Community Chest

Being a traveling Physical Therapist really has its benefits. Seriously, getting paid to move all over the country? People take entire years off of their jobs and normal lives to do what we do. For the special person willing to live a mobile lifestyle, traveling PT is an easy choice.

But, every so often I consider the downside to being a gypsy, a transient, a vagabond. A few months in a place is plenty to let a community leave its mark on you – I have good memories and have learned something from every single place I have worked. But, it can be a real challenge to leave your own mark on the places you visit. Being a part of a community comes in a lot of different forms, and people will accept you as one of their own at varying rates. Some places are quick to accept you as a “local,” other places require that you are born local and see so many people come and go that they will never fully let you into their inner circle. Having a sense of community, and feeling like you belong and are accepted where you are can be a very difficult part of travel PT.

Being a part of a community is a two way street. You have to find a way to absorb some of the traditions and culture of a place into yourself, but also you must contribute to the experience of the people you work with, the larger community, and if you’re lucky, the great friends you make while on assignment. Every time a clinic asks you to extend your contract^ or your coworkers are sad to see you go, you’ve done something right and made your mark.

Lift Jan. 26th | Dr. James Spencer from Aspen 82 on Vimeo.

I’ve been coming back here to Colorado on winter contracts for 6 years now and am starting to have my own identity in the larger community. But, I’ve realized that many of the small things I’m doing now to strengthen that identity, could have been done years ago. I can probably do these things early on future assignments. What kind of things? Advocacy! Being involved in advocacy is great on so many levels. You’re becoming involved in your profession and advocating for your own self and interests, you’re taking an active role in your career and taking action on the issues that affect and matter to your co-workers and patients, and, when done right, you’re making a valuable contribution to whatever community you’re in. Advocate for your profession, advocate for your coworkers, advocate for your patients, advocate for yourself.

Up above, there’s a screen-shot from the interview I recently did on local cable. I talked about preventing ski injuries, focusing on knee and back injuries in particular. Super-easy, it took 30 minutes of my day, and these local channels love health pieces like this. Volunteer to talk about whatever matters to you, or whatever is easy for you to talk about. Last year, a local newspaper article about back pain pissed me off. It focused on all the wrong things – MRIs, surgery, and chiropractors. Rather than return an incendiary letter to the paper, I wrote a short letter advocating the use of PT early in the treatment of low back and neck pain. The letter went over well and did a bit to cement my professional role in this community. I’ve been seeing more neck and back patients ever since. And, that’s fine by me, I like treating those kinds of injuries, it has become my “thing.”

The return to Colorado each year has helped me fill that sense of belonging to a community that I otherwise miss in travel PT. I have built a social circle here with good friends, co-workers, and other acquaintances around town. But, outside of the personal relationships that take time to build, I believe there is a lot I could have been doing earlier to make myself a part of the community and not just a passer-through. I’m in the process of re-upping my Hawaii license for a second assignment there this spring. The locals there can be a tough group to gain acceptance from, so we’ll see if my ideas to advocate for the profession early in an assignment have some merit to them, or if I’ll flop. It can’t hurt, no publicity is bad publicity… an interview on preventing swimming injuries? Yeah, that sounds easy enough.

Until next time, travel safe. I’ll try to write more frequently!

James

^ Footnote: Most of us PTs and PTAs are just terrible at business and negotiating. I was talking with a friend recently and telling him a story about a friend who had done 3 contract extensions at one facility. He was surprised to hear that a contract extension should come with a raise. It is my experience that if a contract is extended for a few months (which happens frequently when things are going well), you should ask your recruiter for a small hourly raise. Just my input on another small way us PTs can better advocate for ourselves.

Home is Where

“Where do you live?” It’s a simple question that is likely to be asked at the start of a conversation with any stranger. It’s a question that is easy for most people and that the asker expects a quick answer to.

For any traveling healthcare worker who has been at this for a while, it’s a loaded question. My mind races over a series of responses, “I have an apartment in Maine, but I’m rarely ever there.” “Well, the IRS says I live in…” “I live part of the year in Colorado and keep going back there.” I usually settle on the most simple response, secretly hoping the conversation will change topics, “I live here right now, but I move a lot for work.”

But, NO! They can’t drop the inquisition, it always continues on, “You move a lot? Well where’s your home base? Where are you from? When are you going to settle down? What does your wife do?”

I, again, try to keep the answer simple. Again, hoping the conversation can move along from this complicated topic, “Well my wife is a therapist too, so we move from contract-to-contract together. We’re both from New England, but we’ve been doing this a while now, so we have some fairly scattered roots at this point.” Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “This poor guy was expecting an easy answer. There isn’t one.” Traveling PTs don’t fit most people’s pre-determined mold of what a life, home,and job should look like.

There’s a whole host of issues, social and logistical, that complicate the home question both extrinsically and intrinsically. First is the IRS, travelers live by their rules and we do the best we can to try to maintain a life that fits their rules. Unfortunately, certain states have laws that complicate the picture by having loose standards for what a fulltime resident is and taxing people based on that status. I’m looking at you, Maine! I am certain that there is a traveler out there somewhere who has the perfectly wrong combination of living situations and who is taxed as a permanent resident by multiple states.

Don’t get me going on the system for forwarding mail by the post office. OK, do get me going. Every 3 to 6 months I head to the USPS website and submit my change of address forms. To their credit, the post office usually gets me my mail, but sometimes that mail makes a few stops along the way to reach me. I have attended weddings and received the invitation afterwards. Gad zooks!

The years since starting travel have started to really add up for me. I used to be able to intuitively know how many years ago I was in Hawaii, or how many winters I had spent in Colorado. When I showed up back here 3 weeks ago, I went around telling people it was either my 4th or 5th year coming back, I wasn’t really sure… WRONG! After some counting by figuring out what years I was in which apartment, I have come to the realization that this is winter number 6 (out of the last 7) that I am living out here in Colorado. How can we tell people where we live if we don’t even know!?

On the return, Saturday, 3 weeks ago, Kate and I quickly moved into the same employee apartment building that we have lived 3 years prior. On Sunday, we drove 1.5 hours to the local Costco and stopped by our storage area on the way back. It turns out that in our storage area, with all of our skis, 7 pairs between the two of us, was a ton of stuff that we have accumulated. Kitchen supplies, wedding pictures, snow tires for the car I sold this year, a painting I picked out of the trash at work 4 years ago, a bag of clothes to take to the local consignment store, beer brewing kit, computer printer, and our beloved 18 inch Christmas tree. I hesitate to say we keep a lot of junk here, because most of it has a purpose, but we do have a lot of “stuff” here. By Monday morning at 10, we had our ski passes and we were on the mountain where, by chance, we ran into a group of friends and skied with them all day. On Tuesday, Kate and I returned to work where we were greeted with hugs, a one-hour orientation, and quickly slipped into a seamless afternoon full of patients. Yeah, this is familiar, good friends, the old apartment, great job, and all my… “stuff.” Since the first year here, unlike many other places I’ve lived, people are willing to quickly include me in the small group they call “locals.” It’s tempting to call this “home” or to at least be less committal and admit that I live here, because I do have an established life here.

Back on the ski lift, a familiar conversation ensues, “Where do you live?”

“Here.” “… in the winter. This is my 6th season.”

The quick response, “Where do you go the rest of the time?”

Here we go again. Why doesn’t this conversation get any easier? 🙂

I used the word “inquisition” above, so this video seems pertinent. Until next time, travel safe!

 

A Little Ketchup

One of the many beautiful sunsets this fall from our apartment looking back on Boston.

One of the many beautiful sunsets this fall from our apartment looking back on Boston.

Another travel assignment has flown by and I again have written far less frequently than I intended. I have a short list of meaningful topics I’ve been wanting to get to, but today you’ll have to settle for just an update on the travel life.

It’s been a great autumn in the Boston area. Kate and I got a killer apartment on the coast just north of the city and have made up for a lot of lost time with old friends. Lots of fun, a few shenanigans, nice cold evening sunsets, and being here for another World Series championship have made it a great fall! It’s raining right now, but its probably one of less than 7 days it has rained during our 3 months here. It’s been a fantastic fall… but, man, am I ready to get out of here and head to Colorful Colorado!

Highland Bowl

Highland Bowl, one more reason to get out and get acclimated… that bowl ain’t gonna hike itself!

This will be our 6th year working seasonal positions out in Colorado. I have worked for the same hospital out there for 5 years now – I am so excited to get to the mountains, see good friends and co-workers, start up the low-stress life of a professionally employed ski bum, and most importantly,get to laying down some powder turns. After a delay in finding a job for the fall, this contract is running a little later in the year than I’d like it to, and some weeks of the ski season are slipping by. I’m also losing out on some precious time for altitude acclimation that makes a huge difference for some mountain races later this winter – and just trying to keep up with the other locals around town – and not being out of breath sitting at my desk at work.

 

Accord

The ol’ Accord road tripping in all its glory.

I think part of my extreme anxiousness to get out there lies in a newly fine-tuned proficiency for getting ready to move. I have no bags packed, but I feel like I have been preparing to move for 3 weeks now. Just a few drawers of clothes to shove in bags and we’ll be packed up. To add to the ease of moving this time around, we have upgraded to an SUV. I sold my old Honda Accord that I had put 120,000 great miles on (plus 70,000 miles from its original owner). It drove some of the great roads in North America – made the trip up the Alcan Highway to Alaska, drove East through Canada to Prince Edward Island, and touched the Southern and Northern tips of Rt 1. But, for two people routinely moving cross-country multiple times each year, I can’t believe it took us this long to get a bigger car. I sold the Accord this weekend on Craigslist and I am driving a rental for my last week working in home care – 4 more days on this contract – head down, nose to the grindstone. Short-Timer Syndrome be damned!

I, of course, will be updating on the Facebook and Twitter (@hobohealth) pages all along the road trip, but this trip will be less of a meander out west than some of our previous trips. We will get to catch up with some friends in Chicago along the way, but otherwise this trip is going to be a straight-shot westward in just a couple long days of driving. Expect updates soon and travel safe! -James

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

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

————–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Craigslist

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

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

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

Housing

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

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

 

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

Car

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

Hawaii Car

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

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

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

Housewares

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

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

Surfboard

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

Toys

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

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

——————

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

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

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

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

Northern Exposure

Somewhere along the way, Northern Maine changed for me.

I’m not sure if this post is just a story about a surprisingly good assignment or if it’s something deeper about discovering new places. It’s probably not all that deep, but there is a new part of Northern Maine that is A-O-K in my book.

"Katahdin" is a Penobscot Indian term meaning "the greatest mountain." So, technically, to say Mount Katahdin is redundant and silly - "Mount The Greatest Mountain." Anyways, it's much much bigger than anything else around. A shot from our campsite Saturday night.

“Katahdin” is a Penobscot Indian term meaning “the greatest mountain.” So, technically, to say Mount Katahdin is redundant and silly – “Mount The Greatest Mountain.” Anyways, it’s much much bigger than anything else around. A shot from our campsite Saturday night.

The speed limit has recently been increased to 75 mph north of Bangor. As far as I can tell, this stretch of highway is totally unpatrolled, and everybody knows it. I haven’t driven over 90 so much since I was seventeen. Driving this stretch at 80 to 90+ you can get from Bangor to the town of Houlton in just under 2 hours, here the interstate takes a sharp right hand turn into Canada, but getting off onto route 1 will carry you north through the farming towns of Aroostook County, or as it is known around Maine, just “the county.” About 45 minutes up that stretch of Rt 1 is Presque Isle, where Kate and I spent the last 13 weeks on assignment. I don’t know what I really expected to find all the way up in Presque Isle, but it ended up being a good town with great people. Right at the end of July, as we got towards the end of our contract, there was one week that I thought had a little bit of everything from our experience up in the county.

The week started out with the opening of the Northern Maine Fair (nohthen-Maine-Fayah). Anyone who has been to a state or county fair knows what I have gotten myself into: farm animals galore, bigger-than-your-head vegetables, carnival rides, the pinnacle of people watching, and if it can be eaten – it’s gonna be better fried, then eaten. The Northern Maine Fair is something you hear about, but don’t actually know anyone that has gone. The collection of people was… eclectic.

A little different shot I got of Katahdin later Saturday night, again from our campground. Beautiful Northern Maine skies unaltered by lights or pollution.

A little different shot I got of Katahdin later Saturday night, again from our campground. Beautiful Northern Maine skies unaltered by lights or pollution.

My days in the woods continued on Monday when out for my evening run on roads in my neighborhood, I came upon a momma bear and 3 cubs. It really was not that spectacular of a meeting – I surprised her, she definitely surprised me, and we both wanted to get further away from each other. As I back pedaled to put some distance between us, she rounded up her cubs and headed into the woods in a hurry. One cub had gotten away to the wrong side of the road, so I had some fear of continuing on with my run knowing I would have to run between a black bear and her cub. Kate was able to come from town and pick me up after I ran a couple miles in the other direction. Disaster adverted.

On Tuesday, Kate and I celebrated our wedding anniversary by going out to the nicest restaurant in town, Café Sorpresso. I had the seared scallops with maple butternut squash ravioli. Wicked good! I was stuffed to the brim. On the way home we drove up to the high part of town up on a hill where the hospital we were working at is located. We parked by the side of the road to watch the fireworks set off from the fairgrounds before calling it a night and heading on home.

OK, some admissions about this picture. It isn't from this summer. It isn't even from Maine. This is a picture of Kate and I with a group of strangers we met rafting on our first assignment together in Colorado Springs. The guy at 6/7 o'clock in the photo is Adam, he's an actor. He was on NCIS once. He had speaking lines and everything, but by the time I got the show turned on, he was playing a dead guy. Sorry I missed it, Adam. Cool people, fun day.

OK, some admissions about this picture. It isn’t from this summer. It isn’t even from Maine. This is a picture of Kate and I with a group of strangers we met rafting on our first assignment together in Colorado Springs. The guy at 6/7 o’clock in the photo is Adam, he’s an actor. He was on NCIS once. He had speaking lines and everything, but by the time I got the show turned on, he was playing a dead guy. Sorry I missed it, Adam. Cool people, fun day.

We capped off that week the way we did most weeks, off enjoying the great outdoors. We hopped back on the interstate at breakneck speeds and headed south to Millinocket for hiking in Baxter State Park and the best rafting in the East. Baxter State Park is a huge chunk of Maine with Katahdin as its center piece. When hikers are nearing the end of 6 months on the Appalachian Trail, they spend 100 miles in the wilderness without any towns for supplies. They are eventually spit out at the base of a 5,000ft mountain with their finish at the top – that’s Katahdin. We had a nice hike in the area on Saturday, and headed to our tent site to prepare for rafting the Penobscot River the next day. A day on the Penobscot starts with rafting over a 14ft waterfall. The second half of the day contains the Cribworks, an infamous class V rapid. The only picture of our boat in the Cribworks is of the bottom of it. Somehow we all stayed in the boat, but I think a few people had switched seats on the way through the rapid. We were having such a great escape out to the woods, that we decided to put our 2 hour drive back to Presque Isle off until Monday morning before work. At 4 A.M. we packed up our tent and silently slipped out of the campground to head back to work.

I guess that’s it. One week lived in Northern Maine that was representative of the whole experience: A lot of outdoors fun, some country time, some more classy and cultural events, and good work with good people. Now we search on for our next jobs. Where we’re looking has been a pretty rough market, so I don’ know if we’ll be living right where we want, but we’ll find something… and we’ll make the best of it!

Border Town

We’ve been traveling pretty frequently across the border to Canada. It’s real close where we are up here in Presque Isle, Maine.

The first weekend we were here, we just went for a drive in a loop that crossed over into Canada and came back in up at the Northern tip of US Rt 1. Although I grew up with a couple trips to Quebec City being my exposure to Canada, I was surprised how French it is just a few miles from my current home and work. When we drove up to Alaska last spring via Western Canada, English was the only language I heard spoken. We drove through the large city of Calgary, rural areas with a couple Canadian national parks, skied in British Colombia, and camped multiple nights in the Yukon — I don’t think I heard a word of French during that long road trip. Turns out when you walk into a restaurant just across the border here, 30 minutes from where I’m living now, the hostess greets you in French, realizes you’re a little stunned, and then flips the switch over to English. French is the default! Back in high school, I took a lot of French, and Kate took French and grew up with some French speaking in her family. So, we’re not hopeless, but someone speaking Québécois Français at a normal pace totally loses us.

This past weekend, instead of heading northwest with all of the French speaking folk, we headed southwest into New Brunswick. That’s right, southwest. To Canada. SOUTH. We are so hopelessly far North. In the southwest direction, we are back to English speaking Canada. Definitely a lot of French being spoken by other tourists around us in New Brunswick, but all the store clerks went straight to English as the go-to language. It was a cool weekend. We camped with some co-workers on the Bay of Fundy, home to the highest tides in the world. Did a lot of grilling, smores making, and sampling of the local breweries. (Note: When in the New Brunswick Liquor Store, some things while in six packs are priced by the bottle…. if you think you’re getting a good deal on a six-pack, it’s priced by the bottle. YIKES!) On the way home, we stopped by a local winery for some tasting and took a good hike in Fundy National Park. A great weekend in a “foreign” country.

It’s been a pretty good assignment up here. We have quickly reached the ½ way point of the 13 weeks we will be here and time is flying. Time to start looking for the next job and make some licensure decisions. Yuck, hate that part. But, we hope to spend the 4th of July weekend off vacationing on Prince Edward Island. I think P.E.I. is the Cape Cod of Canada… we’ll see!
Enjoy some Canada-centric photography by entering the slideshow below through clicking on anyone of the thumbnails.

Vagabonds, Vagabonds Everywhere

Balloon

Launch site of the first trans-Atlantic balloon flight – Presque Isle, Maine. Jonathan Trappe, who is really cool thinks this is really cool. It must be.

It’s been too long since my last post, so let’s get right into it.

I realized recently that one of the fascinating things about being a Physical Therapist and traveling is all the different people that we get to meet and get to know as we work with them. This thought started when a man showed up at the door of our cabin looking to rent it, because our landlord has left the “For Rent” sign out front. We got to talking about this first TransAtlantic Hot Air Balloon launch site which is just down the road. At this point, the guy introduces himself Jonathan Trappe and whips out his phone to show Kate and I why he finds the balloon memorial so fascinating. “I guess it’s just a small group of us that find that kind of thing really cool. This is my balloon,” he says while showing a picture on his phone of him hooked into a harness attached to a bunch of toy-like latex balloons floating above the clouds. I say to him that it looks like he’s pretty far up. He says, “Yeh, this picture is taken at 20, 000 ft above the Alps!” You gotta check this stuff out ClusterBalloon.com – There’s place down the street that Jonathan might rent. I hope he does, maybe we can be friends.

I don’t know why this came as some sort of revelation to me that I get to meet a lot of people doing what I do – afterall, being able to be a social creature at work is one of the major reasons I got into PT in the first place. Now, I’ve been practicing for 7 years (which through some very rough math works out to 12,000 to 14,000 hours in the clinic), and I can think of a lot of really interesting people that I’ve been fortunate to meet. There’s a couple of patients I’ve treated that opened my eyes to some different and cool stuff. There was this Buddhist monk that would show up for her treatments in her burnt-orange monk robe we’d talk about the different veins of Buddhism. She’d tell me about how she was one of the first female monks in her particular denomination of Buddhism, how it was the most pure of the denominations, and how she brought it to the US several decades back. Just a fascinating woman, I don’t really remember all that much else about her, but she definitely sticks out in my mind as a cool person to have known.

There was this man in his late 80’s I saw for home care a few years back. He opened my eyes to the religion of Spiritualism. He was a leader nationally in the Spiritualist Church where they believe when people die they exist in the same world as us as spirits. To dumb it down: they believe in ghosts. And this guy was a medium who could communicate with the dead. He lived with this much younger roommate who was a tarot card reader. They were always making this soup that I can distinctly remember the smell of – It may have been some sort of mix of the soup and just the particular smell of their place that I remember, it was very distinct. I go over and work with this man a couple times a week. Somewhere inbetween he and the tarot card reader telling me fascinating stories and explaining more about Spiritualism, we’d sneak in a few exercises and some work to improve his mobility. He believed that anyone could be trained to be a medium — that you didn’t particularly need to have a knack for it. Besides this religion that fascinated me, he was just a sharp, open minded guy that I think of occasionally and wish I had kept in touch with. I did think to call him one day, but enough time had passed that I had changed phones and didn’t have his number anymore. Too bad, I’d like to know how he’s doing….. and take him up on that medium session he offered.

"Hey! Look a van with a New Hampshire plate. What are the chances out here in Alaska. On an unrelated note: Brrr, It's cold, glad we're not in a tent...."

“Hey! Look a van with a New Hampshire plate. What are the chances out here in Alaska. On an unrelated note: Brrr, It’s cold, glad we’re not in a tent….”

The travel really increases the amount of people from less-than-ordinary circumstances that pass through my life. When actually out traveling on the road or in airports, I don’t typically go out of my way to chat up people, I’d rather not deal with the inconvenience of them asking me where I live :-), but occasionally someone will creep into the daily interactions and stick as a memory. The only reason cluster-balloon-guy stopped in is because the “For Rent” sign was still up. If we had been well settled into a place for months or years, that sign wouldn’t have been out there and Jonathan wouldn’t have come-a-knocking. “New Hampshire” was the name dubbed to the couple on the Alaskan State Ferry ride to Washington who were driving a big van displaying a New Hampshire license plate and with a big aluminum canoe strapped to the top of the van. We first met them in the line of cars waiting to get onto the first boat out of the Anchorage area. The gentleman of the couple noticed our Maine plates and came strolling over saying something like, “Hey! Maine!? We’re from New Hampshire!” We continued to see this couple everywhere on the 10 day trip down to the lower 48. We saw them on the boat, we saw them out in Juneau on a 2 day stop there, and we even passed them on the highway headed out of Bellingham, Washington. My most amusing memory (of these people whom we never really got to know that well) happened one afternoon on the boat when seas were rough and water was splashing and blowing up over the top of the several story high ship. New Hampshire was hanging out nearby and I remembered they had been tenting out on the deck of the ship. It wasn’t unusual for people to tent on the deck of the ship, but this was getting late in the season and they had the only tent out there in November. The tent was tied to a railing after they were overhead paged on the boat to attend to their tent. According to the ship’s crew, it’s not unusual for winds to whip up, taking unsecured tents weighed down with gear right off the boat into the Gulf of Alaska. I was a little scared to ask them if their tent was out on the deck during this patch of rough seas, but I remember as things calmed a bit and no more water was coming over the top of the ship, Mr. New Hampshire stands up and very matter-of-factually says, “I guess I’ll go see if the tent is still there.” What a character, and neat people living a cool life, cracks me up.

Anyways, just because I feel like there’s supposed to be some conclusion here, let me say this: I like meeting people and I think PT and traveling is a nice combination that lets me meet some pretty cool people. We’re trying to buy a second car off Craiglist this week, that’s a process that lends itself to some strange people getting involved… should be fun!

International Travel – Reflection (part 4 of 4)

Reflections

How could Amy not bust out a move at a time like this!?

How could Amy not bust out a move at a time like this!?

So after all of that, all of the waiting, searching, and more waiting, was it all worth it? Most definitely. We were told by those that have traveled to the Middle East before us that our worldview will change from living and working here, and it no doubt has.

From a Physio perspective, there are so many opportunities, so many ways that I can contribute to the department I am part of, and so many things I can learn from others. I am working with people from over 50 different countries, in 1 hospital. The hospital is world class and offers me all that I am willing to accept. I can formulate a research hypothesis and have the means and staff to assist me in carrying it out. We have top physicians, Physios and speakers from around the world presenting topics to us and consulting with our team to make our hospital a better place. It is quite an amazing to be part of something so unique.

One more shot of Doha from the water a night.

One more shot of Doha from the water at night.

From a personal perspective, we have learned how to adapt to different living conditions and more importantly to different cultures. I have learned that being open, non judgmental and genuinely interested in others has allowed me to create trusting relationships with my patients, coworkers, and friends.

I have learned, most importantly, that people are genuinely nice, despite their class, country or religion and that we are all fighting the same battles. We have met wonderful people from our drivers (yes we all tend to have drivers out here!) to CEO’s, tried new sports (squash), adapted our old sports (“mountain biking” in a flat desert) and had our share of love-hate relationships with everything from traffic, to food, and the eternal sunshine that is Qatar.

I hope these posts have kept you engaged and maybe even gotten some to want to jump on a plane and move abroad tomorrow. Thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you!

~Amy

PT International Travel – The Prep Work (part 2)

This is part 2 of a series on travel abroad as a working Physical Therapist. For previous posts, click “previous blogs” on the menu at the top of the page.

——-

Whether you are following a significant other somewhere or you are looking to relocate abroad on your own, there are a lot of things you want to consider before and during the transition process. Hopefully my story will help those of you thinking about travel abroad decide to take that leap out of the US and help you figure out how to do it. The process is never ending, but the better prepared you are, the less frustrated you will get!

Souq Waqif, a marketplace and one of the favorite tourist spots in Doha.

Souq Waqif, a marketplace and one of the favorite tourist spots in Doha.

 Like I mentioned in the first post, having a contact may be your greatest advantage in landing a job abroad. Think of a friend or family that lives abroad, a coworker that worked abroad or even someone that knows someone that worked or has contacts abroad. Six degrees of separation may work here! That is generally how most of us foreigners here in Qatar ended up where we are.

Since my husband was the one who took a job that was placing us overseas, I had to do a ton of research on the possible countries – Chile, Australia and Qatar – to see if any of them would be a place I could practice. Unlike many other professions, healthcare workers usually have either the burden of proving their proficiency through re-examination (who wants to take the boards again!) or through verification.

So, before you start packing your bags for some beautiful coastline, there’s a few things you will want to research, and then continue to research throughout the process. I’ll try to keep this as condensed as possible, but here’s some quick links if you don’t want to read all of it.

On the water looking back at Doha

On the water looking back at Doha

Given that we had 3 potential locations we could move to, I started by looking into the culture and the requirements for a PT in each country. A good place to start is the World Federation of Physical Therapy (http://www.wcpt.org). They have contact info for a ton of countries, including websites, emails, phone numbers and addresses. Awesome.

I started by emailing the contact for Chile. The biggest questions I was asking at first were 1. Do they accept a US licensure carte blanc, on a case by case basis, or do they require all international PT’s to take an examination? 2. Is Spanish (or Arabic for Qatar) a requirement or are there hospitals where the primary language among healthcare workers is English? I also checked out Chile’s physiotherapy webpage that I found on www.WCPT.org and googled hospitals in Santiago, Chile. Everything was in Spanish. The email I received from their PT association was in Spanish. Fluency seemed like a must at this point. So for Chile, I waited on proceeding until I had a better idea if we would end up there.

Next was Australia. I started by checking out http://www.physiotherapy.asn.au but also contacted a college professor as well, knowing that she practiced there. In Australia, they evaluate each candidate on a case by case basis, but chances are, an exam was likely. Now, being 6 years out of school, I would want to know that I would be here for at least a few years if I was going to study for another board. Again, further search was put on hold. But I couldn’t help to check out New Zealand, since I was looking in that part of the world. http://www.physioboard.org.nz/index.php?Registration-Overseas-QualifiedPhysiotherapists . Now this is the kind of information I was looking for! Direct information on how to apply as an international PT. Perfect. Now only if we were going there instead!

I saved Qatar for last. This is where we ended up and was probably the most complex process I have ever endured! I began with checking out background information on Qatar which is a moderately liberal/conservative Islamic country in the middle east. We have to be married to live together. I can drive, walk around, and do most things as I would in the US. It is respectful to have my shoulders and knees covered when in public. English is the common language given the hundreds of languages that are spoken here. So it seemed I should be able to transition here with moderate ease.

We then started by asking my husband’s company a ton of questions to find out if I should come over with my husband of if I needed to wait before I made my move. The big questions – sponsorship, benefits and education qualifications. I will get into these topics in the next blog and the details of what I specifically had to do to be eligible to work in Qatar.