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.
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!
^ 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.