Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC
1. Do your research and maintain realistic expectations.
Travel therapy is amazing… most of the time. As with anything, it can have its pros and cons. While most parts of being a travel therapist are an incredible adventure, there are still parts that aren’t always fun. It’s important that you do your research to understand all the nuances that go into being a travel therapist before jumping in. This goes for anyone looking into travel therapy, but especially new grads. If you plan to take a travel job as your first position after graduation, you need to know what to expect.
We recommend going into travel therapy with an open and adventurous mind. Not every assignment will be perfect; not every city will be your favorite; you won’t always have the easiest time with housing; there’s always a chance your contract could get cancelled; and sometimes you may question your decision to take on the life of a travel therapist. But if you go into this journey of travel therapy knowing this up front and are willing to roll with the punches for the sake of traveling the country, earning more money, and having unforgettable adventures, you will be successful and join the thousands of other healthcare travelers out there living and loving this lifestyle!
2. Connect with great travel therapy companies and recruiters.
If you talk to any travel therapist, they’ll tell you that your recruiter and company can make or break your experience with traveling! This is of utmost importance for new grads, because you will want support and mentorship as you begin to look for your first few travel jobs. You need a recruiter who gets you, your wants, and your needs as a new grad therapist. You want a recruiter who will be in your corner, going to bat for you with your best interest in mind, not just the best interest of the travel company or the client (facility). Many travel therapy companies offer some form of new graduate mentorship program, whether in the form of a mentor by phone or by placing you at “new grad friendly” facilities. These are things you will want to consider when choosing a company.
For more information on how to best choose a travel therapy company and recruiter, check out this article, or send us a message and we can give you personalized company and recruiter recommendations for you based on your situation!
3. Find a great first travel therapy job.
Your first few travel therapy jobs (or in the case of a new grad, first jobs period) will be crucial in your success as both a clinician and as a travel therapist. Sadly, we have heard horror stories of people having one terrible experience with travel therapy that turned them away from traveling again, and pushed them to take a permanent position, even though they had planned to continue traveling. This is unfortunate, and usually the result of them not knowing exactly what they were getting into on their first assignment and/or having a bad recruiter.
For your first job (or first few jobs), we recommend you work closely with your recruiter(s) to find a facility that is going to provide a supportive environment for you as a new grad. This may include having another therapist of your same discipline on staff (another PT, OT, SLP, PTA, or COTA); having more of a ramp up period in your caseload with training provided; and making sure the productivity expectations are reasonable. These are all important things to find out during your phone interview. For specific questions to ask during an interview, check out this article.
As mentioned before, a great recruiter should be able to assist you in this process of identifying supportive facilities. They may even have prior experience with facilities where they have placed new grads before that have been successful. Most importantly, a good recruiter will support your decision to decline an offer if it doesn’t sound like a good fit for you, and they will not push you into taking a job that’s not right for you just to secure a placement for themselves.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and never stop learning.
As a new grad travel therapist, it is important that you are ready to be an independent clinician and not have your “hand held,” but at the same time you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help and mentorship when you need it. This could be from your co-workers at your facility; through the clinical liaison provided by the travel company by phone; and even by reaching out to former professors, clinical instructors, and classmates for consultation when you encounter tough clinical situations.
Also don’t forget to utilize a variety of resources (textbooks, CEU courses, websites, blogs, podcasts, Facebook networking groups, etc.) to continue learning once you start practicing on your own. Being a student working under a clinical instructor is very different than being out on your own! There is a huge learning curve when you first get started. You don’t have to know it all when you first start practicing, regardless if you choose to take a travel or a perm job right out of school!
5. Stand up for yourself and your professional license.
New grad or not, you worked very hard to get to the point of being a licensed clinician! Regardless of whether you’re in a travel job or perm job, you need to maintain integrity, be ethical, and follow the law. If you are being asked to practice in an unethical or illegal manner, you must stand up for yourself and practice the way that you feel is best. You are ultimately responsible for your actions and your license. Do not be dragged down by poor management or not-so-great co-workers.
There are many examples of how you could be placed in a bad situation where your ethics and legality are tested. For example, starting at a new clinic where they want you to sign off on documentation for patients that you haven’t seen before, or for visits that occurred before your start date. This can be a common event when you’re filling in as a traveler. It’s important you do not sign off on anything for which you were not present, including co-signing assistant notes. Another example would be feeling pressured to work off the clock to get your documentation done, or add additional time to your evaluation codes to account for documentation time, which is sadly a very common practice in many Skilled Nursing Facilities. These things are illegal, and regardless of what the other staff “has always done,” if it doesn’t feel right to you, it’s probably not! We would encourage you to reach out to an unbiased third party to discuss any potential ethical or legal questions you may have. Again that could mean reaching out to the clinical liaison by phone or to a former professor or clinical instructor.
If you’re facing ethical dilemmas or problems in your facility, don’t be afraid to talk to you director of rehabilitation or your recruiter if appropriate. You can’t always predict how a clinic will be before you start working there, but you can always get out of a bad situation if you are being asked to practice in an illegal or unethical way.
6. Work smarter, not harder.
There are some great ways you can optimize and be an efficient therapist, without always going over and beyond. This can be especially important when you’re starting out as a new grad travel therapist. Often when you start as a new grad, you want to do everything perfectly, including doing all the fancy treatment techniques and being extremely thorough in your documentation. But sometimes for the sake of time management and being successful at a new clinic, you need to go back to the basics.
Don’t overachieve on documentation so you can maintain good time management. Just make sure you document the appropriate amount, but don’t go over and beyond or be too wordy. Time management is going to be a huge key to success as a new grad travel therapist, and you definitely don’t want to be working off the clock to get notes done.
Focus on functional and effective treatments, while emphasizing building a strong patient rapport. Don’t worry too much at first about using every new fad treatment out there. Often times it’s your relationships and demeanor that matter the most to be successful and well-received, by both your patients and your co-workers, not how good you are at the latest manual therapy techniques and the coolest exercises.
Take advantage of co-treatments when applicable in an inpatient setting, to learn from your colleagues from other disciplines and get ideas. This can be extremely helpful as a new grad, especially in a travel therapy position where you’re not only learning how to be an independent practitioner, but you’re also having to learn a new location, staff, caseload, etc!
Last, do no harm! Focus on being the best therapist you can be, while ensuring you put patients’ health and safety first and foremost. It’s better to do a basic treatment, or do nothing at all, than to do something you’re uncertain about and cause harm to a patient.
Traveling as a new grad can be a wonderful experience and a great way to get ahead start on your finances, but it’s vital to go in well-informed and with realistic expectations about what the process will entail. Finding a great company and recruiter is paramount to your success and sanity as a travel therapist. Be picky about your first job to make sure that it’s a good fit for you and will provide you with the best opportunity to succeed. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other therapists both in person and online for help or ideas with regards to patient care, and spend some time continuing your education to be the best possible clinician. Always stand up for your ethics and protect your license. And finally, don’t burn yourself out by working long hours being a perfectionist with documentation and treatment. Of course, include the key components in your notes and provide sound treatment methods, but it’s important to be efficient with your time to have a good experience as a travel therapist.
If you have questions about anything regarding getting started with your travel therapy journey, feel free to contact us. If you need help finding a great recruiter and company to help make your travel therapy career a success, we can help you with that as well.