What is Travel Therapy?
Travel therapy, contract therapy, contract therapist, traveling therapist, travel physical therapy (Travel PT), travel occupational therapy (Travel OT), travel speech therapy (Travel SLP) — these are some terms you may have heard floating around, and you’re wondering, what does that mean?
The answer is, it could mean a variety of things, but in most cases it means that a therapist (PT, OT, SLP, PTA, COTA) chooses to travel to different locations within the US for short term, contract work. This could be locally, within one state, or across state lines in any of the 50 US states.
In some cases, it could refer to working internationally, but this is not common and involves completely different steps than finding travel/contract work within the US. We are going to focus on travel therapy within the US only, as this is what is most feasible for US therapists, and it’s the focus of our Travel Therapy Mentor website.
How Does It Work?
In a nutshell, therapists (PT, OT, SLP, PTA, COTA) work with a recruiter at a travel therapy staffing agency, to search for short term jobs they’d like to apply to within the US. They have a phone interview to see if the job is a good fit, and if they’re chosen for the job, they move to the new location temporarily to work there for a short term contract.
A typical contract length is 13 weeks, or 3 months. But, it all depends on the facility’s needs and what you’re looking for. Some contracts could last just a few weeks, up to a year. In terms of finding short term housing, the staffing company can help you set up housing, or you can choose to set up housing on your own. Some travelers also choose to travel by RV.
The travel therapy staffing agency gets paid by the facility, they take a commission, and then you get paid weekly. You get paid an hourly rate, plus a stipend (also referred to as per diem) for housing and meals/incidentals (as long as you meet the appropriate guidelines for maintaining a Tax Home). You can also receive benefits from the staffing company, just like at a perm job, while you’re on contract with them. Remember, you’re an employee of the staffing company while on contract, not the facility itself.
When your contract is over, you can move on to another contract, or you could always return back home and work locally again.
Why Do Facilities Need Travel Therapists?
The facilities might need short term/travel workers for a variety of reasons, including:
- Someone quit suddenly, and they need someone to fill in temporarily while they try to find a new permanent employee
- Someone is away temporarily (for example on a maternity/paternity leave)
- They have a temporary increase in caseload, for example some places that have higher needs during different seasons (think: Snow Birds in winter)
- They’re having trouble finding a permanent employee or haven’t had a permanent employee for a while (for example rural areas or less desirable areas that don’t have a large pool of therapists in the area)
Why Do Therapists Choose Travel Therapy?
There are lots of benefits to travel therapy and reasons why therapists might choose this route, including:
- You get paid higher as a travel therapist
- You get to explore different areas of the country
- You can try a variety of settings without committing to the job permanently
Do You Get to Choose Where You Go?
Yes, and no. There are 3 main factors to consider when searching for travel therapy jobs: location, setting, and pay. The more picky you are on one of these factors, the less picky you can be on the others.
You are at the mercy of the jobs available at a given time throughout the US. So you can say you really want to go to this state, but you can’t always choose exactly the city. Often, you won’t see any jobs in a particular city at a particular time, so you’ll have to look more at the whole state or a whole region. Plus, the more picky you’re being about the exact location, you won’t be able to be so picky on the setting and the pay.
On the other hand, if you’re only looking for a certain setting, for example outpatient or pediatrics, you will have to be more flexible on location and pay.
If you’re looking to make the absolute most money possible, you may have to be lenient on the setting and/or location available to find it!
Sometimes, you hit the “travel therapy jackpot” and get your absolute top pick on location, setting AND high pay! But it’s hard to come by all 3. So remember, flexibility is key!
What are Some of the Logistics with Getting Started?
First, you’ll want to find reliable recruiters at reliable staffing companies to work with. They help you find the jobs and can make or break your experience with travel therapy! We recommend working with at least 3 recruiters to open up more job options. To learn more about why this is, check out this article.
- You can contact us for recommendations for recruiters and companies that we know and trust, based on our 5+ years of experience and interviewing dozens of different companies to compare and contrast!
Next, you’ll want to consider in which states you’d like to work. You have to be licensed in every state in which you work, and it’s usually recommended that you get 2-3 state licenses up front so you’ll already have the license in hand before applying for jobs. In most cases, you have to apply individually to each state via their local state board website, but for PT’s and PTA’s you may be eligible for the PT Compact.
- Check out this article to learn more about the PT Compact, how it works, and if you’re eligible!
Once you’re set up with some recruiters and are working on getting your state licenses, the recruiters will help you search for jobs and submit your application for you.
- To learn more about getting started, check out our Ultimate Guide to Getting Started as a Travel Therapist
Ready to Jump in & Learn More?
This is the first article in our Mini Series titled Travel Therapy 101: The Basics
Stay tuned for our upcoming articles and videos/podcasts in the series where we will cover:
- Travel Therapy Pay 101
- Travel Therapy Housing 101
- Travel Therapy Licensing 101
- Travel Therapy Recruiters 101
- Understanding Tax Homes for Travelers
You can also find more detailed information on any of these topics via the links to other articles throughout this post, or by visiting our Educational Videos & Articles section!