Career Development as a Travel Therapist

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

A major uncertainty that all of us here at Travel Therapy Mentor faced when embarking on our travel therapy careers as new grads was how this decision would affect our career development. We each had clinical instructors and professors advise against starting out as a traveler due to a perceived need for mentorship as a new grad. While mentorship is undoubtedly helpful for most new grads, it is definitely not required nor a given for those going straight into a full time permanent position after graduation.

Additionally, although travel therapists may not follow the exact same trajectory for career development as a therapist in a permanent position, for example by becoming established in one clinic, in one community, or in a specialty area, there are other benefits to career development that are unique to travel therapy that could not otherwise be gained.

Mentorship as a Travel Therapist

For my first travel contract, I unintentionally interviewed for an acute care position despite having no acute care experience, due to the job being listed as inpatient rehab accidentally by the travel company. During the interview with the facility manager I discovered that the job listing was incorrect and told the manager that I wasn’t interested since I didn’t have any experience with acute care. To my surprise, after the interview, my recruiter informed me that the manager at the facility thought I would be a good fit. To encourage me to take the position, she had even increased the pay, offered me the ability to shadow for the first week, offered an easier caseload for the next two weeks, and offered mentorship from another PT there. I was hesitant, but the offer sounded great and was a short drive to another job that Whitney interviewed for and liked.

I ended up taking the job and loved it! Not only did I get to shadow a current PT there for several days to learn more about acute care and the facility, but when I did start treating patients, she stayed with me for the entire first two weeks I was there to make sure I was comfortable. Once I started with the full caseload on my own, I had the ability to ask for help from other PTs and PTAs in the facility whenever I needed it. This opportunity as a travel therapist allowed me to try out a setting that I never would have otherwise, and to my surprise I actually really enjoyed acute care (and learning wound care!) despite my preconceived notions about it. In the end, I wound up getting more assistance and mentorship than many of my PT school classmates that took permanent positions right after graduation.

Although this isn’t the norm by any means, there are facilities that will help to mentor new grads even as travelers. Some travel companies even have jobs that are listed as “new-grad friendly” meaning that the facility understands that the new grad will likely need at least a little help when starting out, and there are other staff members available to help. Many travel companies also offer a mentor that is able to be reached by phone in the event that the traveler wants to discuss something related to clinical practice, ethics, or documentation. Whitney took advantage of this a few times during her first contract, and we both talked to a clinical mentor when we took skilled nursing jobs and were struggling in the beginning.

All in all, mentorship is usually not significantly different between a travel contract and a permanent job for new grads in our experience.

Learning from Different Clinicians, Facilities, and Settings

Travel therapy does offer some other unique opportunities with regard to career development that wouldn’t be possible at a permanent position. Getting to move from facility to facility and learn from a variety of different clinicians has been invaluable for me over the past few years. To date, I’ve had to ability to learn from dozens of more experienced physical therapists and integrate different aspects of their practice that I admired and enjoyed into my own practice. This includes manual therapy techniques, exercises, documentation tips, and different strategies and analogies to use for patient education. In general, therapists are very open and willing to help and teach any clinician who is interested and, if taken advantage of, this is a big benefit for travelers in developing as clinicians.

Another aspect of career development that is aided by traveling is the ability to experience many styles of management, scheduling, staffing, and building layouts. This might be especially important to those therapists who may plan to move into management roles or open their own clinics. At this point, I have worked under some wonderful managers who have set up great work environments whose style I could do my best to emulate if I ever find myself in a management position in the future. I’ve also worked under some very poor managers that have fostered a work environment that is toxic, and it’s easy to find to qualities that led to that which would be vital to avoid. Through various clinics I’ve worked in, I’ve learned exactly the type of staffing and scheduling that I would implement as a manager or clinic owner in the future from seeing what has worked and what hasn’t. Even for those who don’t plan to move into a management position, having these experiences could be beneficial to your resume as a staff therapist. Hiring managers may look favorably on your experience with a variety of facilities and be open to any suggestions you may have for improving their facility and operations.

In addition to experiencing various facilities, you can also easily switch between practice settings as a travel therapist, which would be very difficult as a permanent employee. In three years of traveling, I have worked in acute care, private practice outpatient, hospital based outpatient, physician owned outpatient, skilled nursing, wound care, and home health. Not only has this kept me from getting bored in any one particular setting, but it has allowed me to find aspects of different settings that are appealing to me. I would have never imagined that I would enjoy wound care, acute care, or home health, but after working in those settings for a few months, I found aspects of each that really appealed to me, and I plan to revisit them in the future. In addition, I believe that seeing patients at all points of the rehab process can help to make the clinician more well rounded and empathetic to the patient’s situation. Watching a patient go from acute care to skilled nursing to outpatient, and then eventually transitioning to a home exercise program was something that was extremely gratifying to me. These experiences broadened my perspective and understanding of what some patients have to go through to eventually reach the point where they are in the outpatient setting. I would have never gotten this perspective by just seeing them for a short time in the outpatient setting, which I always thought was the only setting where I wanted to practice.

Conclusion

I think many experienced clinicians have the impression that travel therapy makes it difficult to evolve and grow as a therapist, but in our experience this is far from the truth. We here at Travel Therapy Mentor have all learned a lot in our time as travel therapists and believe that we have grown more as clinicians than we would have if we had taken permanent jobs right out of school and stayed at the same facility. There are opportunities for mentorship even as a traveler, and there are some big career growth opportunities for travelers that cannot be matched in a permanent position. Don’t let fears about potential lack of career development hold you back from a rewarding and fulfilling career as a traveler!

If you have any questions or would like help getting started on your travel therapy journey, then reach out to us in the comments below or through the contact us page!

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