With any job, there are a number of different ways you can be paid. There’s straight-forward salary, hourly, or some sort of productivity-based pay. Of course, when considering pay for a typical job, there are things to consider besides just the money – health care, retirement, life insurance, employment-related discounts, and the list goes on. In traveling physical therapy, the list gets a little bit longer and more complicated. A traveling therapist has more say in how he or she would like to be paid and needs to determine how much he would like to weight his taxed versus untaxed wages. There are IRS limits on how much you can take tax free in each zip code, but I have been told that taking those upper limits with low taxed pay can be a red-flag for an audit. So, I typically take $20-$30 hourly (taxed) and get the rest of the pay as stipends/reimbursements. I know a lot of travelers think hourly should be near the normal hourly amount a perm PT makes with the reimbursements being in addition to normal pay, but that’s just not the way it works. A more adventurous travel assignment can have some perks that can make the math of take home pay a bit more complicated: a loaner car from a boss, employee housing, a coworker’s mother-in-law apartment, or other non-monetary compensations.
Productivity arrangements in healthcare can get iffy real fast, think anti-kickback laws. I am not a fan of pay-per-code or percentage of billing situations. These can quickly turn an honest therapist nasty. It’s just too tempting to bill an extra modality or therex that may not be necessary when you know your own bottom line is linked to it – I don’t like it one bit. I’ve seen a number of positions, particularly for therapists in management, where bonuses (boni?) are paid for meeting certain productivity thresholds – number of patient visits or units billed. I occasionally see pay-per-visit systems go awry with a therapist seeing many patients at once, episodes of care dragging on, care extenders over-reaching their scopes of practice, patients getting less attention, and therapists getting burnt out. But, I can’t speak too harshly about pay-per-visit, since it is how I’m getting paid right now. Luckily I’m in a practice where all treatments are provided by PTs 1-on-1 for an hour. With the focus of 1-on-1 patient care, I find the arrangement ethically acceptable, but it’s definitely got its pros and cons. I’m well paid for my hour with a patient, but there is nothing worse than an initial evaluation that no-shows and leaves me unpaid with nothing to do for a full hour. I would encourage anyone considering a pay-per-visit position to first strongly scrutinize the care patients are receiving, and secondly, to ask for a little more money than you normally would, because the chances of batting 1.000 for attendance in any given week are slim.
New travelers are always asking me what they should get paid – I don’t know. Pay varies so much regionally and even town to town. It can be real tough to know if you’re making all you can of if a recruiter is taking you to the cleaner’s. Just find a recruiter you trust and get as much as you can out of each contract. I may try to establish a database where travelers can anonymously input how much they got paid on assignment. It would likely be a small sample size, but may provide all of us some information about what other traveling PTs are getting paid in each state. As I mull over that idea, here’s a nice piece that Advance puts out each year based on their survey results of PT pay. I just stumbled across the APTA Workforce Data page, not as sexy or user friendly as the Advance survey, but lots of good info in there if you click around (APTA Members only).
Some advice for the new traveler: Remember that your recruiter is working on commission and doesn’t get paid if you don’t get hired- it is in their best interest to get you on board even if it lowers their own bottom line. You are a temporary worker for a facility that needs help immediately, you are willing to pick up your life and move to that job to fill a position they desperately need filled – this has big value to it. With all these things working in your favor for higher pay, the costs of travel, furnished apartments, and miscellaneous other will likely cancel out a big chunk of the extra moolah. But, traveling PT can be an exceptional lifestyle that is worth so much in personal experience and growth – so get what you can financially out of a contract, but more importantly, just get out and see some more of this world.
In other news, a series of conversations this week have lead me to believe that the travel PT market is rebounding from a couple of more difficult years, I’m finishing up my SCUBA certification with four dives off the coast of the Big Island this weekend, and (in a crazy out of this world experience that only traveling PT could provide) a hospital has bought Kate and I plane tickets to fly out to interview for a possible once-in-a-lifetime travel assignment this fall – we shall see and more on this later.
Keep living the dream 13 weeks at a time!