Your Guide to Pursuing Travel Therapy in 2020

It’s the new year, and you’re ready for a new adventure, right? Travel therapy here you come!

Travel Therapy (Travel PT, Travel OT, Travel SLP) can be an awesome career choice – one that we’ve been thoroughly enjoying for over 4 years – but there are lots of considerations that go into pursuing this path – especially in 2020!

As many of you may know, there have been lots of changes recently affecting the therapy world, and this has had an impact on travel therapy jobs too. Unfortunately, the travel therapy market hasn’t been quite as “hot” in the last several months as it was in prior years.

So what does this mean if you’re looking to get into travel therapy in 2020? Let’s take a look:

The Current Travel Therapy Job Market

Recent changes to Medicare reimbursement are having an impact on the job market for PTs, OTs, SLPs and assistants, both for permanent positions and travel positions.

In October 2019, Medicare initiated the Patient Driven Payment Model (PDPM) for the Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) setting, and as a result, we saw layoffs occur nationwide in SNFs. This meant permanent therapists losing jobs, hours being cut, and a gap between the supply and demand for open positions. Naturally, this impacted both perm and travel therapists fighting for some of the same jobs. In travel therapy, we saw less overall SNF openings and higher competition for those that were available. This also had a carry-over effect into other settings, as therapists shifted from SNF positions into other settings to find work.

To learn more about the PDPM changes, check out this video where we discussed what PDPM is, and this video where we discussed the current impact it’s having on travel therapy!

In early 2020, Medicare will begin the Patient Driven Groupings Model (PDGM) for the home health setting. We anticipate that these changes may have a similar impact on the travel therapy job market. This timing is tough, when we are still feeling the impact from the PDPM changes from the Fall.

To learn more about PDGM, check out this video where we discussed what PDGM is and how this will likely affect travel therapists!

In addition to these Medicare changes affecting the job market, we know that historically January is a very tough time for travel therapists looking for jobs.  This is commonly known as the “January job lull.” There are many reasons for this, including current travel therapists taking off time between contracts for the holidays, and trying to resume work after January 1st. This combined with an increase in new therapists trying to begin travel therapy after the first of the year, including new grads and those looking to change from a permanent position into travel positions, means an over-supply of therapists looking for jobs. In addition to the flood of therapists looking for jobs to start the first week or so of January, sometimes there is a reduction in open positions because facilities already hired someone to cover through the holidays and into January, or because facilities are awaiting their new budget for the year to get approval to advertise for a job opening.

With all of these factors combined, we are seeing a large number of therapists looking for jobs, and a lower number of overall available jobs. What we’re left with is a challenging time to be entering the travel therapy job market in early 2020.

Are All Therapy Disciplines Affected?

Prior to the recent changes affecting the job market, we were already seeing a decline in the travel therapy job market for PTAs, COTAs, and OTs in the summer and fall of 2019. So unfortunately, these changes have continued to impact these disciplines the most.

The job market for PTs and SLPs has remained pretty strong overall, but there is still a reduction in overall jobs. So while the current job market isn’t quite as good as it has been in the past, PTs and SLPs probably won’t find themselves out of a job, but they may have to work a little harder to find the travel therapy contracts they want.

Of course, these trends can change at any time, and we are hopeful things will start looking up for all disciplines after the Medicare changes settle out and we get past the January Job Lull. So hopefully things will be better by Spring-Summer 2020!

Should I Avoid Travel Therapy in 2020?

Not necessarily, but maybe. We are all about travel therapy. It has been an amazing career choice for us as Travel PTs, and we feel it can be a great career choice for others too. But, you do have to be realistic and look at all the factors.

With the current job market, we feel it will be most challenging for OTs and assistants to work as travel therapists in early 2020, since we have seen the biggest impact on job availability for these disciplines, particularly COTAs and PTAs. For assistants, it may be better to stay in a current permanent position or PRN position (or switch from traveling to taking a more permanent position) until the job market improves for travel COTAs and PTAs.

For OTs, this may also be the best move to seek permanent employment for now; however, if you are flexible on where you are willing to go, have a strong resume, and have an emergency fund for any lapses in employment, you can still be successful as a travel therapist.

For PTs and SLPs, we don’t think you need to avoid travel therapy right now despite the changes in the market! Keep reading to learn our recommendations for success as a traveler in 2020.

How to Be a Successful Travel Therapist in 2020

What does all of this mean for you if you’re a current travel therapist or wanting to become a travel therapist in 2020?

It means that you will need to be well-informed, well-prepared, and more flexible as you search for travel therapy contracts this year.

Here are our recommendations for you:

1. Be Flexible

It’s very important in a low job market to be as flexible as possible on the key factors affecting your travel therapy job search, which include: Setting, Location, and Pay. While we would all love to have our top choice on setting, our top choice on the city and state where we want to be, and the highest pay package in the world, the fact is that this is not realistic given the current job market.

If you really want to be a travel therapist and reap all the benefits to being a traveler, then you need to be flexible on at least one, if not two to three, of these factors in order to maintain consistent employment. The fact is, if you’re not flexible, you likely won’t be able to land consistent contracts, which means you’ll be out of work and out of money.

We have many therapists and students contact us stating that they only want to work in one particular city/state. While this is possible to choose sometimes, it’s very unlikely you will be able to line up consistent travel contracts when you’re limiting your search to only one area. Especially with the current job market, we encourage you to be as flexible as possible, or else you’re going to end up being unhappy and unable to find jobs.

2. Have Multiple State Licenses

Part of being flexible means having more than one state license so you can have the option to work in a few different areas. We highly recommend that you get these state licenses in advance. Some travelers (or potential travelers) will only have one license when going into a job search, and they’re disappointed when they can’t find jobs in that state, or can’t get interviews for jobs in other states because they’re not licensed.

There is a lot of strategy that goes into the job search. We recommend talking to a few different recruiters and travel therapists to find out which states tend to have more jobs for your discipline, then get licensed in those states in advance. This way you’ll have a few viable state licenses when it comes time for your job search.

For more on the licensing process, check out this article.

3. Work with Multiple Recruiters

In order to have the most job options, it’s important that you work with multiple recruiters at different travel therapy staffing agencies. Each staffing company will have access to different jobs, so by only working with (communicating with) one recruiter/one company, you are limiting your job options. We think it’s best to have a least 3 recruiters searching for jobs for you. There are definitely some pros and cons to using multiple agencies, which you can learn more about here, but overall we think this is the best method to ensure success and maintain consistent employment as a travel therapist.

For personalized recommendations for travel therapy companies and recruiters, fill out this form and we will email you to get you connected with some of our favorite recruiters!

4. Build Up Your Resume

In a time of excess supply of therapists applying for the same jobs, it’s important to have a strong resume to help you stand out. Some things that can help your resume stand out would be: applying for settings in which you have a strong background, and making sure to highlight those experiences on your resume and during your interview; getting additional experience in a new setting via a PRN position; taking continuing education courses to enhance your knowledge in a particular area; and getting advanced certifications in your field of expertise.

For new grads, trying to stand out among experienced clinicians can be hard, so applying for a setting in which you have strong clinical internship experience will be helpful, and anything you can do on your own to get additional knowledge and experience like weekend courses, certifications, or shadowing/volunteering will help.

5. Be Prepared and Prompt

Timing is everything in the world of travel therapy. Job orders can open and close very quickly. It’s important that you have all of your ducks in a row so to speak when it’s time for your job search. This means, you need to have your resume up to date, have your profile and any necessary information set up with the travel therapy staffing company, have your license already, and be ready to submit right away to new job openings.

This also means you need to already establish a relationship with your recruiters in advance, so they can help you through any necessary steps prior to submitting you to jobs. We recommend having this all set up at least 8 weeks prior to your desired start date. You also need to have a good understanding with your recruiters as to which jobs they can submit you for. We recommend you seek approval before letting your recruiters submit you, to avoid a double submission by two different recruiters. But, you need to be fast with this process so that another therapist doesn’t beat you to the job. When you’re on an active job search with your recruiters, you need to be communicating with them daily, and be very prompt in responding to their texts, calls or emails when they see a job come through.

If you need help finding recruiters you can trust to help you find jobs, feel free to contact us!

6. Be Realistic

Once you’ve taken all of this into account, you have to be realistic with yourself. Travel therapy is a business, and thus it’s subject to supply and demand as we’ve discussed here. Sometimes things are great, the jobs and paychecks are plentiful, and everybody is happy. But sometimes things don’t always go to plan, and there’s only so much that you, and your recruiters, can do about it.

Far too often we see therapists feeling slighted by the job market, their recruiter, the situation. They feel like they’re being taken advantage of, deceived, that somebody else is getting the better end of the deal than them. New grads come in feeling somewhat entitled and having high expectations when looking at their debt to income ratio. We get it, we’ve been there.

But just remember to take a step back and look at things realistically. Travel therapy can be a great option, but it may not always be the best option for one person at one time. It may be that you find yourself not being able to line up the coolest contracts in the coolest cities like all the people you see on Instagram. Maybe you’re not pulling in the highest paycheck ever this go-round.

But, maybe you will next time. Maybe you have to take this one contract that’s not your favorite, that’s not the highest paying, so that you don’t have to take an extended period of time off from work, so that you don’t have to settle down in your hometown at a permanent job, and so that you can get some experience under your belt. Maybe, once you get through this one, you’ll be able to line up a fantastic location in the perfect setting making the most money ever. Maybe, or maybe not.

The point is that there are a ton of variables when pursuing travel therapy, and we don’t always know what we’re going to get. But, in the end, we choose travel therapy because we want something different. We don’t want to settle down in one spot at the same job forever. We want to explore the country, try out different settings, make more money. With all the good that comes along with travel therapy, sometimes we have to take a little bit of the bad too. We have to be realistic.

7. Have a Back-Up Plan

Last, but not least, have a back up plan. This is of course our careers we are talking about here. We have to earn income to maintain our lifestyles, pay our bills, fulfill our responsibilities, take care of our families and ourselves. It’s important that everyone keeps an emergency fund, but even more so as a travel therapist when our employment can be a little more variable. We recommend keeping at least 3-6 months worth of expenses in savings as an emergency fund, in order to cover any time off between contracts. Of course this isn’t possible right away on your first contract as a new grad, but the quicker you get there the better.

In addition to an emergency fund, we also recommend keeping your options open if you needed to return home for a while and line up a PRN or permanent position, in case you were unable to find a travel job. Some therapists choose to remain on staff as a PRN therapist in their hometown for times like this. Others might just need to think ahead of where they would go to apply for work in case traveling just didn’t work out for them.

Conclusion: Should I Pursue Travel Therapy in 2020?

The answer is: Maybe!

Travel therapy may not be the best choice for every therapist, but it’s a great choice for some. You need to take into account your own situation and the job market before making your decision. There are so many amazing reasons to choose travel therapy in 2020: earn higher income, explore the country, take off time when you want to (and can afford to), try out new settings, and meet new people! But there are definitely some reasons to take a step back and evaluate your options given the current job market.

If you need help getting started with travel therapy this year, feel free to contact us, and if you’d like our recommendations for travel therapy companies and recruiters we trust, fill out this form!

Happy Traveling in 2020!

 

Whitney Eakin headshot

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Whitney is a Doctor of Physical Therapy who has been working as a traveling physical therapist since 2015. She travels with her boyfriend and fellow Travel PT, Jared. Together they are the founders of Travel Therapy Mentor. Whitney and Jared are currently working only part of the year as Travel PTs and are spending several months per year traveling internationally for leisure!

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