The Downside

I have written many uncompleted drafts of this post over the years. For about 4 years, it sat uncompleted in my drafts folder titled “Trouble in Paradise.” I deleted everything I had written and started over – like a waste bin full of crumpled papers by a typewriter. I have a hard time expressing the cons of traveling PT because I do really enjoy it and can’t even seriously consider how different my life would be working the last decade in one place, doing the 9 to 5 grind. Uhg, the thought disgusts me. 🙂

But here it is, my attempt at talking frankly about the downside to travel PT. I’d also like to hear from other travelers about what they think the downside is. Here we go, back to rainbows and unicorns next week.


There’s not much to gripe about with traveling physical therapy. After almost 8 years of travel, I’m beginning to think that the nightmare-assignment barely exists. In about 20 assignments, there is only one I’ve had to terminate the contract on early. If I had asked the right questions during the interview, I don’t know that I ever would have worked that assignment. Over time, I realized my boss was a unlicensed foreign chiropractor. I also realized that I was a PT giving massages, not a PT doing PT. After a couple agonizing weeks and all of the full-time staff quit, I managed to get that contract terminated. From that experience, I believe two things about bad assignments: 1. Awful assignments are pretty rare; 2. If you perform your due diligence in researching your assignments, you can easily avoid disaster;

Therapists that repeatedly finds themselves in difficult situations or putting out fires with their bosses needs to take a deep look internally and know their roll. As a traveler, you are frequently not treated as a full team-member; you are a temp filling a spot and may be a bit of an outsider from the other staff.  Even with facilities that are very welcoming, you may find yourself the work-horse while other overworked staff gets their long-needed rests. If you eventually accept more permanent employment from a facility, then, your role may change, but until that time, do not tell your boss how you think the facility could improve. I did this on assignment back in 2010 at a home care company – I was told, “We welcome your feedback, we want to know what could be done better.” Even if you are begged for feedback, you are a temp, do not tell your boss how the facility could improve. I have learned this lesson, don’t repeat my mistakes. The last day of that assignment came with one of the most unfriendly goodbyes I have ever experienced. That home care company has since closed their doors. OK, so maybe 2 assignments out of 20 didn’t go as smoothly as they could have for me. That’s a 90% success rate, I still believe really bad assignments are a rarity.

The only thing in travel PT that gets me riled up on a regular basis is the licensure juggling act. I think I have ranted about licensure in the past. After a period of time, Kate and I had let all our unused licenses lapse. We found ourselves in a jam last spring and started re-upping many of our licenses. We decided at that time that we would maintain all our current licenses as long as we traveled, because it’s too much of a pain to renew a license you have let expire. That strategy went to junk last week.

All Alaska PT licenses expired on June 30th. Can you imagine what this month is like in the Alaska licensure office!? Holy Cow, just hope you don’t have to contact them to get anything done in the next couple weeks. Anyways, Kate and I set into filling out the paperwork for licensure renewal which included a 20 question juris prudence exam heavily focused on the new continuing education regulations – also, you had to write down the statute number that contained the answer to each question. Over the last two years, I’ve attended several multi-day national meetings to discuss PT issues and practices, but this is not considered continuing education by Alaska. So, I set off on the internet to find a cheap courses that would provide the CEU’s I needed. Two hours into this process, we had the applications in the envelope (no email or faxing allowed), $240 checks written each for renewal, and I was about to order a lousy $300 online course for my CEU’s when we finally decided to pull the plug on staying licensed in Alaska. Kate and I may renew in the future, but the prospect of shelling out $800 to keep a license we might not use seems a bit ridiculous. I did end up ordering a much higher quality, online course from APTA that I’ve been wanting to take, so the 2 hours spent not-renewing wasn’t a total loss.

The licensure process stinks, it’s an antiquated process that bears no real function in the modern world, other than to satisfy the outdated rule books. I will soon write ANOTHER letter to FSBPT expressing my displeasure, but in the meantime, I just take it as the way things have to be done to continue traveling.

Licensure is the thing that bothers me most about traveling, but it’s a relatively small inconvenience. I think people’s primary fear about traveling is getting stuck in a nightmare assignment. As I’ve expressed, the really bad assignments are rare. If you find yourself in a bad assignment it will only last 13 weeks, and it will probably take you half of the 13 weeks to even realize you have accepted a bad assignment.  If it’s exceptionally bad, there are ways out, and a good staffing agency will have your back. Other than what I’ve already talked about, there is very little downside traveling physical therapy. The frequent moving can get a little old at times, but that process streamlines itself with practice. Who am I kidding, packing and cleaning will always be the worst – just awful.


Stay tuned, lots of excitement happening in the initial stages of searching for an autumn assignment. I’ll keep you posted. And please do share your gripes about traveling PT… a one time chance. I will not write another negative blog for a long time.

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