How Do You Find the Best Travel PT Companies?

Finding the Best Travel PT Companies

One of the most common questions we get regarding travel physical therapy is which companies we work with and which travel companies are the best. Surprisingly, we’ve even gotten this question more often than questions about travel PT salary recently. Most new or prospective travel PTs don’t realize that there are well over 200 travel therapy companies out there. With that many different choices, there’s no way to interview them all, much less pick one or two that are better than all the rest in every situation. That’s certainly not to say that there aren’t some that are better than others.

When Whitney and I first started traveling as new grad PTs in 2015, there was very limited information about the travel therapy industry available. Even with limited information, we did our best to find a few good travel companies to work with by word of mouth from current travelers. While that was certainly better than picking companies randomly from a Google search or signing up with a travel company at a conference booth, we quickly found that some companies and recruiters that were recommended to us weren’t very good. The reason for this wasn’t that the travelers we talked to didn’t have our best interest in mind, it was simply because they had limited experience with various companies. When you’re trying to find your first travel job, you only have so much time to put into finding good companies and recruiters, so most travelers pick a couple and then end up sticking with those same ones for their entire travel careers. They may like them well enough, but their perspective is understandably limited. So, the best recruiter and company that they have worked with may very well be in the bottom half of all the options out there. Add to this the fact that current travelers are incentivized to recommend the recruiters that they work with in order to receive referral bonuses, so they’ll often highlight the positives and overlook the negatives of their recruiters and companies. The result of these issues combined are a lot of bad recommendations being given to new travelers!

The Problem with Taking Travel PT Company Recommendations from Current Travelers

Whitney and I were not only impacted by this with the recommendations that we got for ourselves initially, but also when we gave recruiter recommendations to friends and acquaintances during our first couple years as travelers. Once I started writing articles on our original blog FifthWheelPT and gradually built a following, I started to get frequent questions about which companies I’d recommend. Being a new traveler, the only companies and recruiters that I knew of were the few that I had interacted with, so I started sending everyone to them. After all, why not? They had found Whitney and I jobs, been pretty decent, and they would also give me a bonus for sending people to them. It sounded like a win-win. The issue was that once I started branching out and talking to other companies, I realized that a couple of the initial companies/recruiters that I worked with either didn’t pay very well, weren’t very responsive, or were lacking in other ways. In short, they certainly weren’t the best travel PT companies.

It was then that I realized the flaws in the travel company recommendation system laid out above. Here are those flaws:

  1. New and prospective travelers don’t have tons of time to interview dozens of companies and recruiters to find a good fit.
  2. Since they don’t have the time, they rely on current travelers that they know to recommend companies and recruiters to them.
  3. Current travelers are incentivized to recommend companies and recruiters that they work with, even if they aren’t the best.
  4. The new traveler takes those travel PT company recommendations and begins working with subpar companies, and since they don’t know any better, they may or may not be happy with the choice.
  5. The cycle repeats itself when the following year new prospective travelers look for advice and get recommended those same companies/recruiters from the previously new PT, who is now incentivized to recommend them as well.

What’s the Solution to Finding the Best Travel PT Companies?

I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out ways to avoid this cycle.

It drove me crazy over the years having travelers reach out and ask me questions, only to find that they had been being severely low balled or taken advantage of by their travel company, simply because they didn’t know any better and the company had been recommended to them. These situations are what give travel physical therapy a bad name. Those travelers have a bad experience with a recruiter that is not only paying them a low travel PT salary but also pushing them to take jobs that are not a good fit for them. They end up quitting travel PT after only a couple of contracts and telling other PTs to avoid travel as well. We talked to many of these therapists when starting out as new grad travel PTs, and they really made us second guess our decision for a while. That’s a shame, because with all the talk of burnout in the physical therapy world, I think that travel PT can be a solid choice for many new grads to avoid burnout.

Unfortunately there is no easy solution, and there certainly is no best travel PT company for everyone. They all have their pros and cons depending on desired setting, location, benefits, and pay. That is a major reason why we decided to start this website. We realized that individual travelers can’t put in all the effort to talk to dozens of companies to find which ones would be a good fit for them, but we could. Then when prospective travelers contact us looking for the best travel PT companies for them, we can ask them questions about their needs and desires, and then do our best to match them with a few companies/recruiters that should work well for them. Since starting this website, we have interviewed several dozen companies and recruiters to do our best to find which ones would be best for various different scenarios. We are now able to give recommendations with a much broader perspective than we possibly could have after only a couple years of being travel PTs and working with just a handful of recruiters.

Ways to Find the Best Travel PT Companies: Ranked from Best to Worst

#1 (Top Choice)

Take recruiter recommendations from a service that has put in the time to interview many different companies to find which ones are great and which ones are not.

We have spent a lot of time finding some of the best ones so that you don’t have to keep searching!

 

#2

Get recommendations from an experienced traveler (3+ years). Even though an experienced traveler has probably not interacted with tons of companies over the years, they will still have much more knowledge about the industry than a new traveler. And they have likely changed companies at least a few different times, which gives them more insight into what to look for in a good recruiter and company.

 

#3

Get recommendations from a new traveler that you know (0-3 years). This is certainly better than picking a company at random, since hopefully you can trust that person to not recommend someone that has been bad for them. But, it’s important to recognize that they will likely have a very limited perspective and will just be recommending to you the same companies/recruiters that were recommended to them.

 

#4

Use Google searches and job websites to find reviews for various companies and research them yourself. You can sometimes find good companies this way based on reviews, but you’re limited by the names that you know to search for, and there are also limitations to reading through various good/bad reviews. The biggest issue here is that even if you find a great company, you don’t know if the recruiter you get set up with is good or not. The recruiter can really make or break your experience with a company, not only in terms of communication, but also in terms of pay as we’ve found out over the years.

 

#5

Go to PT conferences and talk to different recruiters and companies to find a couple that you like. This can work, but you have to remember that recruiters are salespeople and your initial conversation often sounds wonderful. They’re trying to sell you on their company and themselves as a person. That initial conversation doesn’t tell you anything about how good the company really is, or how responsive that recruiter will be when it really matters. Also, what often happens is you get signed up for call lists that are nearly impossible to get off of!

 

#6 (Last Resort)

Rely on advertisements for travel companies and cold calls from recruiters. This is the worst. Not only does this almost ensure that you won’t get a good recruiter, but often the companies that spend the most on advertising and marketing pay the least! We’ve found this repeatedly over the years. Typically, recruiters making cold calls are either not very good recruiters, or are new, which can be hit or miss. The best recruiters get plenty of business from referrals and have no need to call random people to try to drum up business. Stay away from ads and cold calls!

 

Other Considerations when Finding Travel PT Companies

We’ve learned a lot over the years about the travel industry and how it works. Here are a few other considerations that you should pay attention to as a new travel therapist looking for the best travel PT company:

  1. It is vital to work with more than one travel PT company/recruiter on each job search. The main reason for this is so that you have the largest number of job options available to you to find a job that seems like the best fit for you. This is especially true for new grad PTs. Another reason is that this introduces some healthy competition between the recruiters that you’re working with and makes them more likely to give you their best pay offer right off the bat. Recruiters are only paid a commission if you take a job with them, so if they know that you will be getting offers for jobs from recruiters at other companies as well, then they know if they try to low ball you on pay then they’ll likely miss out on landing a job for you.
  2. Even if you find the best recruiter ever, that doesn’t mean they will always be good. You see, recruiters are people too that have things going on in their lives, and personal issues can easily lead to a recruiter being less responsive or spend less time job searching for you. In addition, good recruiters can quickly become very busy from word of mouth and referrals, and the more busy they become, the less time they have to spend on each individual traveler. We’ve had this happen several times over the years.
  3. Some recruiters and companies really shine in certain areas, but fall short in others. This is a major reason why taking company recommendations from current travelers with limited experience can lead to issues. For example, you might get suggestions from a traveler that is a school based PT and has found a company that has found them consistent contracts in that setting. You, on the other hand, might be a die hard outpatient PT (like me), and maybe that company has very few jobs in the outpatient setting. Most recruiters aren’t going to tell you upfront that they don’t have as many jobs as other companies in a certain area because they want your business. This can mean that you get strung along and eventually placed in a less than ideal situation once you become desperate and settle. Avoid that!

Bottom Line on Finding the Best Travel PT Companies

Unfortunately there is no one “best” company or even a few best companies since so much depends on your unique situation. Taking recommendations from current travelers is certainly better than choosing companies/recruiters at random, but it can lead to a lot of issues since the traveler is incentivized to recommend companies that they work with whether they’re truly above average or not. This becomes obvious when you see the majority of brand new travelers on Facebook and Instagram raving about their recruiters and companies and offering to give their info out to anyone that wants it. Not only are they incentivized to recommend the ones they work with, but they also have a very limited perspective to know what a good or bad company/recruiter actually look like. Even if their recruiter and company truly are amazing, that doesn’t mean they will be the right fit for you with your unique needs! This is an issue with no easy solution, but we’re doing our best to methodically interview companies and recruiters to find the best travel PT companies for many different situations to give more informed recommendations.

If you want us to help you in your search for companies and recruiters, then fill out this questionnaire and we’ll match you with a few based on your situation!

If you have any questions about this topic or anything else travel related, check out our other articles as well as our weekly Facebook Live videos! If you don’t find the answer to your question then contact us!

 

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

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Lessons Learned From Starting a Travel Physical Therapy Blog

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

Deciding to Start a Travel Physical Therapy Blog

It has now been well over three years since I first started my travel physical therapy blog, FifthWheelPT in 2016. I was very nervous and hesitant to put my writing out in the world in the beginning, especially since I’d always felt that I was a poor writer. It turns out that I was right about being a poor writer, and even with Whitney’s editing help, it still pains me to go back and read the first dozen or so articles on the website. My writing was bad not because I didn’t have adequate knowledge, but because I had very little practice writing because I had always avoided it. Creating a blog was way outside of my comfort zone. After all of this time, I can confidently say that starting to write was a really great decision for me, and I don’t think that I’d be in nearly the situation I am now both professionally and personally if I’d never taken the leap.

Originally I had only two goals with the blog: first, to chronicle our adventures as travel physical therapists, and second to educate others on how to become a traveling physical therapist like Whitney and I had both chosen to do as new grads. When starting a travel physical therapy blog (or any travel therapy discipline), it’s impossible to know what the future may hold for you, and it’s important to understand that the blog will likely change as you do. Everyone’s path is different, and it’s inevitable that our interests and passions change over time. Some jump into a travel therapy career and only take a couple of travel assignments before settling down at a permanent job. Others, like Whitney and I, fall in love with the adventure, freedom, and flexibility of travel therapy; and now, we have no plans to settle down anytime soon. I’d be lying if I didn’t also mention that the higher travel physical therapy salary didn’t have something to do with our decision as well!

Over the years my goals with the travel therapy blog changed and evolved just like my interests. I soon decided that the blog could be a place to not only talk about travel physical therapy, but also a great medium to educate others on financial literacy. I quickly began writing educational content regarding finances with information that I had aggregated over hundreds of hours of research, as well as tracking my own journey to financial independence as a traveling physical therapist. Over time that became the main focus of the website, despite it not even originally being on my radar when starting out. With such a variety of content we wanted to put out on the blog, from our personal travels, to financial information, to education on the ins and outs of travel therapy itself, the blog felt a little all over the place. That opened the door to create a separate website (this one) and put more of the travel therapy related educational content here at TravelTherapyMentor.com, while reserving the original site for finances and our domestic and international travels!

The Benefits of Starting a Travel Physical Therapy Blog

Starting the blog not only pushed me outside my comfort zone but also forced me to further my knowledge on a variety of topics. I would often come up with an idea for an article and then subsequently spend many hours researching that topic to make sure that I was as knowledgeable as possible on the subject. My first deep foray into taxes was a result of an article that I wrote on travel therapy salary and stipends. That sparked an interest in taxes that led to many future articles as well as saved me thousands of dollars by optimizing my own tax situation. Taxes are a subject that I doubt I would have ever seriously delved into if it wasn’t for researching for that article. Besides taxes, there have been many other areas that I have become much more competent in while doing research for articles. Some of those include: learning about the best travel therapy companies, learning about the array of health insurance options available and which ones may be the best choices for travel therapists, learning whether pursuing travel therapy as an independent contractor is a viable option, and learning about travel therapy bill rates in depth. All of these things not only made the articles I was writing more informative but also directly benefited me as a travel physical therapist as well.

Another big advantage to starting a travel physical therapy blog is being able to reflect on our past adventures. Whitney and I have written about every one of our travel assignments, weekend trips, changes in our lives, and our international travels on the blog. Going back now and rereading those old articles brings back incredible memories that we’ll cherish forever!

In addition to all this, networking with others in the travel therapy and personal finance world as a result of having the travel physical therapy blog has changed my life significantly. I’ve made connections and formed friendships with other bloggers and creators that I would have never had the opportunity to interact with otherwise. After well over a dozen guest posts and podcast interviews over the last couple of years, I’ve learned that networking is important for both the success of my website and for creating new friendships online that lead into the real world.

The Downside of Starting a Travel Physical Therapy Blog

With the good, there is always some bad as well, and starting a website is no different. The biggest disadvantage for me has been related to the time required to not only create content but also to market it. Social media marketing and networking became a significant portion of my life, to a nearly unhealthy degree at times and is still something that I struggle with today. I naively thought that since writing an article generally only takes me a couple hours that a blog would be a relatively small time commitment. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

In the beginning I had absolutely no idea how to start a blog or website. I Googled, “how to start a blog” and that’s where the work began. Creating and designing the website, researching articles, creating content, marketing, answering questions, and responding to comments and emails all take time. And in some cases, A LOT of time. As the blog, and this website, grow- so does the time required to keep up with all of the above.

Biggest Lessons Learned from My Travel Physical Therapy Blog

  1. Don’t start a website with a primary goal of making money.After some initial success and positive response from some of my articles, I began to consider whether my blog could eventually be profitable. I’ve written about the income that my blog generates a few times in the past, and this always leads to questions from readers regarding if they should create a blog as well to make extra money. My answer is always an emphatic no! Accounting for all of the time put into the tasks mentioned above, my hourly earnings for the first 2+ years of the blog would have been less than $1. Financially, I would be much better off if I had spent my time working PRN jobs as a physical therapist or even driving for Uber. Write because you enjoy it, want to share your story, or because you want to motivate others, and if you end up making some money from it, then wonderful, but if not then you won’t be disappointed!
  2. Expect that it will take a long time for your articles to start getting traction and to build any sort of following.Over the years I’ve watched many other bloggers in the physical therapy, travel therapy, and personal finance world come and go. The reason is usually two fold. First, they underestimate the time involved in creating content and maintaining the blog. Second, they are discouraged by the small number of views and engagement that their articles get. I sincerely understand both of these reasons and have grappled with them many times over the years as well. It can take a disheartening amount of time and effort to ever grow to a level that you feel like you’re actually making a difference. The most important factor to creating a successful blog, whether monetary or impactful, is persistence. Stick with it!
  3. Motivation comes in waves.There are times that I get really fired up and motivated to write, and then there are times where I don’t feel like writing for days or weeks at a time. Initially, I thought this was something I was doing wrong or something wrong with me, but over time I’ve figured out that this is normal. Take advantage of the times when you’re motivated to write to get ahead to make up for the times when your motivation drops off!
  4. Let your blog change with you over time, and don’t feel pressured to only write about one specific area.People usually read and follow a blog because they resonate with the writer and their story. As you change over time, let that be reflected in your writing and the topics you choose. Writing and reading about the same topic for years gets old no matter how interesting that topic is in the beginning.

Conclusion

If you’re considering starting a travel physical therapy blog or any other blog for that matter, go for it! But make sure it’s for the right reasons, and go into it informed about the time it will take. Use the blog as a way to develop your writing ability, thoughts, and to further your knowledge on various topics. Do your best to research topics thoroughly, because not only does that make the articles better, but you can also reap the rewards of that new knowledge. Network with other content creators and find community in the beginning in order to get through the early stages when it can feel like your efforts are wasted due to minimal readers. Let your blog content grow with you over time, and don’t be afraid to write about topics that are not generally the norm for your website if it’s something that interests you. Getting my thoughts down on “paper” has led to many positive benefits in my life, and who knows what it will lead to in the future!

What is Travel Physical Therapy?

Did you know that you can get paid to travel for work as a physical therapist (PT)? In fact, physical therapist’s assistants (PTA), occupational therapists (OT), occupational therapist’s assistants (OTA), and speech language pathologists (SLP) can all get paid to travel!

Maybe you’ve heard of travel therapy (or travel nursing) before, but don’t really understand what it is or how it works. Travel physical therapy (“Travel PT”) and other travel therapy careers are growing in popularity, and for good reason, as it is actually a very accessible and lucrative career path.

Keep reading if you want to learn more about the basic ins and outs of travel physical therapy (and other disciplines!), and how you can get started!

 

What Is Travel Therapy?

Travel therapy is a career option for PTs/PTAs, OTs/OTAs, and SLPs/SLPAs allowing them to work temporary, short-term contracts while moving around to different facilities all over the United States. The length of each contract varies from a few weeks up to a year, but the most typical travel therapy contract length is 13 weeks (3 months). Travel therapists work at facilities that need a temporary employee for various reasons which could include: a temporary medical leave, a seasonal increase in caseload requiring increased staffing, or a short term staffing need while trying to hire a permanent employee.

Why Choose Travel Therapy?

There are many benefits of choosing a career in travel therapy. Financial gain is a major reason many therapists choose to travel, since travel therapists typically earn a higher income than permanent therapists. Another perk of choosing travel therapy is being able to explore new areas of the country and experience new adventures. Therapists can also gain experience in new practice settings, learn new skills, and meet new friends and co-workers. Plus, travel therapy can afford therapists significant lifestyle flexibility, as they can choose to work when they want to and take off from work when they want to. For example, we have been able to work only one or two 13-week contracts per year, while taking 6 months or more off from work each year to travel around the world for leisure!

For more on our domestic and international travel adventures, check out our travel physical therapy blog

How Does Travel Therapy Work?

There are different ways that a therapist can become a traveler, for example by working through a travel staffing company, working as an independent contractor, or working as an internal traveler through a particular medical system. The most common way is working through a staffing company, often referred to as a “travel company.”

Travel therapists, especially new grad travel therapists, often ask, “Which is the best travel company?” The truth is that there are well over 100 different travel companies out there, and they all have their pros and cons. Each travel therapist has their own unique situation and needs that will influence which travel company is best for him/her. Finding the ideal travel company for you can be difficult, but it helps to get individualized recommendations based on your situation.

If you’re wondering which travel company to choose, send us a message and we’ll give you personalized company recommendations based on our experience!

When working through a travel company, the therapist’s primary point of contact is the recruiter. Your recruiter helps you find travel therapy jobs, assists you throughout the process, and is a resource to you during your contract. The individual recruiter you work with can make or break your experience with a particular travel company. It’s vital to find a great recruiter at any company you choose to work with in order to have a successful travel therapy career. You want to search for a recruiter that is personable, trustworthy, attentive, and understanding. Unfortunately there are many recruiters out there that are willing to low ball travel therapists on pay and push therapists into a bad situation just to make money off of them. Be sure to choose wisely and reach out if you need help!

Travel therapists should communicate with more than one company in order to have the most job options, because not all companies have access to the same jobs. This also introduces a bit of healthy competition between recruiters, which discourages low ball pay offers that I mentioned earlier. Since the recruiters are working to get your business and are aware that you have other options, they are much more likely to present the therapist with the highest pay offer possible in order to not lose out to a different recruiter/company. Therapists are free to work with as many companies as they want, and they are only employees of one company during the length of one contract. There are no binding commitments to stay with one company for a certain length of time. Travel staffing companies are simply there to help you through the process and offer positions for you to pursue.

Travel therapists have a choice to take as many or as few contracts as they wish. They can work one 13-week contract, then decide they want to take a permanent job after that, or they can continuously work travel contracts for their entire careers, with short or long breaks between jobs. They also have a choice as to where they would like to go and when they would like to work. However, finding a position depends on the jobs that are available and the timing. Therapists have three major factors to consider when searching for positions: location, setting, and pay. The more flexible therapists are on these factors, the more job options they will have. If they are too particular, for example only willing to work in one setting and in one state, there will be less job options and may lead to extended periods of unwanted time off.

How Much Money Do Travel Physical Therapists Make?

Travel physical therapy salary is a major concern for many prospective travel PTs. This is no surprise with the massive amounts of student loans that many new grad physical therapists begin their career with these days! Travel physical therapists can sometimes make up to double what a permanent physical therapist would make! Similarly, travel OT’s, SLP’s and assistants can make quite a bit more than permanent therapists in these professions.

A typical weekly pay for a Travel PT would be between $1500 to $1800 after taxes. This is the equivalent of a permanent gross salary of over $120,000 in many cases! Some travel physical therapy jobs can pay as high as $2,000/week after taxes, although these jobs are usually on the west coast and in the home health setting. Travel SLPs and Travel OTs make similar weekly take home pay, while assistants can expect to make between $1100-1300 per week after taxes.

Travel therapist pay works a little differently than salary pay. Typically the travel therapist will be paid an hourly rate, plus a stipend for housing, meals and incidentals. The stipend is not taxed, as long as the therapist meets the IRS requirements for maintaining a proper tax home and traveling away from that tax home. Since part of the pay is untaxed, the net amount that the travel therapist keeps is much higher than with a permanent, salaried position. The bottom line is that a travel physical therapist salary, when working consistently throughout the year, is very high, and that is even the case for new grad travel physical therapists!

In What Settings Do Travel Therapists Work?

The most prevalent travel physical therapy jobs are in Skilled Nursing Facilities and home health, followed by outpatient and acute, then schools. Specialty settings such as pediatrics, neuro, and women’s health are less common to see for travel physical therapists. Skilled Nursing and home health are by far the most common for Travel PTA’s and Travel COTA’s. Travel OTs and Travel SLPs most often work in Skilled Nursing, acute, home health, and schools.

Do You Have to Be Licensed in Each State?

When moving to a new state to work as a travel therapist, you must have a license to work in the new state. Traditionally, therapists apply for licensure in each individual state in which they plan to work. Currently, physical therapists in some states are eligible for an an interstate licensure agreement called the “PT Compact” which makes licensing easier between states. Hopefully in the future, all 50 states will participate in this agreement, which would be a huge perk and make life much easier for travel physical therapists! Occupational and speech therapy organizations are in the process of working on this type of compact licensure as well, which would greatly benefit Travel OT’s and Travel SLP’s.

Do Travel Therapists Receive Benefits?

When therapists take travel contracts through a staffing agency, they become employees of the staffing agency, just like the recruiter with whom they’re communicating. During that contract, they are eligible to receive benefits (including health insurance, liability insurance, 401k, etc.) through the staffing company. They would maintain these benefits as long as they are on contract, and the benefits would carry over to the next contract and during short breaks between contracts if the therapist takes the next contract with the same company. If, however, the therapist switches companies, the benefits would change and switch to the new company.

If therapists choose to work as independent contractors, or choose to decline the benefits from the travel company, they would be responsible for maintaining their own benefits. For more information, check out this article explaining how benefits work as a travel therapist.

What About Housing?

There are many options for housing as a travel therapist. The staffing agency can help you set up housing, however it is often better to set up your own housing. If they set up your housing for you, they will not pay you a housing stipend, and your weekly pay would be reduced. If you opt to set up your own housing, they will pay you the tax-free housing stipend, and you are responsible for making your own housing arrangements.

There are a variety of ways to go about searching for short term housing as a travel therapist. Some real estate agencies and apartment complexes allow short term housing arrangements. Therapists can stay in extended stay motels, or many therapists choose to use sites such as Airbnb, VRBO, Furnished Finder, and Craigslist to find short term housing. Some travel therapists choose to stay with friends or family, or search Facebook communities to find housing options using their peer groups. You can also contact the facility where you would be working and ask if they have any housing leads. Others choose to live in an RV and stay at campgrounds, like we did for several years! Finding short term housing as a travel therapist can be a hassle, but there are many options!

Is Travel Therapy Limited to the United States?

The typical travel therapist is licensed to work in the United States and takes contracts within the United States or the US Territories.

Therapists who are trained outside of the US can pursue travel therapy within the US, but there are more regulations and hoops to jump through, so often this is not an easy career path. It is generally recommended that foreign-trained therapists apply for their work visas within the US at a permanent position prior to pursuing travel contract positions.

US-trained therapists who would like to travel for work outside the US will encounter similar challenges. It is possible to arrange short term travel contracts in another country, but it is certainly more challenging and not the norm. US therapists may have more success applying for a work visa in another country and applying directly to a certain facility to work there, rather than searching openings to try to obtain short term contracts.

How Do I Get Started?

If you’re interested in getting started as a travel physical therapist or other travel healthcare professional, check out our guide to starting your travel therapy career to learn what steps to take.

If you’d like our recommendations on travel therapy companies and recruiters that we’ve had a good experience with, fill out this form and we will send you personalized recommendations for your situation!

To learn even more about travel therapy, you can visit the other articles on our Travel Therapy Mentor website, and check out some of our own personal stories on our travel physical therapy blog “Fifth Wheel Physical Therapist.” Feel free to send us a message if you have more questions about pursuing a travel therapy career!

 

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

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Travel Therapists on the Road to Financial Independence (Guest Post for APTA National Student Conclave)

This year we will be presenting at the American Physical Therapy Association’s (APTA) National Student Conclave (NSC), October 31-November 1 in Albuquerque, NM.

NSC is a conference for physical therapy students across the country, filled with educational sessions, networking opportunities, and fun activities too!

During our presentation, we will be educating future Doctors of Physical Therapy (DPTs) and Physical Therapist’s Assistants (PTAs) on the ins and outs of travel therapy, as well as how pursuing travel therapy can help set them up for future financial success.

Below is an article we wrote for the APTA blog “The Pulse” as a preview to our session at NSC. You can see the original post here on the APTA Website.


Have you ever wanted to travel the country and get paid to do it? Us too.

Luckily with travel physical therapy, this dream can be a reality.

Discovering travel therapy during our first year of physical therapy school changed our whole life and career trajectory. At first, it seemed like an exciting and prudent thing to do for a few years. We would try out a few different settings, explore the United States (US), and save up enough money to pay off our loans. Then, we would move back home and settle down, starting permanent jobs only a few years after graduation.

But then we had a better idea. Why stop traveling when we truly love the lifestyle it’s allowed us to create?

It’s been over 4 years since we started our journey as travel physical therapists (PTs), and we don’t intend to stop anytime soon.

We’ve been able to create a lifestyle of flexibility that allows us to work in a variety of settings and states, while earning a high income (sometimes twice as much as the permanent PTs working in the same facilities), and taking off as much time as we want and can afford due to our moderate lifestyle to travel both domestically and internationally, as well as spend time at home with our families. We’ve taken full advantage of this flexibility thus far and have no regrets!

Since becoming PTs in 2015, we’ve had some amazing adventures inside and outside the clinic.

We’ve been able to travel to over half of the 50 states, with that number growing even more later this year with a couple of road trips, as well as over 30 countries—for fun, not for work.

We’ve grown professionally and personally by working in several different clinics across the US and meeting some amazing people along the way. This includes trying multiple settings in order to find where our passion, as PTs, truly lies.

And to top it off, we’ve been able to set ourselves up for financial success by contributing heavily toward retirement and investment accounts early in our careers. Many of the PTs we’ve communicated with over the years seem to really struggle with this.

Are you interested in having your cake and eating it too, even if it’s just for 13 weeks or a couple of years? Do you want to learn how you can have amazing adventures, earn higher income, meet new people, pay off your student loans more quickly, explore the country (maybe even the world), all while honing your skills and experiences as a PT?

Then we encourage you to join us this year at the American Physical Therapy Association’s National Student Conclave in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to learn more about the world of travel therapy and how it can help you achieve your personal, professional, and financial goals after graduation!

In the meantime, you can browse our social media pages to see some of our adventures around the world, including our recent 15-week trip to Europe and our 2-week road trip across the US!

Join us October 31 – November 2, 2019 at APTA’s National Student Conclave — the only conference for students, by students. For the best rates register by September 25, 2019.

Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC, and Jared Casazza, PT, DPT, run the website TravelTherapyMentor.com. Connect with them on their blogInstagram, and Facebook.

Top 5 Things to Avoid During Your First Travel Therapy Contract

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Starting your first travel therapy contract is an exciting time, but there are definitely a lot of factors to consider when choosing your first contract, and mistakes to avoid once you get there! Since we covered choosing your first job recently, now we want to cover things to consider when you’re working at your first travel placement! These things apply both for new grads and experienced clinicians starting travel therapy for the first time. Some of these do have to be negotiated in advance as well, and they will come into play once you start working!

Productivity

Productivity is a dreaded word in healthcare. But, unfortunately, it is a part of our jobs as healthcare professionals. It’s important that you ask about the productivity expectations during your phone interview for the travel therapy job and consider whether the expected productivity is reasonable and realistic.

This will look different based on your discipline and setting. For example, for a SNF placement, the expectation could be anywhere from 75-95% (or potentially even higher with the new Medicare Patient Driven Payment Model changes on the horizon)! We urge you to consider whether the suggested productivity expectation is doable if you remain within ethical and legal guidelines. In general, we feel anything close to 90% or above is not realistic, especially for an evaluating therapist (PT, OT, SLP). In most cases, 85% is probably the max we would accept. For an outpatient physical therapy clinic, you might be looking for how many patients per day or per hour you are expected to see. In our experience, for an 8 hour day, between 10-14 patients is what we feel comfortable with. But, the therapist’s ability to meet these productivity standards in any setting is going to depend heavily on how the clinic is set up and how it operates.

When presented with a productivity standard that sounds high, we would encourage you to have a discussion with the manager or interviewer. Find out how the facility operates on a daily basis to help you decide if the productivity will be achievable. Are there techs or aids to assist with ancillary tasks such as setup/cleanup or patient transport? If it’s an inpatient or home health setting, is the productivity weighted based on what type of patient session is performed (evaluation, treatment, discharge, etc.)? When are the full time therapists able to complete their required documentation throughout the day? These are all important things to consider and ask during your interview.

In general, we don’t recommend you sign a contract that has the productivity standard written into the contract. This happens sometimes with SNFs, and sometimes they try to use this to say that if you drop below the written productivity, they can deduct your pay. If possible, avoid taking contracts like this, and if you see it written in a contract, talk to your recruiter to get it removed.

Once you’re on the job, be aware whether the productivity, and the various factors that affect productivity, are in line with what was discussed (and promised) during your interview. Is the clinic what you were told it would be, or is it totally different? Are you being asked to suddenly meet unrealistic productivity standards? Are things like the documentation system, support staff, and scheduling conducive to you being able to meet the productivity?

As a travel therapist, you are generally expected to be able to “hit the ground running” without much ramp up time. Sometimes facilities are able to provide more or less ramp up time or training than others, it just depends on the contract. But regardless of these expectations, you have to be honest with yourself and your supervisor. If the productivity expectations are not reasonable enough for you to meet them within your regularly scheduled hours, you need to stand up for yourself as a healthcare professional. Don’t let anyone guilt you in to stretching the limits of your ethics and legality, or your personal sanity, to meet unrealistic productivity expectations. Always remember, it’s your professional license and your quality of patient care at stake.

Working Off The Clock

Discussing productivity leads directly into our next topic, working off the clock. All too often, if the productivity standards at a facility are unrealistic and cannot truly be achieved during a standard workday, it leads to employees working off the clock to get their documentation done. For permanent employees who are on salary, there isn’t really such a thing as “working off the clock.” So, often, they will be in the habit of coming in early, staying late, working through lunch, or taking paperwork home with them. If you’re a practicing clinician, you are undoubtedly familiar with this, and as a student having gone through clinicals, you may be as well.

However, as a travel therapist, it’s important to remember that you are an hourly employee. You are paid by the hour that you work. Therefore, you should be able to complete all required work (including documentation) during your scheduled work hours. This can be difficult for employers/supervisors to cope with, because they’re used to their salaried employees. So if necessary, if this becomes an issue, it may require a conversation with your recruiter and/or your supervisor.

We encourage you to get paid for all of your time. So if the schedule and productivity expectations are not conducive to you completing your required work within your regular hours, something needs to change. This could mean a conversation about your schedule to reduce the caseload or allow built in time for paperwork. Otherwise, if you are working beyond your scheduled workday, you should be getting paid overtime.

Overtime

This leads in to the next topic. As stated above, if you’re working overtime hours, you should be getting overtime pay.

Typically as a traveler, facilities do not want to pay overtime. So, we have approached this situation in a couple different ways. Either we would let them know upfront that based on our schedule and our documentation, we would be going into overtime, and see what they say. Or, we would just do the required work, and if this required 30mins to an hour of overtime, we would then write that on our timesheet for the week. If nothing was said, we would just continue to write our hours down as we worked them, even if that meant overtime. But, often if you put down overtime hours, this will spark a conversation from your recruiter or supervisor. This is then the time when you would want to discuss the various factors of your day that make you unable to complete the required patient care and documentation within your normal hours. Then, perhaps the supervisor will work with you to make changes to your schedule, or they will agree to allow you overtime.

As far as overtime pay goes, this works a little bit differently for travel therapists. Typically, overtime pay is a standard “time and a half” on your hourly pay. However, this amount does not make sense for a traveler, because time and a half on our hourly is actually lower than our standard 40 hour pay when you account for the stipends received during our normal working hours. To learn more about overtime pay, check out this article.

The bottom line is that if you are going to be working overtime hours, you need to get compensated appropriately for the overtime hours. Hopefully you were able to negotiate an appropriate overtime rate when you signed your contract (in general for PT/OT/SLP this should be at minimum $45/hour but could be up to $85-100/hour). But, if for some reason you find yourself in a travel contract where you are actually working a lot of overtime hours, and your overtime pay is still only time and a half of your hourly, you need to discuss this with your recruiter and get it increased. Sometimes they can create an addendum to your contract to add a higher overtime rate, or they may be able to pay you a bonus at the end of the contract to compensate you for the difference in what you should have been receiving for overtime. Either way, make sure the overtime pay you are receiving is worth your time. Otherwise, don’t agree to work overtime, and instead make sure your schedule is adjusted accordingly.

Work Drama

Switching gears a bit, our next recommendation for your first contract (and all subsequent contracts!) is to avoid the work drama! As most of us healthcare professionals know, there is usually some type of work drama at any facility, whether it be interpersonal relationships, a bad manager, a bad coworker, staffing issues, or new rules and changes happening at the facility. This should be one of the best parts about working as a travel therapist. You’re only there temporarily, so you shouldn’t have to worry about this drama at work!

Not only is it good for your mental health to avoid work drama, but this recommendation will also help you to be more productive and get out of work on time. I can’t tell you how many times I made the mistake of getting caught up in the work drama and happenings of the clinic, and I ended up sitting there talking to a coworker for an extra 20 minutes, hour, hour and a half, when I should’ve been getting my notes done and getting out of there! Take our advice, and avoid the work drama as a travel therapist, and you’ll come out ahead in all respects!

Planning for Your Next Contract

The last thing we encourage you to consider during your first contract is planning for your next contract! This can be a tricky part of being a travel therapist, and this will be your first time navigating the transition. If you wait until the end of your current contract to start looking for your next contract then you’ll be way behind! We recommend that around mid-contract, you start to consider where your next move will be.

Are things going well at your current contract, and maybe you’re considering extending? Usually you can get a feel for this after the first few weeks. You might also already have an idea whether the facility might need you to extend or not. Have they found someone to cover their staffing needs already, or are they still searching? Is the caseload still high, or has it dropped and they won’t need anyone any longer? By about halfway through your contract, if you want to extend, you should start talking to your supervisor about it. Sometimes they will approach you themselves, but often you have to ask. In the past, we have usually approached the supervisor and said something along the lines of, “It’s about halfway through my contract and this is when I need to decide what my next move will be. I was wondering about your current staffing needs, and if you think you might need me longer than my 13 week contract?” This is usually a good opener to the conversation. If you do want to extend, and they need you to extend, you then go back to your recruiter and proceed with the contract extension negotiations.

If extending your contract is not an option or not something you want to do, then you need to start thinking about where you want to work next, and when you want to start. If you’re interested in going to a different state, you need to already be working on the next license. We always recommend having the license in hand before applying to a job in a certain state. Sometimes while you are already on contract with a company, they will be able to help you start the process of getting your next state license.

If you plan to start work immediately after your current contract, it’s best to start looking for your next job about 6 weeks out from your end date. We usually try to have our next contract locked down within 2 to 4 weeks of our end date. If we get down to 2 weeks from our end date, that’s when we start getting a little nervous, and also when we might consider expanding our search criteria and getting a little less picky.

This is an important factor to consider as a travel therapist on your first contract and on all subsequent contracts. 13 weeks goes by a lot faster than you think! In order to avoid a lot of unwanted (and unpaid) time off, you need to be on top of your job searches. Hopefully you have a team of recruiters that is proactive and will also be reminding you of this and helping you with the process. But we encourage you to be proactive in your job search, because ultimately you’re the only one who is going to go without work and without pay if you don’t lock in a contract.

Conclusion

While there are lots of things to think about during your first contract, these are the main ones we wanted to highlight that we think pertain to all travel therapists. There will undoubtedly be a lot of other factors, especially various clinical nuances, to consider. But, in terms of being successful as a travel therapist, the biggies are: making sure you’re not being taken advantage of in terms of productivity, not working off the clock, and overtime; as well as avoiding work drama; and planning ahead for your next contract!

We hope this information helps to set you up for success during your first travel contract! If you have questions for us, don’t hesitate to send us a message!

If you’re still in the process of getting started with travel therapy and would like recommendations for recruiters we have worked with that will have your back during your journey as a traveler, fill out this form and we will get back to you with recommendations!

Top 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Choosing Your First Travel Therapy Contract!

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

If you’re worried about making mistakes when trying to find your first travel therapy contract, you’re in good company. When Whitney and I first started working as travel PTs as new grads over 4 years ago, we certainly made more than our fair share of mistakes. Information on travel therapy was scarce at that time, with very few resources available to new and existing travel therapists. We created this website to help new travelers learn from our mistakes and to go into the process much better informed than we were when starting out.

No matter how well informed you are however, finding your first travel therapy contract can be intimidating to say the least. This is especially the case for new grad travelers. Between getting licensed in different states, trying to sort through seemingly endless numbers of travel companies and recruiters, trying to understand what reasonable pay is for your situation, and trying to find a facility that will help foster your clinical growth there’s a lot that can go wrong. Hopefully we can help you navigate these waters by helping you avoid some common mistakes. Here are 5 of the biggest mistakes that we and the travelers we’ve mentored over the years have made when searching for first contracts!  

1. Getting low-balled on pay!

This is the most common issue we encounter with new travel therapists. If you’re unsure how travel pay works then check out this comprehensive guide to travel therapy pay that breaks everything down before continuing. New travelers are an easy target for travel companies looking to make higher profits and therefore pay the travelers less than they’re worth for a few different reasons. Usually new travelers are the least informed about the whole process and subsequently are most likely to take everything the recruiter says as gospel, whether it’s actually good advice or not. It’s vital to keep in mind that recruiters are paid by selling you on their company and on jobs first and foremost. Many times the recruiter will also have an incentive (bonuses monthly/yearly) for keeping higher margins, so they do their best to pay you as little as you’re willing to accept as a traveler. Of course many of them also want to do what’s best for the traveler as well in order to keep a good reputation and to ensure a contract with less issues, but that’s not always the case. Some companies seem to prey on new travelers and especially new grads by making huge profits off of them upfront with very low pay before they start to learn more about the industry and what’s reasonable. These companies are known to offer pay packages as low as $1,200/week after taxes to new travelers (PT/OT/SLP), and then suddenly be able to increase that pay by $300-$400/week or more once the traveler stands up for themselves. Dozens of people that we’ve mentored have gone through this exact situation. If you’re an informed traveler that is presented with a very low pay package, and you confront the recruiter about it, and then suddenly they’re able to offer a much higher pay package, that’s someone you want to get far away from. You won’t be able to trust any of their pay packages in the future! 

New travelers are also an easy target for low balling because they’re often comparing their pay to prior permanent jobs they’ve had or friends that are working permanent jobs. That’s a mistake! When comparing to a permanent job, even the lowest travel pay packages will look amazing. There’s a reason that travel therapists should make significantly more (sometimes double or higher) than permanent jobs! Our benefits packages are far inferior to permanent positions (no vacation or sick time), we have much less job security (jobs can be cut short occasionally with little warning), we have to pack and move often (a hassle for even the most experienced and minimalist travelers), and we have to duplicate housing expenses (having a tax home). Those factors need to be offset with high pay for traveling to be a viable option. 

2. Worrying more about the money than the job!

After that first mistake you may be thinking that pay is the most important thing to consider on your first contract, but that’s not the case. On the other end of the spectrum, some of the travelers that we’ve mentored in the past become become so fixated on getting the very best pay at their first travel job that they end up taking a job at a facility that isn’t the best just because it pays well. This is a big mistake! 

You should ensure that you aren’t being significantly low balled, but aside from that, pay shouldn’t be your primary concern. It’s much more important to find a job that fits you well than it is to make an extra $100/week when you’re already being paid a reasonable amount. A contract with a supportive environment, some ramp up time, support from the manager/other staff, reasonable productivity or number of patient’s per day, and in a location that you are likely to enjoy will all have a much more profound impact on your experience and impression of travel therapy than the extra $100/week. Sometimes facilities will pay really high for a reason, which may be that they can’t get someone to stay there due to the situation inside the clinic. We’ve talked to and heard stories from dozens of travelers that quit traveling after their first contract due to being frustrated by a bad experience, and that’s a tragedy. This isn’t always because they were dead set on getting top dollar, but sometimes it is. It’s best to focus on putting yourself in a great spot than to get the highest pay possible. 

3. Taking a job in a setting in which you aren’t familiar!

One of the things about traveling that appeals to new travel therapists is being able to try out new settings with only a 3 month commitment. If you’re someone that isn’t sure what setting fits you the best, then this experimentation can be a blessing. Even for those, like me, that are relatively certain which setting they like the most, getting out of the rut of practicing in one setting can be invigorating. I love outpatient and initially wanted all of my contracts to be in OP but was surprised to find that I also enjoy home health and will likely take some contracts in that setting in the future. 

Despite this wonderful flexibility that comes along with traveling, I’d advise against jumping into a brand new setting as your first travel job, especially as a new grad! Ideally your first travel job should be in the setting that you’re most comfortable with, the reason for this being that it will make the transition into travel therapy much more comfortable. Keep in mind that as a traveler, EVERYTHING will be brand new to you. New city, new living situation, new patients, new coworkers (accompanied by the possibility of new work drama), new documentation system, new commute, new gym, new grocery store… you get the point. For some travelers this can be overwhelming, and adding a brand new setting to the mix can easily make things more difficult than they need to be. 

After the first contract, even though everything will still be new on the next contract, you’ll be more prepared and more confident in your ability to handle it. Once the nerves from all the newness start to wear off a couple of contracts into your travel therapy career, that’s a great time to start experimenting with different settings. But we recommend getting a couple travel contracts under your belt first! 

4. Not asking the right questions on your interview with the facility!

An interview for a travel contract may sound scary to you. I know that it certainly did for me when starting out, and I still get a little nervous for them even over 4 years later. The good news is that these interviews are often nothing like any interview you’ve had for a job in the past. Out of dozens of travel therapy interviews, only ONE of them has been what I would consider a “real interview” with questions about my strengths and weaknesses as well as other typical interview questions. Many times, this conversation with the manager will be less about them asking you about your qualifications as a therapist and more about them trying to sell you on the facility and the location. Often the manager is eager to get a travel therapist in the facility to fill a position that is vacant and causing other staff members to be overworked. They’re motivated to get someone in there as quickly as possible, and usually that means they’ve gotten just about all the info they need to know about you from your resume and are now just trying to see when you can start. 

In some ways this is great, but in other ways it can lead to some less than ideal situations. On one hand it’s a huge relief to not be badgered by tough interview questions, but on the other hand it means that the ball is firmly in your court in regards to making sure the facility is a good fit and that you ask all the relevant questions. Usually this interview will be your only contact with the facility before the first day when you show up for work… assuming you accept the position. Be sure to go into the phone interview with a list of questions written down and take notes on the answer you’re given. I’ve learned from experience that I can’t be trusted to remember everything I need to ask (especially in the heat of the moment) so having a written list is vital for me. If you’re unsure of what questions you should be asking, here’s a list of what we ask for all our of contracts

5. Not having another therapist of your discipline at the facility!

This applies to all new travel therapists but is especially important for new grads. No matter how experienced or confident you are in a setting, when you go to a brand new facility you’re going to have questions. For me these questions usually involve things like the documentation system, post surgical protocols for the surgeons sending patients, where equipment is, how discharges are handled, scheduling patients, and how best to manage support staff at the facility. Having another therapist there of your discipline is the ideal person to go to for all of these questions because they can relate to exactly the position you’re in. Many times things will pop up that you wouldn’t have anticipated you’d be unsure about, but nonetheless checking with someone else to put your mind at ease is nice. It’s true that sometimes support staff or therapists/assistants of other disciplines can answer these questions, but sometimes they can’t or their answers don’t apply to your situation. 

As a new grad, in addition to everything mentioned above, you’ll undoubtedly run into clinical situations where getting some feedback or bouncing ideas off another therapist is extremely helpful. Even as a relatively experienced clinician, I still run into situations where I think I have a good handle on a patient situation but still want input from someone else to check my biases. 

The longer you practice as a therapist, the less importance this is likely to have for you, but I can guarantee that even the most experienced clinicians will have situations where they wish there was someone else there of the same discipline to consult with. On your first contract, it’s a great idea to ensure another therapist of your discipline will be there to make things easier on you. 

Conclusion

There are many other mistakes made by travelers when looking for their first contracts, but in our opinion these are the big ones to watch out for and avoid. No matter how well you prepare and inform yourself before starting your first travel contract, you will almost certainly make some mistakes and that’s okay! Travel therapy is a seemingly never ending process of learning and growing, so just take the mistakes and learn from them for next time. 

If you’ve gotten value from this article, please comment and let us know as well as share with fellow therapists interested in traveling so that they can avoid as many mistakes as possible as well! If you need help getting in touch with recruiters that will have your back, then fill out this form and we’ll help you out! If you have questions about these mistakes or anything else travel therapy related, feel free to send us a message.

You can also follow along with our travels on Instagram @TravelTherapyMentor (with occasional giveaways!) and tune into our weekly Facebook Live videos on the Travel Therapy Mentor Facebook page to learn more about travel therapy. We did a live video on this exact topic a couple weeks ago that goes a little more in-depth than this article! 

Should You Pursue Travel Therapy as an Independent Contractor?

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT


“Couldn’t I just cut out the middle man and negotiate my own contracts?”

Have you ever thought about this before? Have you considered trying to set up your own travel therapy contracts instead of working through a travel agency? If so, you’re not alone.

Whether to take travel therapy contracts through a travel company or to work as an independent contractor through a business entity as a 1099 employee is a question we’ve received quite often. This is a very valid question, considering we all know that travel companies keep a percentage (sometimes a significant amount) of the bill rate that the facility pays the travel company.

If you’re completely unfamiliar with bill rates, then this article should give you baseline knowledge to better understand the calculations that I’ll go through to compare taking jobs through a travel company or as an independent contractor.

Financially, on the surface the answer seems obvious, but upon investigation it gets much more complex as to which choice is more lucrative. Since I’m a finance nerd and all for optimizing income, I initially planned to eventually go this route myself, cutting out the middle man so to speak in order to keep more of the hard earned travel pay. I dug deep into the tax laws and ran calculations to see just how much more I would actually be able to make as an independent contractor instead of taking jobs though a travel company.

What I found surprised me and made me decide it wasn’t worth the hassle, and since then Whitney and I have continued to take travel contracts through travel companies. Let’s explore how I came to this decision and help give you some food for thought as to whether this is a possible option for you, complete with plenty of math! 🙂

Pros and Cons of working as an Independent Contractor on Travel Assignments

The main benefit of working as an independent contractor, and the reason that just about everyone that goes this route decides to do it, is to keep the entire bill rate like I mentioned above and make more money! Instead of the travel company keeping 20-25% of the bill rate, you get to keep it all! What’s not to like about that?

The downsides will vary from person to person, but generally include: establishing a business entity (most people seem to prefer an LLC for this to reduce potential personal liability), more hassle finding assignments (you have to do this all on your own of course), writing your own contracts or being able to understand the ins and outs of contracts written by the facility, being responsible for getting your own health insurance, being responsible for getting your own liability insurance, having to pay self-employment tax on income, and having no one to advocate for you. Let’s explore each of these downsides individually.

  • Establishing a business entity: For this, it is best to consult a professional for advice on which business entity would be best for your situation. As much as I hate spending extra money, if I was going to go the independent contracting route this is an area where I wouldn’t cut corners. Being sure that you’re doing everything by the book is not only the best way to avoid future issues, but will also help you sleep better at night.
  • More hassle finding assignments: When working with a recruiter, you will be presented with potential jobs options from their clients (facilities) with current therapist needs. As an independent contractor, you have to do all of this on your own which usually involves “cold calling” clinics in the area that you’re looking for a job, or looking at permanent position job openings in the area and reaching out to them to see if they would consider a traveler. This is going to be more time consuming than having the jobs presented to you by a recruiter. In addition, some facilities that need travelers often choose to work with only one specific travel company to help streamline the process, which means those jobs might not be available to you even if you contact them directly and are a good fit.
  • Writing your own contracts: When you find a facility that is willing to hire you as a traveler, you’ll either need to write your own contract to have them sign or possibly sign a contract that the facility has. This is an area where you want to be careful since legal contracts can have very specific wording, and it’s easy to miss something if you don’t pay attention. As an upside, this would probably only be an issue for the first couple of contracts as an independent contractor since you’ll almost certainly become more proficient with writing and reading contracts over time.
  • Being responsible for your own health, dental, and vision insurance: This is a big one. As an independent contractor your yearly pay will almost certainly be high enough to disqualify you for ACA tax credits, which means you’ll be responsible for the full premium amount if you get health insurance through the marketplace. The travel company pays for a portion of the usual premium for us, which is why the company sponsored plans are so much cheaper than plans through the marketplace.
  • Being responsible for your own liability insurance: This is a relatively minor cost but not something to overlook. Travel companies provide liability insurance for their travelers, but if you are working as an independent contractor then you’ll have to get this on your own. In general this shouldn’t cost more than a few hundred dollars per year.
  • Paying self-employment tax on income: This is another big one! Self-employment tax is the money paid toward Medicare and Social Security on your behalf. This amounts to 15.3% of your income right off the top, and you can’t avoid it even with retirement account contributions! When working as an employee through a travel company, they would pay for half of this tax on your behalf with you only paying 7.65% (denoted as FICA taxes on your pay stub), but when working as an independent contractor you’re responsible for the whole shebang. For more detail on this tax, check out this link.
  • Having no advocate: Your recruiter (as long as they are good) is a lifeline for you while on assignment. If you have issues with a facility, then they can be the one to have the tough talks with the facility regarding fixing things if you aren’t comfortable doing that. If a contract goes exactly according to plan, then this may not be important at all, but if you end up at a facility where things aren’t ideal then this could prove to be very valuable and significantly reduce your headache.

Yeah, Yeah… But More Money!

I hear you! Despite all the “cons” mentioned above, I was ready to accept all of that and still work as an independent contractor if it meant an extra few hundred dollars per week, and this may be what you’re thinking as well.

However, I was very disappointed to find out that for my and Whitney’s situation, the financial benefit was actually very little or even nonexistent in some cases!

How can that be if the travel company isn’t keeping 20-25% of the bill rate? That’s where the math comes in.

Before we jump into the calculations though, let me explain how that 20-25% extra can quickly evaporate.

  • Stipends (Per Diems): First I want to make it clear here that I’m not a tax professional. The information below is just my understanding of the tax laws as I’ve read them and from what I’ve learned from consulting with tax professionals. Always consult with a professional before making a decision based on what is written here! TravelTax is a wonderful resource for more information. With that being said. The big thing that makes being a travel therapist so lucrative are the stipends for those travelers who meet the requirements for maintaining a proper tax home (the vast majority). The biggest portion of those stipends is almost always for housing. On average our housing stipend has been in the $600-$700/week range while traveling depending on the location. When working through a travel company, this amount can be received even if your actual travel housing doesn’t cost doesn’t equal the full amount. While working as an independent contractor, even though you can write off your housing expense, it can only be for the actual cost of the housing incurred. What that means is that if you find low cost housing at your travel assignment, you’ll only be able to deduct the actual cost of the housing instead of being able to receive the much larger housing stipend that you would when working through a travel company. This is the single biggest reason why working as an independent contractor doesn’t make sense for Whitney and me. The most expensive housing that we’ve had to date on an assignment was $900/month, with the average being closer to $650/month. Divided between the two of us, we’d only be able to write off an average of $325/month each for those housing costs if we worked as independent contractors versus the $600-$700/week ($2,500-$3,000/month) that we each get when working through a travel company. Luckily, the full meal and incidental stipends would still apply to independent contractors just like they do for travelers working through a travel company, so no difference there. But, depending on your average cost of housing on assignment, missing that full housing stipend can be huge as we’ll see in the calculations later.
  • Self-Employment tax: As mentioned above, this amounts to an additional 7.65% of income paid off the top in taxes when working as an independent contractor compared to when working through a travel company. This becomes even more significant than it appears at first glance due to the higher taxable pay as an independent contractor.
  • Health insurance: Paying the full marketplace premium for insurance is going to be much more expensive than the insurance offered through a travel company in almost all cases. For example, on my last contract my health, dental, and vision insurance premiums through the travel company we used cost me $24/week. For comparable coverage purchased through the marketplace, I would have to pay about $120/week. That’s over $400/month more for insurance when working as an independent contractor!

Onto the Numbers

Now that we see some of the reasons why the pay actually received as an independent contractor may not be as high we initially anticipated, let’s do some calculations to see if the actual difference would be worth the other “cons” mentioned above.

I’m going to use my situation on my most recent contract as an example, but keep in mind that this will differ for everyone depending on your own variables. I don’t know what the actual bill rate for that contract was since this is usually not disclosed by the travel company, but I’ll go through two examples using a $60/hour and a $65/hour bill rate which seem to be pretty typical on the east coast in our experience. I’ll also use 25% as the travel company margin, which would typically be on the high end but it depends on the specific company and contract.

The Scenario: 30 year old male, working 40 hours per week, for 48 weeks per year, with both the contract state and the home state being Virginia, working in Fredericksburg. Housing cost of $800/month, split with Whitney ($400/month each).

Working through a travel company taking 25% margin from $60/hour bill rate

$60/hour bill rate – 25% margin = $45/hour total compensation to traveler

  • $20/hour taxable ($800/week gross)
  • $25/hour nontaxable ($1,000/week broken down into $385/week for meals and incidentals stipend and $615/week for housing stipend)

Total yearly taxable pay based on 48 weeks per year worked: $38,500

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $7,665

Total yearly (taxable hourly pay only) after taxes: $30,835

$30,835/48 weeks = $642 taxable per week after taxes

+ $1,000 per week stipends (untaxed)

=$1,642/week take home after taxes

– $24/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,618/week take home pay after insurance premiums

Working as an independent contractor making $60/hour bill rate

$60/hour bill rate (all taxable) * 40 hours  per week * 48 weeks per year = $115,200 total pay received (before taxes)

Meals and incidentals: $385/week tax deduction

Housing: $400/month rent tax deduction (actual expense incurred)

$115,200 – ($385 * 48 weeks) – ($400 * 11 months) – ($5,760 insurance premiums for 11 months) = $86,560 after deductions

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $30,080 (of which $13,244 is self-employment tax)

Total yearly after taxes: $115,200 – $30,080 = $85,120

$85,120 / 48 weeks = $1,773/week take home after taxes

– $120/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,653/week take home after insurance premiums

As you can see here, as an independent contractor in the situation, weekly take home pay would only be about $35 more per week when everything is said and done!

 

Now let’s look at the same exact scenario, but with a maxed out 401k each year in both cases since that will help reduce the taxable income (on everything except self-employment taxes) which is very beneficial with such a high income as an independent contractor.

Working through a travel company taking 25% margin from $60/hour bill rate with maxed out 401k contribution ($19,000)

$60/hour bill rate – 25% margin = $45/hour total compensation to traveler

  • $20/hour taxable ($800/week gross)
  • $25/hour nontaxable ($1,000/week broken down into $385/week for meals and incidentals stipend and $615/week for housing stipend)

Total yearly taxable based on 48 weeks per year worked: $38,500

401k Contribution: $19,000 (reduces taxable income)

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $4,344

Total yearly after taxes: $34,156

$712 taxable per week after taxes

+ $1,000 per week stipends

=$1,712/week take home after taxes

– $24/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,688/week take home pay after insurance premiums

Working as an independent contractor making $60/hour bill rate with maxed out 401k contribution ($19,000)

$60/hour bill rate * 40 hours  per week * 48 weeks per year = $115,200 total pay received (before taxes)

Meals and incidentals: $385/week deduction

Housing: $400/month rent deduction (actual expense incurred)

$115,200 – ($385 * 48 weeks) – ($400 * 11 months) – ($5,760 insurance premiums for 11 months) = $86,560 after deductions

401k Contribution: $19,000 (reduces taxable income)

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $24,808 (of which $13,244 is self-employment tax)

Total yearly after taxes: $115,200 – $24,808 = $90,392

$90,392 / 48 weeks = $1,883/week take home after taxes

– $120/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,763/week take home after insurance premiums

As we can see here, maxing out a 401k account helps to reduce taxes on the income, which benefits the independent contractor more than the traveler working through a travel company.

So in this scenario after the 401k contributions, the independent contractor would come out $75/week ahead of the traveler working through a travel company.

If I did ever change my mind a pursue traveling as an independent contractor, I would definitely take advantage of the tax deferred savings associated with a 401k to reduce the tax burden on the higher taxable pay. An extra $75/week would amount to only about $300 more per month or $3,600 more per year. That’s still not worth the “cons” mentioned earlier in my opinion.

 

The pay difference between working as an independent contractor compared to working through a travel company only narrows further as the bill rate increases. This is because as the bill rate increases, the housing stipend can also be increased. This is of course as long as the GSA allows room for additional money applied to the housing stipend without going over the limits for the area that you’re traveling in. In the case of the independent contractor, their housing price doesn’t change just because the bill rate is higher, so the deduction for housing stays the same.

To illustrate this, let’s run the same calculations using the same scenario with a $65/hour bill rate.

Working through a travel company taking 25% margin from $65/hour bill rate

$65/hour bill rate – 25% margin = $48.75/hour total compensation to traveler

  • $20/hour taxable ($800/week gross)
  • $28.75/hour nontaxable ($1,150/week broken down into $385/week for meals and incidentals stipend and $765/week for housing stipend)

Total yearly taxable based on 48 weeks per year worked: $38,500

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $7,665

Total yearly after taxes: $30,835

$642 taxable per week after taxes

+ $1,150 per week stipends

= $1,792/week take home after taxes

– $24/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,768/week take home pay after insurance premiums

Working as an independent contractor making $65/hour bill rate

$65/hour bill rate * 40 hours  per week * 48 weeks per year = $124,800 total pay received

Meals and incidentals: $385/week deduction

Housing: $400/month rent deduction (actual expense incurred)

$124,800 – ($385 * 48 weeks) – ($400 * 11 months) – ($5,760 insurance premiums for 11 months)= $96,160 after deductions

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $34,246 (of which $14,712 is self-employment tax)

Total yearly after taxes: $124,800 – $34,246 = $90,554

$90,554 / 48 weeks = $1,887/week take home after taxes

– $120/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,766/week take home after insurance premiums

With a $65/hour bill rate and no 401k contributions to reduce the taxable income, the independent contractor would actually come out with $2/week LESS after taxes in this situation!

 

Now let’s see how that would change by maxing out a 401k account.

Working through a travel company taking 25% margin from $65/hour bill rate with maxed out 401k contribution ($19,000)

$65/hour bill rate – 25% margin = $48.75/hour total compensation to traveler

  • $20/hour taxable ($800/week gross)
  • $28.75/hour nontaxable ($1,150/week broken down into $385/week for meals and incidentals stipend and $765/week for housing stipend)

Total yearly taxable based on 48 weeks per year worked: $38,500

401k Contribution: $19,000 (reduces taxable income)

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $4,344

Total yearly after taxes: $34,156

$712 taxable per week after taxes

+ $1,150 per week stipends

= $1,862/week take home after taxes

– $24/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,838/week take home pay after insurance premiums

Working as an independent contractor making $65/hour bill rate with maxed out 401k contribution ($19,000)

$65/hour bill rate * 40 hours  per week * 48 weeks per year = $124,800 total pay received

Meals and incidentals: $385/week deduction

Housing: $400/month rent deduction (actual expense incurred)

$124,800 – ($385 * 48 weeks) – ($400 * 11 months) – ($5,760 insurance premiums for 11 months)= $96,160 after deductions

401k Contribution: $19,000 (reduces taxable income)

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $28,940 (of which $14,712 is self-employment tax)

Total yearly after taxes: $124,800 – $28,940 = $95,860

$95,860 / 48 weeks = $1,997/week take home after taxes

– $120/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,877/week take home after insurance premiums

After the reduction in taxable income through the 401k contributions in this final example, the independent contractor would come out ahead by a whopping $39!

Additional Considerations

  • In the example above, I did not account for the cost of liability insurance in the independent contractor example, because this cost is negligible in most situations and just adds further complexity to the calculations.
  • In addition, I did not factor in reimbursements for travel expenses that most travel companies will give in addition to the weekly pay. The reason for this was that an independent contractor would be able to deduct that expense as well, and those are likely to cancel each other out, especially in the scenario I laid out above where travel to and from the assignment location from my tax home was only a few hours each way. If this had been a move across the country, and the travel company didn’t reimburse those full expenses, the independent contractor would at least be able to deduct those beginning and ending travel expenses, whereas the traveler working through a company wouldn’t be able to due to the tax law changes last year in The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). That would skew things more in favor of the independent contractor, but by how much would depend on the actual beginning and ending travel expenses incurred.
  • I did not include the 20% pass through deduction that was also part of the TCJA last year due to uncertainty whether that would apply to all travelers in this situation. If this does indeed apply to your business entity as an independent contractor, then that extra 20% deduction would significantly improve the financial aspects of traveling as an independent contractor. Be sure to consult with a CPA on this deduction if you do decide to work as an independent contractor through your own business entity.
  • Single travelers that will be working in higher cost of living areas where housing costs are likely to be much more expensive will have a much higher deduction than in the above example for housing expenses incurred while working as an independent contractor. A much higher housing cost will tilt things more in favor of traveling as an independent contractor and is something that should be considered if this applies to you.
  • The higher taxable pay associated with working as an independent contractor will lead to much higher monthly student loan payments for anyone that has chosen to go with an income driven repayment plan. If you plan to pay your loans off as quickly as possible while traveling by making much larger payments, then this won’t affect you at all. If you plan to pay the minimum, save/invest the difference, and potentially go for 20-25 year student loan forgiveness, then this could be a big potential downside in going the independent contractor route, especially while on REPAYE and having half of the accumulated interest subsidized each month which is the case for me.

Conclusion

Cutting out the middle man and taking travel jobs as an independent contractor to make more money is certainly enticing, but upon investigation it proves to be more hassle and less lucrative than it appears at first glance.

The actual financial benefit of going this route can very drastically depending on the individual and his/her situation, but for Whitney and I, it does not seem to be worth it. This is only a path that I would personally consider if it meant an increase in at least $200/week after taxes, otherwise I don’t think that it’s worth the extra work involved. For us, it’s clear in the above scenarios that it would not be.

If you do decide to go the independent contractor route, maxing out pre-tax accounts (401k, traditional IRA, and HSA) all become ever more attractive options as a means to reduce taxable income and therefore significantly reduce taxes.

If you’ve worked as an independent contractor as a traveler in the past, we’d love to hear about your experience and if it differs from the cases I’ve laid out here. Let us know in the comments or send us a message.

If after all of this, you’ve decided that working as an independent contractor isn’t for you and would like recommendations for recruiters/companies that pay well and that we trust, then reach out to us here! Thanks for reading and I hope that this was helpful to you in deciding the best travel therapy path for you.