: Where should I go on a travel PT assignment? How do I find a good travel PT assignment? Is working in this particular health care setting the best I can do?

The answer: I don’t know what is best for you!!!! These are personal decisions that rely on the balance of many different factors. The right assignment for you may be very different than what somebody else wants. To be successful in travel therapy, you need to be flexible where you can, but you also need to know what is important to you and pursue it. I’d like to explore a few of the factors that will play into you choosing the assignment that is (hopefully) the best one for you.

Location

Location has ALWAYS been my top priority traveling. Where you should go as a traveling therapist is a very personal decision. For instance, in the winter, I want to be where it is cold, snowing, and I can ski. I recognize that many other people want to be somewhere warm in the winter instead – our wants and preferences will vary wildly. If you have a very specific city or town in mind to travel to, you might need to be much more flexible in other details of your job search. If you don’t have any specific places in mind at all when you start to travel then you already have some good flexibility to your options.

…or mountains AND ocean… jobs available now in Sitka, AK. Click the picture for more info.

If you’re unsure where to go I recommend thinking about the types of things you would like to have around you when you arrive at your assignment:

  • Coast, Mountains, or Open Spaces
  • Hot or Cold
  • Rural or Urban

If you can easily pick a favorite in each of those categories, you are well on your way to finding a location that will make you happy. Some logistical issues that may help you further narrow down where to look for a job are the speed of a certain state for getting a license (perhaps fastest through the PT compact) and availability of travel jobs in a given area – your recruiter can help guide you in either of these criteria.

Traveling as a couple, my wife and I typically picked a city we wanted to live in and would give our recruiters an amount of time we were willing to commute to find two jobs within a reasonable radius of our homebase. More often than not a community hospital or home care agency would have two travel PT jobs available at the same time, but that’s something that can be very dependent on the region.

Clinical Setting

This is another very personal decision, but the more flexible you can be on setting, the better chances you’ll have of checking the boxes on all of your other priorities…. but is there such thing as being too flexible?

So often, I talk to new grads who have leapt straight into traveling. Many of these new grads are looking for outpatient jobs, but often told that SNF jobs are their only option. If you have no experience as a therapist, then you have very little bargaining power to explore anything but the options that are first presented to you. So, I advocate for two things – get at least a little experience before you travel and put up a bit of  fight before accepting a setting you absolutely do not want to work in – hold out, be patient, and be flexible about where you might travel to to get a setting you desire.

On the other hand, one of the things I love most about traveling is the variety of practice settings I have been exposed to. There is so much in PT that I never would have experienced if I hadn’t gone into travel. There is a balance to be reached between pursuing the setting you want and being open to other settings that you are willing to work in. Yes, please strive to be in the setting you most want to be in, but also work to acquire the experience and expertise you need to pursue those jobs. Also, be open to accepting jobs in other settings that might expand your clinical experience and allow you to grow with more diverse clinical skills.

Pay

Last, and least, pay. Yes, you can make lots of money in traveling therapy. But if you go into traveling for only the pay, you won’t last very long. I’m not saying to cast aside all thoughts of pay. It is very important that you are paid well for being highly educated and having the flexibility in your life to pick up and move for work. If two otherwise equal options present themselves, by all means, take the one that pays more! But don’t set pay ahead of all other factors, I believe you’ll eventually come to regret chasing the money in the absence of person and professional satisfaction.

You have to find that balance between your pay and the other factors that can make or break an assignment. If you’re not happy, you won’t last long in travel – the best travelers go into traveling therapy to live a better life. If you are doing it only to pay off loans or make as much of you can, you will burn out quickly and head back to a settled life in order to gain satisfaction in other life-areas you have neglected.

Finding both happiness and success in traveling requires a balance of several factors. Sit down, write down your priorities, and figure out where you are willing to be more flexible. Finding the balance that uniquely suits you is what will help you succeed, find joy in your work, and allow you to continue traveling.