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.

Careers in Travel PT

I had the opportunity to talk with Regis University DPT students. We covered a whole lot of topics in just 30 minutes – housing, tax home, finding a recruiter, searching for assignments, independent contracts, PT compact and licensure, health insurance…. and a lot more.

The presentation and Q&A were recorded and are here for your enjoyment!

Traveling Therapist Q&A: Considering Travel

This recent post on the discussion board from a new traveler had so many good questions in one place that I thought I would take the time to answer a little more in depth and share the dialogue more broadly. I hope this helps other therapists who are new to traveling!


I’m a Respiratory Therapist with 5 years of experience and am considering doing Travel Therapy for a few years. The thought of traveling to new states and having increased income is very attractive. However, I do have a few concerns that I was hoping someone with experience could assist me with.

Housing/Insurance

On paper, it appears traveling is a tremendous increase in pay versus permanent jobs and with allotments boost the net even further. My question is if I elect to have housing provided to me and to have health insurance coverage, does that negate the increase in pay? To those who have traveled before: where else could you live short-term (3-6 months) and come out ahead instead of electing to have housing provided?

Yes, taking health insurance through your employer and allowing them to place you in housing will cut into your hourly pay. Insurance will only minimally cut into your pay. For most of my time traveling, I carried my own insurance and was only able to get $1 extra per hour worked into my contract. So, figure $1/hr out of your contract for insurance,

There are a lot of different options for housing, and in my opinion, taking the housing assigned by the agency is the worst option. If you do take housing through the agency, as I did on my first travel assignment, you will find it very convenient. The agency will arrange a nice apartment for you with furniture, ready to move in, but it will cost you considerably. It will take a little more footwork to find a furnished space on craigslist or by looking up local classified ads in the community you are headed to, but you will be able to choose a living space in a neighborhood of your choosing, and you will likely be able to beat what the agency will charge you for housing.

The camper I lived in on Martha’s Vineyard. We had considered a houseboat initially…. maybe next time.

The final, more eccentric option, is living in a camper. A lot of people who plan to travel for a a while in temperate places take their whole life on the road with them. This can also be a more convenient option for travelers with pets. If this appeals to you, the facebook group Highway Hypodermics can be a great resource.

Taxes/Reimbursement

If I work in multiple states as a traveler, are there any tax exemptions? I don’t want to owe a great deal at the end of the year. Will I be reimbursed for travel, new licenses, uniforms?

One of the main benefits as a traveler is the tax free monies you can receive. First is your housing stipend. If you don’t take the agency’s housing, they provide you a tax free stipend – hopefully you find housing for less than the stipend so you can pocket the rest of the money. The second main source of tax free money is your per diem. The IRS regulates both the housing stipend and per diem – a cap is set on each by cost of living in the area code you are working in. If the per diem or housing stipend is low compared to your hourly pay, there may be an opportunity for you to negotiate some taxed hourly wage into a tax free category. It’s one way to maximize your take home without too big of a hit to the agency. However, too low hourly pay compared to your tax free monies can be a red flag for an IRS audit of your employer, so many agencies will have a limit to how far they will push that barrier. With all of this said, income tax laws vary wildly by state and you may find you owe states a certain percentage of your earnings at the end of the year – but this only applies to your taxed hourly wages, not your tax free money. 

It’s good to ask for any potential reimbursements prior to signing your contract. Licensure fees are typically reimbursed. You will usually get a set amount for relocation – anywhere from $500 to $2000 at most (another good area to target for negotiations to squeak in a little more money. I’ve never had uniforms reimbursed, but it sounds like a very reasonable item to ask your recruiter for reimbursement on.

I’m an adult RT therapist with experience in acute and an LTACH, are the opportunities less if my Peds experience is limited?

As long as you are open to new experiences and settings, I think you will find your options wide-open. Traveling has been a wonderful way for me to gain experience in settings I otherwise never would have worked in. After a couple of assignments, my breadth of experiences had expanded greatly and even more opportunities were available to me. After those initial experiences, I could confidently step into almost any setting.

Cancelled Contract

Has there ever been a time when a contract is rescinded prior to start? In that case what does the company do?

I have never had a contract cancelled in 10 years of traveling – except for one time when I broke my arm and couldn’t work. However, it does happen. That is the main risk in traveling and you just have to be willing to roll with the punches and be flexible to adapt. Typically, there is a clause in your contract that allows you to leave a contract with 30 days notice, but you do not necessarily receive the same protection from an employer cancelling the contract (ask your recruiter about the policy for your company). Typically, a facilities staffing needs are well thought out. They don’t hire a traveler unless they need one. If you are a good employee and good fit for the facility, you shouldn’t have to worry about your contract being cancelled.

Recruiters

Since I have a lack of experience in traveling, I also don’t know which companies are the favorable ones. Any suggestions?

I’m going to refer you to this blog post on your first travel job for a couple tips on selecting a recruiter. Basically, if you don’t feel well taken of, move on to another company. There are many, many agencies and a lot of them recognize that the clinician is the commodity. Without us working, willing to take travel jobs, there would be no travel industry and there would be no recruiters – find one that’s willing to make you feel needed.

Surfing Waikiki after work one day. Traveling therapy is the best thing ever.

Overtime

Can you sign up for overtime?

If you are considering overtime, take that into consideration when arranging your contract. Typically, overtime is paid at 1.5 times your regular hourly rate. However, your hourly is going to be pretty low because of all the tax free money you will also be receiving. On one job, I knew I would be working some overtime, so I was able to negotiate a flat rate for any overtime hours to make sure I was making reasonable overtime pay for overtime hours.

It is really going to depend job-to-job on whether overtime is available – make sure to ask during any interviews you have.

Overall, I’d like a good experience and to be able to earn enough to pursue my dream location. I just want to know it’s worth it.

Traveling therapy is awesome. Pay can vary greatly place-to-place. Just weigh your priorities and if getting out and seeing new states and facilities is one of your priorities, then travel is definitely for you!

For other therapists trying to figure out where to start, this link is a great place to get started with travel therapy. Also, don’t forget to follow HoboHealth on Facebook and on Twitter @HoboHealth.

Experience Before Travel PT vs. New Grad Travel PT

new grad traveling therapy

James of HoboHealth worked in private practice before going into traveling PT and believes gaining professional experience is the right move to make before traveling.  April of The Vagabonding DPT has had professional success and happiness through becoming a traveler immediately as a new grad. These two traveling Doctors of Physical Therapy from different personal and professional backgrounds have connected to provide you diverse perspectives on travel PT.  This is their first blog post together of a series of topics.

What are the advantages of being a New Grad PT vs. being an Experienced PT then going into Travel PT?

 

headshot-square-finalHoboHealth:
Professional Experience – I only worked for six months between graduation and starting as a traveling PT. The brief time I worked in private practice before traveling did a lot to shape who I am as a clinician today. Getting just a little bit of experience as a clinician allowed me to become grounded in a healthy work environment before setting out into the less predictable and less stable world of traveling.

Personal Marketability – I believe the little bit of experience I had in private practice prior to traveling gave me a leg-up on other candidates looking at the same jobs. My first traveling job was (primarily) outpatient in a community hospital outside of Boston with other therapists around to help continue my mentorship and growth. Without a little experience, I don’t believe they would have taken on the risk of hiring a near-new grad. Six months in private practice, followed by 10 months at my first travel assignment with strong mentorship set me up for 10 years of positive traveling assignments. Bottomline, if you get a little experience before travel, better employment opportunities are available to you as a traveler.

Vagabonding DPT:april-fajardo-headshot
My life was as compact as possible.  I already had sold all my furniture and everything I owned fit into my Honda Civic. I was as mobile as I ever would be.  If there was any opportunity to travel and explore, now was my moment. I had just spent my 3rd year completing my clinical rotations in Oklahoma City, OK; Salt Lake City, UT; Springfield, MO; and Dallas, TX. I was moving about every couple of months.  In essence, my clinical internships provided me the opportunity to live the life of a travel DPT as a student.  I was used to learning at a rapid rate and had to learn to adjust to a new city and clinic every few months. Because of this, It was quite an easy transition to go from a DPT student on clinical rotations to a DPT on the road for work.

You have “less” responsibility. As one begins to settle into their career and life (in general), the natural progression is to get settled into a specific location, get married, buy a house, have children or furry kids, and/or take care of ill, elderly parents.  Although I think it is absolutely possible to travel with all the aforementioned circumstances, these factors require far more extensive benefit/cost analysis. For myself, I wasn’t married, I didn’t have a house, nor did I have children.  So I made the personal decision to take the plunge straight into travel PT for further domestic exploration and adventures!

Money
Although I believe that this shouldn’t be your primary reason for going into traveling therapy.  It definitely doesn’t hurt. Students are coming out with a tremendous amount of debt and this is definitely a great way to pay down those student loans.

What are the disadvantages of being a New Grad PT vs. being an Experienced PT then going into Travel PT?

 

HoboHealth:
When I first thought about this question, my gut reaction was, “There’s no disadvantage! What could be wrong with having more experience going into a job?” …but then I thought of the hardest day of my PT career – the day I had to quit my first job. The day I told my mentor and friend that I wouldn’t be able to work for him anymore was a really stressful day. Quitting a job, especially one that you like, is hard. I can see how someone with the intention to travel could go get a steady job and never end up leaving it. While I do believe strongly in getting experience before traveling, I can see how you risk getting “stuck” in a permanent job. I remember the phrase one of my professors told me to make quitting professional and simple, “It’s an opportunity I can’t pass up.” Remember that phrase, it’s a good one.

Also, the traveling lifestyle is only available to those in the right life situations to have the flexibility to take short-term contracts. Sometimes you have to strike while the iron is hot – waiting to take a permanent job, get several months of experience, and then quitting can shift you into a phase of life where the idea of travel isn’t as easy as it once was. New family obligations, meeting a significant other, and simple logistics like year-long rental leases can obstruct your path to the open road.

Vagabonding DPT:
Mentorship:
Off the bat, one’s initial thought may be the lack of mentorship.  There are some travel companies that may market mentorship opportunities.  I challenge you to ask them what exactly this looks like.  Just being in the same clinic as other physical therapists does not constitute as mentorship.  This can be countered by building an army of mentors while being a student.  Based on my interests, I’ve inadvertently built an army of specialists from Neurologic PT to Global Health to Nonprofit Leadership.

Mentorship does not have to be limited to our profession. There is something to learn from everyone.  Quite frankly, our patients become our first mentors.  If you learn to listen intently, they will lead you to the answer.  In addition, a firm understanding of other disciplines such as occupational therapy and speech & language pathology can help us maximize our role with a focus on patient-centered rehabilitative care.

Lack of Experience:
James touched upon this and it is true.  There will be some jobs that will require that you have more experience than what you have had. However, I secured my second job assignment by highlighting my strengths and experiences in that setting.  I applied for a position in inpatient rehabilitation that required 5 years of experience.  So during my phone interview, I discussed my experience.  I worked for two years as a PT aide in outpatient PT, then did an additional two years as a rehab aide prior to even applying for physical therapy. I also completed two clinical rotations in inpatient rehabilitation. I felt I was more than qualified for the position at hand.   I’m glad that the rehabilitation manager was pleased with my response as well because she essentially hired me for the position. I’ve extended my contract since then.

Being a traveler can isolate you from the typical learning and professional development paths that may be available in more traditional PT careers. What have you done or do you plan to do to continue your professional development?

 

HoboHealth:
Board Specialty
Shortly after completing my transitional-DPT, I soon felt ready to pursue my Orthopaedic Clinical Specialty (OCS). I spent more than a year reading every piece of ortho research I could get my hands on and reading a couple comprehensive ortho books cover-to-cover. The constant studying kept me focused on a fixed goal for quite some time. Specialties through ABPTS are available in variety of practice areas. A couple supervisors on travel assignments have told me they hired me specifically because of my board specialist certification. In total, my tDPT and OCS combined filled the first  4 years of my professional life with a structured, focused learning path.

Some universities are offering post-doctoral learning paths that culminate in sitting for (and hopefully passing) the specialist exams. My alma mater, Northeastern University, offers a Certificate of Advanced Study in Orthopedics. Essentially, you take 5 online classes focused on advanced orthopedic practice, earn college credits, and become more prepared for the OCS exam. Programs like this can help you keep a structured learning schedule that can otherwise so easily fall out of priority while working as a travel PT.

Certifications
Generally, I am skeptical of programs focused on one clinical belief system and the alphabet soup that comes along with them. Courses that all come from a single guru will help you dive deeply into a treatment strategy, but are typically lacking in variety outside of that one strategy. However, as a way to provide a structure for learning towards a final goal, they can be very useful. I currently am about to set out on earning my certification in Dry Needling. Over the next year, I have my learning laid out for me and a fixed goal to be certified in Dry Needling and Cupping by the end of 2017. There are some other great programs available that offer several courses on different topics culminating in a single certification – do be discerning, not all certs are created equal.

Vagabonding DPT:
With the constant change, rapid rate of learning, and high productive expectations expected as a Travel PT, you can get burnt out and/or apathetic as a PT.  It is pivotal that you “Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.”  Since graduation, I have done exactly that through social media, leadership positions, national PT conferences, and continuing education courses.

Social Media
I didn’t understand Twitter.  I didn’t get the point.  However, a few years ago, I ran for the position of APTA Student Assembly Director of Communications and thought that I should get one in the event I got elected and had to manage one. I’ll be honest.  I had no idea what I was doing.  With the Twitter mentorship of Matt Debole, PT, DPT, OCS and Stephanie Weyrauch, PT, DPT, they opened up a world of passionate students and clinicians from all over the country and the world.  I started utilizing pound signs…I mean hashtags and twitter handles in my tweets.  A few years later, I had the pleasure of engaging with these professionals virtually and in person.

If you don’t have a twitter account, get one.  The best way is to just dive in and follow a few hashtags such as #ChoosePT, #DPTstudent, #SolvePT, #FreshPT, #PTFam and/or #TravelPT, just to name a few.

Still don’t get it? Start one, follow me, then tag me @AprilFajardoPT in your first tweet! Be part of the conversation.

PT Conferences
National Conferences: Have you ever been to National Student Conclave, Combined Sections Meeting (CSM), or NEXT?  It’s how the kids say, “lit?”  Yesss, LIT!!!! Everyone comes to this conference to learn, but one of the most important aspects of these conferences is the opportunity to formulate connections.  If you’ve been active on social media, meet some of those you follow on Twitter at one of these conferences.  You get to attend a multitude of receptions based on your interests and involvement from Alumni events to Section events.  The exhibit hall is equipped with the latest physical therapy gadgets and with recruiters from every corner of the US.  The

International PT Conference: This coming year, I plan on attending the World Congress of Physical Therapy on July 2nd-4th in Capetown, South Africa.  I look forward to the opportunity to learn from and engage with physiotherapists around the world.  Sounds enticing, doesn’t it?  Well, the early registration deadline is November 30th.  Join me and check out their website at http://www.wcpt.org/congress.

Professional Leadership
I’ve been on the go as a traveler; however, I’ve stayed engaged through the pursuit of my passions in professional development, engagement, APTA membership, global health, and service.  I currently serve as The Academy of Neurologic PT’s membership and public relations committee member, an Early Career Team committee member, and the PT Day of Service’s Global Affairs Chair.  My role in all these leadership positions has been location independent.  If I can do it, you can too!  Not sure where to start?  Fill out the APTA Volunteer Interest Pool at http://www.apta.org/VolunteerGroups/ or email the APTA Executive Director of the Section you want to get involved in at http://www.apta.org/Sections/.

Continuing Education Courses
Every state has a different set of requirements for continuing education courses.  However, I’ve found that the most helpful courses have been those developed by a specific section of the APTA.  I’ve taken a continuing education course on Parkinson’s Disease developed by the Academy of the Neurologic PT.  Terry Ellis, PhD, PT, NCS of Boston University  and Lee Dibble, PhD, PT of University of Utah taught the course through the integration of the evidence and its clinical application.  So if there’s a specific topic you want to learn about, check out what courses are provided by the appropriate APTA section.

The New Grad Dilemma

new grad therapist travelNote: I have included a lot of links in this piece and there is a ton of information beyond this article through those links. If you are a new grad therapist looking into travel, take the time to explore these links. Some are other pieces about new grads traveling, some are about professional development, and some are conversations on the discussion board that are pertinent. Note 2: I’m going to write this post using “Physical Therapist” language, but I believe this topic applies to speech and occupational therapists as well. I feel passionately about this particular post and found myself getting bogged down in language trying to be more inclusive of all therapists – so, forgive me, I really mean all therapists, but as a PT, I just write more gooder when I can write in the terms most familiar to me.

In the last couple months, I have written and spoken with quite a few new grad physical therapists who are going straight to traveling after graduation. With several of these new grads, I have had the opportunity to give my typical schpeel:

I do not believe you should travel as an immediate new grad therapist. I believe you need at least a brief experience as a PT with your own patients and own license alongside other experienced therapists to get to know yourself as a clinician and what life as a professional in a good clinical setting is like. That way, when you run into employment, management, or ethical red flags on assignment, you can recognize them and react appropriately. As a student PT, you have gained great knowledge that is more up to date and in depth than many currently practicing clinicians. You have also likely managed your own patient case load and treated a wide variety of cases. But, you have never done this without a safety net – with everyone expecting you to be the person with the answers. Do you need to be an expert clinician to be a successful traveler? Absolutely not, but I recommend you have some sort of professional experience, because there is frequently less support around you as a traveler than there would be in a more stable environment. I do not think you should travel right out of school, but if you are determined to, I would like to help you down the path to a better traveling experience.

So, in summary: Don’t travel immediately out of school, but if you do, I’d like to help you along the way.

What has my experience with giving this advice been? Failure. Despite my advice, just about every new grad physical therapist I talked to this summer is already working in a travel job or currently traveling to their first assignment. I have lost them to the awesome, kick-ass world of traveling therapy. Can I really blame them? No, being a traveling PT has a lot of benefits and upside, but I hope I can still save a few of you who haven’t signed travel contracts yet. I plead with you, just get a brief stretch of experience as a therapist before you travel.

I’ve written a lot on this topic in years past. I’ll try not to be redundant and instead, as mentioned above, link out to the things I have written in the past. If you are a new grad considering travel PT, earnestly consider whether traveling therapy is the best thing for you right now. Maybe it is, life changes fast and your window to travel may be closing soon, but if you can delay travel for 6 to 12 months, it will improve your experience. What follows is a mixture of “why you shouldn’t” and “if you do” advice.

With the new grad therapists I have been talking to, the most prevalent challenge I have been finding is predatory recruiters who don’t care who you are and who you want to be as a professional. These recruiters are only motivated by the fact that they get paid if they place you in a job. I’m generalizing, but the more predatory recruiters tend to be in the really big recruiting agencies that are staffing-factories. Finding a recruiter as your “employer” is the same as if you were looking for a permanent employer. You would want a clinical employer that allows you to spend solid one-on-one time with each of your patients. Likewise, you want to find a recruiter who has the time to get to know you and give you some personal attention. When working with a recruiter (and I recommend you work with 2 or 3), ask yourself these questions:

1. Does this recruiter know or remember anything about me personally or professionally?
2. Does this recruiter care if I get placed in a good job?
3. Am I steering the conversation of where I am going to work? (or is the recruiter?)

If the answer to any 1 of these 3 questions is “No,” find another recruiter. Don’t worry, there are over 300 Joint Commission accredited recruiting agencies, you’ll find another recruiter. Your recruiter should be WORKING FOR YOU to put you in a situation that best fits your needs and sets you up to grow as a professional. The predictable next-step with any predatory recruiter is a low-ball offer to work at a facility with no other PTs but likely an ungodly number of support staff for you to supervise. In this conversation going on at the discussion board (which I highly recommend you read), one new grad mentions a job offer where he would be the only PT at the facility with 3 PTAs. Which brings another three questions to my mind:

1. If the facility needs a traveler, who is supervising the PTAs now?
2. Does a therapist supervising 3 assistants actually get to treat any patients of their own?
3. How unbelievably bad is this facility that they are willing to hire a new grad they have never met in person to be their only therapist?

Forgive me, I’m just a worried big-brother-PT trying to keep his siblings out of trouble. I know you guys are all (mostly) super-intelligent people and see the red lights flashing on this job offer, but I want to assure you that you have choices and should never-ever under any circumstances work for a recruiter who offers you a job like the one described above – pass on it, this job can be somebody else’s nightmare. I got really lucky with my first assignment, but took time looking for a recruiter that was willing to hold my hand throughout the process. Because I was working at a permanent job, I had the luxury of taking my time to research staffing agencies and search for a job. When I found the recruiter I would eventually take my first assignment with, we searched together for a job that would allow me to work in outpatient and would have other PTs around for my mentoring and growth. It took a few weeks of patience, but that assignment eventually came up. I interviewed and accepted the job, and I extended my contract there twice to ultimately stay 10 months because it was such a great fit for me and satisfied my need for growth as a new therapist – this, ideally, is what your experience should be as a new grad exploring travel therapy. Your recruiter should be some sort of a cross between a teacher and companion who can appreciate what you need in a job and what strengths you have to offer a potential employer. Here’s an older discussion board thread discussing travel as a new grad and selecting your first job.

Let’s talk about why a facility needs to hire a traveler, because I think it is central to why some travel assignments are better than others and why you should have some experience before you travel. A facility hires travelers because they are understaffed. A facility can be understaffed for a number of very benign reasons – an employee is out temporarily for illness or maternity leave, the geographic location is difficult to attract highly educated professionals to, the business has recently expanded or gone through a structural change and is spread thin on staffing, or the area doesn’t have any PT programs nearby so there is a chronic shortage. If you’re discerning, patient, and lucky enough, these are the jobs you will take consistently as a traveler. These facilities generally care about their patients, and, because they care, they will be expecting you to bring a certain established skill-set with you to hit the floor running and start treating patients confidently soon after you start. If you approach the job selection process with little care of where you work and no experience to demonstrate any specific skill set, you’re more likely to find yourself in the facilities that have staffing issues for the other, more sinister reasons – these places are willing to hire any warm body with a license. Facilities can have staffing issues because management is awful, productivity expectations are too high, or the business is unethical. The therapists that put themselves in the situation of working for the clinics with the worse kind of staffing issues are not going to have a good professional life. They will experience stress and burnout, and these are the people you will meet who are cynical about therapy and healthcare business in general. With a little bit of effort and patience, you can dodge lousy assignments – when the red flags go up, pay attention to your gut. If it sounds like a lousy situation, it is. If you can get yourself a year or even just a few months of experience before traveling, your marketability improves dramatically and the quality of jobs available to you will grow.

The reason I feel the need to warn you all about the dark side of traveling as a new grad is because I care greatly about our profession. We are uniquely situated to do great things in healthcare. We are primed to heal patients conservatively without medication or surgery, to heal and promote health in many different venues, and to prevent pain and disease in the first place. All of these things save patients and insurance companies a great deal of money versus other treatment options and will ultimately be our golden ticket as everyone continues to age. In order for our profession to best seize these opportunities, we need to cultivate the best clinicians, and I don’t think starting out as a traveler with zero professional experience will make you the best clinician and ambassador of our profession that you have the potential to be. Just a little time before you travel will get you grounded and set a baseline for your future experiences. There are great advantages professionally and clinically to being a traveler – if you travel for multiple years, you will eventually work in more settings than you ever dreamed of. You will treat patients of more different backgrounds and cultures than you could never imagine, and you will be one of the most well-rounded clinicians with more diverse clinical and world experiences than any of your non-traveler colleagues. Without experience in the setting you would ultimately like to work in, you are more likely to aimless drift from lousy assignment to lousy assignment without gaining a good foothold on who you are as a clinician when you are at your best. As a traveler, professional growth is a solitary experience, you really need to be on the right path when you start. Please, I beg you, travel, it is a fantastic experience, but get just a tiny bit of professional experience first – in the long run, you will be more successful in your travels and you will be a better representative of our profession to your patients and co-workers.

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!

Two Weeks of Shampoo

The last few weeks around this blog have been a little too serious for my taste. Time to stop taking on all the problems of the world and get back to the nonsense and fun about being a traveler.

Things are winding down on this assignment. 11 weeks are gone and only 2 remain. In a non-traveling life, I think months and years would start to blend together for me, but the constant change in job and location helps to keep my memories of events organized. If I lose track of when something happened, all I have to do is think about where I was living, and instantly I know when it was. When did the Red Sox play the Rockies in the World Series? I was living in Colorado Springs, so it must have been 2007 – Go Sox! This constant change also creates constant deadlines – projects must be completed before any big move, i.e. Christmas cards must be sent before this assignment is over, otherwise it will be mid-December before I’m situated and organized again.

The sun set a couple weekends ago. This has been a great assignment and moving on will bring more adventure but is bitter sweet.

The sun set a couple weekends ago. This has been a great assignment and moving on will bring more adventure but is bitter sweet.

As the time has gone on with being a traveling PT, I’ve become very good at estimating time in unusual situations. For instance, it takes about two weeks for me to memorize the light switch arrangement in a new apartment. Until two weeks has passed in a new place, I am likely to be found late at night, in the dark, feeling my way around the walls trying to find the right switches. I realized recently that I’m constantly thinking of all kinds of bizarre things in terms of time.  A Costco trip at the beginning of each assignment will be filled with estimations about whether each package is big enough or too big for the whole assignment – I’ve gotten good. Two large jugs of maple syrup (32 oz each) will last 3 months. We somehow ended up with too much maple syrup on this assignment, now we’re really having to eat/drink a lot of the stuff – woe is me. 🙂

Now that I think about it, this assignment has been a tricky one for managing the amount of products we have. We’re really isolated here on the island of Molokai, and there’s no major chain stores (except for Ace Hardware). The barge comes in only twice a week with supplies and most of the stores are locally owned and small. Most of the things we’ve been buying are limited in selection and you have to buy what’s available whenever you need it. I thought I was going to run out of body wash and spotted some on sale a couple weeks ago. I jumped at the opportunity to get a decent price. As the days tick down, the original bottle is still managing to hang on and I’m realizing that with a little conservation I probably could have made it through without the new bottle. Now, with all this extra body wash, the inclination is to try and burn through the bottle fast, make every shower a super-soapy-sudsy event. But, that’s not sane, I’ve really had to step back, use the normal amount of body wash, and realize that it’s alright if I leave a couple bucks worth of soap at the apartment when the assignment is over. Man, I thought my powers of soapy-estimation were better than that. Luckily, we’ve just learned that the travel PT starting the week after us will be moving into our apartment, it makes me feel better about leaving some extra supplies behind.

Time for me to run, we’re having hamburgers tonight, gotta start to eat down the beef supply in the freezer. I’ll write again next week before this assignment is done – the deadline is approaching fast.

Feast or Famine

When we last left off (Just Go With It – 5/9/14), I was headed 3,000 miles west out to Hawaii with the verbal assurance that there would be work when I arrived, but without anything in writing. Would there be work when I reached the islands? Would I be a kept man depending on my wife to bring home the bacon? Exactly how much snorkeling can one unemployed PT do in 13 weeks?

After some flip-flopping* back and forth, the work seems like it’s coming. In fact, I think I’ll have too much work in 2-3 weeks.

I arrived here 6 days ago, on Friday night. Luckily, the day before, my employment packet and job offer arrived in the mail from a private practice I have been speaking with. So, I learned how much I was going to be paid hourly if I worked, but had no guarantee of any hours. All there was to do was to get my feet on the ground in Hawaii and hope for the best.

O'hana Papaya

Papaya from the back yard garden! Included in the garden are the following trees that I can identify: 4 papaya trees, 2 mango trees, a hot pepper tree, and a coconut bearing palm tree.

When we arrived, we spent the weekend Craigslisting to find an apartment and a cheap car for the next three months. We found an awesome o’hana apartment! O’hana is the Hawaiian word for family, they call what we know as a mother-in-law apartment an o’hana. Because this island is essentially a big volcano with the top portion sticking out of the ocean, everything is on a hillside, and, therefor, everything has an ocean view. Our ocean view mother-in-law apartment is quite the pad – it also has a pool and a fruit-bearing garden in the backyard. Bugs, mostly cockroaches, are simply a fact of life in Hawaii. When we were out here a few years back, I had an old Toyota Camry with a roach problem. This time around, I have upgraded to a Toyota 4-Runner with a roach problem. I think bigger cars come with bigger roach problems…  back to the contract story.

I didn’t have any wok scheduled for this past Monday, so after dropping Kate off at her job, I popped in to visit the contract manager at the community hospital who I’ve been talking with about setting up an agency contract. All I had heard at this point was “we will need you, we will have work for you.” When I arrived on Monday, the story had changed, “It sounds like we may not need you at all,” says the contract manager. Uh oh, I was depending on there being work when I got out here. So, my efforts were refocused on the independent contract with the private practice. Originally I had told them I would be available Mon/Wed/Fri with the hopes of filling in at the hospital on Tues/Thurs, but with the changes in what I was hearing from the hospital, I offered to work all five days per week at the private practice. Right now, I don’t have a lot of appointments scheduled, but I can see how after evaluations are performed, and a few days go by, the schedule will grow considerably into a full 30-40 hours of work. This one private practice job should be just fine.

This morning, I heard from my recruiter on the hospital job, “James, call me when you wake up, I have good news.” The hospital changed their tune – census is up, and they need some extra help. At this time, I’m feeling conflicted about what to do. The private practice is bending over backwards to accommodate me and to try and fill my schedule. At this time, there’s not a very full schedule, but a couple weeks will fix that – unfortunately, they aren’t will to guarantee any hours. The hours patients are there with me are the only hours I get paid. On the other hand, the gig with the agency at the hospital will pay more and there may be a couple days worth of guaranteed hours.

4runner

The roach mobile, o’hana in the background!

When it rains, it pours. I’m currently working about 10 hours this week with a long-weekend quick approaching, it’s been a nice break, but I need to get back to consistent work. On the horizon, I can potentially expect 60+ hours of work any given week. While the thought of bearing down, working long hours, and stacking up piles of cash is appealing to me, I’m in paradise (again) for 3 months, and I’m not going to blow it by working indoors 60 hours a week.

For now, it’s back to waiting. I’ll have to see what the hospital really wants from me before I commit to anything. If they do guarantee hours, the decisions will get difficult – will I choose the higher paying guaranteed hours? Or will I stick by the practice who has not guaranteed me any hours, but has been good to me thus far?

Time will tell, for now it’s back to researching which beach to camp on for my 3+ day weekend.

Happy Memorial Day! Aloha!

*In Hawaii, flip-flops are called slippahs. example: Take ya slippahs off when ya come in da house, brah.

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: https://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. https://hobohealth.com/wordpress/faq/ Let me know if you have other questions, and keep in touch about what happens with you guys!

James