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.

How Big Should Your Emergency Fund be as a Travel Therapist?

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

What is an Emergency Fund?

An emergency fund is an important part of the total financial portfolio for all individuals and families. This is money that you have set aside that is easily accessible, usually in a checking, savings, or money market account, that is there for peace of mind for when the unexpected inevitably occurs. This could include things like a big car repair, an unexpected medical bill, or last minute travel to be with a suddenly ill friend or relative. These things usually seem to happen at the worst possible times, and since they are unexpected, they can’t really be budgeted for on a monthly basis. Even though this money is, hopefully, rarely touched, the security of knowing that it’s there if you need it can be priceless.

The Importance of an Emergency Fund as a Travel Therapist

In addition to the events above, travel therapists have many additional and usually more frequent unexpected expenses, which I believe constitutes having a larger emergency fund than is generally recommended for the typical individual. Things such as canceled contracts, difficulty finding jobs that fit your desired start date, and potential issues with short term housing all mean either less income, higher expenses, or perhaps both during any given month. An adequate emergency fund can smooth out these bumps in the road and mean a lot less stress in the long term.

Whitney and I have certainly had our fair share of costly unexpected circumstances arise during our last four years as travel therapists. These have included: extremely costly truck and fifth wheel repairs (sometimes at the same time…); Whitney’s fall and subsequent broken arm (with many weeks of missed work and lower pay once she was able to work finally); delaying starting work due to our desired contracts and dates not lining up; Whitney’s grandmother passing away; and also a canceled contract for Whitney (this ended up only being a couple of days of missed work, but could have easily been several weeks under different circumstances). This events were all unfortunate but would have been made much worse if we had money troubles thrown in there at the same time due to not having a big enough emergency fund.

So, How Much Should You Have Saved?

Most conventional financial planners recommend about 3 months worth of expenses as an emergency fund for the average employee. For travel therapists, I think that 3-6 months worth of expenses is a much safer goal with the added uncertainty that comes along with the travel therapist lifestyle. Considering the higher incomes that we make as travelers compared to permanent therapists, I think that this is definitely attainable within the first 1-2 years of working as a traveler.

If this sounds unrealistic to you, especially as a student or new grad, don’t worry, that wasn’t even close to possible for Whitney and I when we started working as new grad travel PT’s. In fact, we had almost zero money saved when we started our first contracts. This is one reason that we chose to take our first contracts only about an hour and a half from our hometown. We knew we needed to save up a big emergency fund before feeling comfortable venturing far outside our comfort zones, and in hindsight we’re very glad we did.

If you’re planning to start traveling soon and have a small or non existent emergency fund like we did, be sure to be extra cautious to minimize unexpected costs while you save up. Taking your first contract in your home state, making sure to have a 40 hour guarantee, getting a 30 day cancellation clause written into your contract, asking for up-front reimbursements on your contract, decreasing your monthly expenses, and signing up only for month to month leases (instead of locking yourself into a 3 month lease) are all great ways to minimize the frequency and/or impact of those unexpected expenses.

Once you’ve minimized your risk as a travel therapist and start working, do your best to get to that 3-6 months worth of expenses emergency fund saved up as quickly as possible. The last thing you want to do is rack up credit card debt paying for emergencies!

Do you have an emergency fund? And if so, how many months of expenses do you have saved? Let us know in the comments below!


If you need help getting in touch with recruiters that will have your back and help you avoid the unexpected as much as possible, then fill out this form and we’ll help you out! If you have questions about emergency funds or anything else travel therapy related, feel free to send us a message.

Be sure to follow along with our travels on Instagram (with occasional giveaways!) and tune into our weekly Facebook Live videos on the Travel Therapy Mentor Facebook page. For more finance related content, check out our other website, FifthWheelPT.com.

40 Hour Guarantees: An Underrated Perk of Travel Therapy

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

If you’ve read some of our prior articles or watched any of our weekly Facebook live videos, you’ve undoubtedly heard us mention how we’ve always made sure to have a 40 hour guarantee in all of our contracts. We also recommend 40 hour guarantees to every current or prospective traveler that contacts us. To us, it’s not worth the uncertainty with pay to not have that guarantee in place before taking a travel contract, especially now that we are only working a couple of contracts each year. We need to be certain we will be getting our full pay every week! Even with the clear benefits of having a 40 hour guarantee in your contract, I still think this perk of travel therapy is underrated.

What is a 40 Hour Guarantee?

In travel therapy contracts, therapists are hourly employees. This means they usually only get paid for the hours they work, unlike a typical salaried employee. A 40 hour guarantee, otherwise known as a “Guaranteed Work Week,” is a clause in the contract that states the therapist will be paid for a full 40 hours each week, regardless of how many hours they actually work. The guarantee typically covers things that are out of the therapist’s control, such as being called off work or leaving early for the day due to a low facility census or low caseload, or sometimes missing work due to the facility being closed for a holiday or inclement weather. It does not cover if the therapist asks off for work, for example to take a long weekend trip or for a doctor’s appointment.

Sometimes, a “Guaranteed Work Week” will only cover 32 or 36 hours, or another specified amount. Whatever amount is stated in the contract is how much the therapist will be covered for in regards to pay for that week, regardless of how many hours they actually worked. But, we always recommend trying to get the full 40 hours covered in the contract when possible. The amount of hours guaranteed can vary by facility and by travel company, as can what actually qualifies (for example, some cover low census, but not facility closure for holidays).

Hourly vs. Salary Pay

I often see debates between therapists looking for permanent jobs about whether they should try to get a position that pays a salary, or go with hourly income instead. There are pros and cons on both sides of this argument, which means there’s no one answer for everyone. With hourly pay, the biggest advantage is that if you work over 40 hours per week then you’re legally obligated to receive overtime for those hours. On the other hand, as an hourly employee you’re only paid for the hours you work, so if you work less than 40 hours then you won’t get your full pay for the week. For salaried employees, they’re always guaranteed to get their full paycheck each week, but they often end up working over 40 hours with no additional compensation.

I’ve considered both sides, and if I was looking for a permanent PT job, I’d prefer an hourly pay situation as an employee to ensure that I’m being compensated for every hour that I work. I can appreciate the security that comes with a salaried position; but, who wants to work 50 hours per week, but only be paid for 40 hours?!

Luckily for us, in the travel therapy world, at least with 40 hour guaranteed positions, it’s possible to get the pros of both an hourly and a salary position without the downsides! I’ll have my cake and eat it too, thank you very much!

The Best of Both Worlds

A 40 hour guarantee means that you get the security of a salaried position (always getting your full paycheck even if there’s a low census or a lot of cancellations) with the benefit of getting paid overtime if you have to work more than 40 hours in a week. That’s something that just doesn’t exist in the permanent therapy job world and is one of my favorite parts of being a traveler.

Let’s look at some real examples of how much this benefits us as travelers. Below are the hours I worked during a 5 weeks span at one of my outpatient contracts. The caseload was really sporadic at that contract, with some very busy weeks (especially when other therapists there were out sick or on vacation) and some really light weeks with lots of cancellations.

  • Week 1: 44 hours
  • Week 2: 37 hours
  • Week 3: 36 hours
  • Week 4: 36 hours
  • Week 5: 45 hours

Now let’s look at how many hours I got paid for here compared to how many hours I would have gotten paid for as both an hourly and salaried employee in this same situation.

hourly vs salary vs 40 hour comparison

As you can see, as a traveler with a 40 hour guarantee I got paid for 209 hours of work, about 10 hours more than an hourly (198 hours) or salaried permanent employee (200 hours) would have in this 5 week span. Multiply this extra pay out over the course of a year, and it can mean being paid for many more hours than the permanent staff at these same  facilities on top of the already much higher pay that we make each week as travelers! That’s a huge benefit that shouldn’t be overlooked or discounted.

Over the years, I’ve been paid for hundreds of hours that I didn’t actually work due to the 40 hour guarantees in my contracts, which wouldn’t have happened with a strictly hourly position, while also getting paid for hundreds of hours of overtime at various facilities, which wouldn’t have happened with a salaried position. Ultimately, that means thousands of extra dollars in my bank account each year, which is one of many factors contributing to me being able to reach financial independence so quickly!


Do you always ensure that you have a 40 hour guarantee in your contracts? Let us know in the comments!

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 40 hour guarantees 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!

Leveraging Travel Therapy for Long Term International Travel

Whitney and I have recently started to take full advantage of our travel physical therapy careers to be able to explore the world. Last year we traveled around the world for five months, and this year we’re currently on week two of a 15 week trip all over Europe. We aren’t sure about our plans for the rest of the year once this trip is over, but it’s entirely possible that we will spend another couple of months out of the country (or road tripping around the US), and we will certainly be planning another long international trip next year! It’s a big world out there, and there’s a lot we want to see in the next few years before potentially settling down somewhere.

We feel very fortunate to be able to take these long trips each year, and they are made 100% possible by our choice to start working as Travel PTs immediately after graduation in 2015. How, you ask? The flexibility offered by travel therapy is certainly a big part of the equation. Being able to take unlimited time off of work between contracts, along with making nearly a full time permanent PT salary working just 6 months per year is a winning combination for taking months off to travel the world!

Why Long International Trips?

People with all manner of jobs choose to travel internationally, so that’s nothing unique to travel healthcare. The problem with most permanent jobs, however, is that most won’t allow more than a maximum of two weeks of vacation time to be used at once. This is especially true in the permanent therapy world, where finding short term coverage for 3-4 weeks of continuous PTO would be difficult not only for the clinic but also for the patients on caseload. You can certainly see the world in shorter 1-2 week trips each year going to new places, but there are many disadvantages to doing it that way. During our travels, we’ve met many people in both Europe and Asia traveling from the United States that are taking short trips overseas, and without exception they’re either only seeing a couple of cities or are extremely rushed trying to pack in more cities in a short time. Rushing from place to place while on an international vacation is a sure way to come back home even more tired than when you left, especially when factoring in jet lag!

More Than Just Tourist Attractions

Another big downside to short trips is less time to really interact and learn about the country from the locals in the area. With only a few days in a city, those days are almost always filled with primarily the tourist attractions, which means plenty of interaction with other tourists and store owners, but very little real interaction with locals! We’ve really enjoyed having extra days (to weeks!) on top of the few required to see the tourist sights to just walk and wander around the area, and this has led to some of our best experiences while overseas. The tourist attractions are great, but there is a lot to be missed with a rushed trip from one attraction to the next with no spontaneity involved!

Lower Cost of International Trips

The last and biggest disadvantage of short international trips in my book is the higher cost on a per day basis. The biggest costs on almost any international trip are the plane tickets to and from the country. Flights are almost never cheap, and leaving the country is generally more pricey, especially to places like Asia and Australia. Even with using credit card points, the value of the points used has to be taken into account since there’s an opportunity cost associated with using those points going to one location instead of somewhere else on a future trip. In addition to the plane tickets, booking longer stays in a location can significantly reduce accommodation costs.

These cost factors, combined with hopping from one overpriced tourist attraction to the next without the lower cost days mixed in just wandering around the city and taking in the sights, will almost always make short term international trips much more expensive on a per day basis than long term international trips. Last year on our 5 month trip, I was able to keep my total expenses to less than $37/day! There is no way that would have been possible on a 1-2 week trip to similar locations. 

The Importance of Patience

While it’s certainly possible for therapists to graduate and immediately start taking travel contracts half the year, and travel internationally the other half of the year, I wouldn’t recommend it. Even with the lower costs of longer term international travel, expenses can add up quickly, especially with no income at all coming in for half of the year. For the financial peace of mind, I always encourage other therapists with similar international travel aspirations as us to work 3-4 travel contracts per year for at least a year or two and save heavily to make some headway toward financial independence, before jumping into long stints adventuring around the world like we are currently doing! This is the path we took. We worked continuously for the first three years, working back to back travel PT contracts, then started taking off half the year (or more) after year three.

Conclusion

Travel therapy (really travel healthcare of any sort) offers the unique advantages of higher pay and unlimited time off, which form the perfect recipe for long stints of international travel. There are clear advantages to long term international travel over short term travel, which is generally impossible with full time permanent employment as a therapist. It’s always a good idea to save up a cushion of cash and investments for financial peace of mind before moving into a “semi-retirement” type lifestyle with long trips each year. We are extremely fortunate to be able to leverage our travel therapy careers to be able to spend long periods of time out of the country, experiencing the totality of what the world has to offer!

Have you taken long international trips in the past or do you plan to in the future? Let us know in the comments!

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

jared doctor of physical therapy

Why and How to Work with Multiple Travel Therapy Companies and Recruiters

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Understanding The Process

When therapists are looking at getting into traveling therapy, it can be challenging to learn the ins and outs and understand how it all works. If you’re new to travel therapy, you’ve hopefully already learned that you need to find a great recruiter and company to help you navigate the process of finding contracts and landing your dream jobs. However, did you know that you should be working with multiple companies and recruiters? We, as well as most other travel therapists you’ll talk to, recommend this. But why? And how does that even work? How can you work with more than one company? If you want to learn more, keep reading!

Why Do I Need Multiple Companies/Recruiters?

The answer: options! Not every travel company has access to the same jobs, so if you are working with only one company, you’re limiting your job options. This is especially true if you have a specific location or setting in mind, or if the market is particularly slow for your discipline, such as for PTAs and COTAs (and somewhat for OT’s) currently.

Why do different travel companies have different jobs? Facilities can choose who they advertise job openings to. Some staffing agencies (travel companies) have exclusive or direct contracts with certain facilities, that other agencies don’t have. Whereas, the majority of jobs are listed on a type of database called a Vendor Management System (VMS). All companies will have access to jobs listed on VMS’s. This is where you will see a lot of overlap in the job availability among different companies, but the outliers will be the exclusive or direct contracts each one has.

Besides job availability, another reason to work with multiple companies is that each company may be able to offer you different pay and benefits. Every company operates differently; depending on the size of the company and how they manage their budgets, some may be able to offer higher pay for the same job. Also their benefits can differ, including health insurance options (and start dates), retirement accounts (and when you can contribute), and additional benefits such as reimbursements for CEUs, licensing, and relocation. If you don’t work with multiple companies, you won’t ever know the differences and what benefits could be available to you with different companies. This is important to learn in the beginning when you’re first researching and talking to companies, but it’s also important during each and every new job search. Even if you tend to like the pay and benefits better with Company A, sometimes Company B might have a job that Company A doesn’t have. So it’s important to maintain communication with them both.

In addition to the differences in companies, there are differences in recruiters. It’s important, especially in the beginning, to work with multiple recruiters so you can find out which ones you like the best, as well as learn from them. Different recruiters may divulge more or less information about the process of finding travel jobs, the contracts, the pay, the benefits, etc. This is helpful for you from a business perspective. The more you can learn about the industry, the better off you’re going to be in your own career as a travel therapist. By working with only one recruiter, you’ll only ever know what that person tells you. You have no basis for comparison for whether this information is accurate or whether this is the best recruiter. You can also learn from the way that one recruiter/company does things and presents things to you, and compare that with the way another one works so you can ask better questions and grow professionally. All of these things can help you to find the best jobs, get the highest pay, and have overall the best experience as a travel therapist.

But, How Does it Work?

Okay so now you understand WHY you need to work with multiple recruiters/companies. But how?

So when we say “work with,” this just means maintain communication with them. You’re not technically working for them or an employee of theirs until you take a contract. So, the whole period where you’re searching for jobs, you are a “free agent.” You can be in communication with several different recruiters and have all of them searching for jobs for you.

We recommend initially you talk to 3-5 different recruiters and “interview them” to find out who you like. Here are some questions you may consider asking them to figure out who’s the best. Then narrow it down to about 2-3 that you like and would be happy working with/taking jobs with if the right opportunity arises. Then, you’ll need to fill out the necessary paperwork for each company, so that they are able to submit you for potential job offers. They’ll need some basic demographic information, your resume, usually a couple references, and sometimes even your CPR card and SSN in order to set up a profile for you that they can submit to potential employers. It’s important to understand that giving this information to 2-3 companies does NOT mean you are employed by them! They just need to have this information on file so that they can submit you to POTENTIAL job offers for interviews. So once you decide on your top 2-3 recruiters, don’t be hesitant to give them this information and fill out the necessary paperwork. Otherwise, they can’t submit you for potential interviews, which is the next step to getting you to your dream travel jobs!

Now, once you’ve got your 2-3 recruiters on the prowl for jobs for you, they’ll start letting you know when they see a good job that fits your search criteria. It’s important that you let them know you’re working with a few different companies, so they should not “blind submit” you to jobs. This means they should be asking you first (“There is a job in Tampa, Florida, start date 7/1, Skilled Nursing. Can I submit you to this job?”). When you’re working with multiple companies, it’s important that you don’t let them submit you to the same job, resulting in a “double submission.” (Although this is not the end of the world if it happens, it’s not ideal). If more than one of the recruiters has the same job offer, you need to pick which one you want to go with. Sometimes this comes down to which company can offer better pay or better benefits for the same job.

As far as communicating to the recruiters that you’re working with multiple, we always recommend being up front about this in the beginning. If you’re working with a good recruiter, they will understand this. If a recruiter gives you a hard time about working with others, this is not a recruiter you want to work with.

So, once you’ve been submitted to a couple jobs, maybe by a couple different recruiters, and you’ve had the interviews, then you may get an offer or more than one offer. You will decide then which job you want to take, based on how the job sounds, the pay package, the benefits etc. Once you’ve decided on a job, and you sign a contract, then you are now employed by that travel company that got you the job, just for the duration of that contract. This is when you let your other recruiters know that you’ve secured a position and are no longer searching, and no longer interested in the other potential job options they had for you. You let them know your end date for that contract, and when/where you’ll be looking for your next job.

While you’re on this contract and employed by this company, this recruiter will be your main point of contact. The company will manage your pay and benefits for the duration of that contract. But, you can still keep in touch with your other recruiters to let them know what you’re thinking for your next contract (“When I finish this job on October 1st, I’d like to take my next job in California.”) So as your contract nears its end date, you’re back on the market for a new job, and have no obligation to take the next job with the same travel company. You can switch between companies whenever you want.

How Do Benefits Work When Switching Between Companies?

Okay so this is always the next question. If you switch companies, what happens with your benefits? This can be the downside of switching between companies. This situation will vary company to company. It’s important to ask each recruiter how their insurance coverage works. Many will start on the first day of your contract. So if you finish up a contract with Company A and your insurance terminates on the last day of your contract, let’s say Friday- but then you start a new job with Company B on Monday, hopefully you’ll only go 2 days without insurance between jobs. However, if Company B’s insurance doesn’t start until day 30 or the first of the month, you’ll have a lapse in your insurance. Or, if you decide to take a longer period off between jobs, you’ll also have a longer lapse.

However, if you take your next contract with Company A (take two back to back contracts with the same company) and take a few days to a few weeks off between jobs, usually your insurance will carry over during the gap. This is a big benefit to sticking with the same company. It does vary by company the length of time they’ll cover you between contracts, but usually it’s about 3 weeks or up to 30 days.

There are some exceptions to this. There are a few smaller companies who have more flexibility in their agreements with insurance companies that will allow coverage to start before your job begins, or can extend coverage beyond your contract end date, even if you aren’t working for them during the next contract. But this is more rare, so you’ll need to ask around to find out if your travel company can do this.

To learn more about your options on insurance coverage, including using COBRA to manage lapses in coverage, check out this article on insurance as a traveler.

Besides insurance, another company benefit to consider is your retirement savings account, or 401k plan. This can be another downside of switching between companies, as many require you to work for them for a certain period before you are able to contribute to their 401k. This is the fine print you’ll need to look into if a company sponsored retirement account is important to you. Being eligible to contribute continuously to a 401k with your travel company may be a consideration that sways you to stay with the same company continuously.

There are some companies that allow contributions to 401k immediately, so it’s possible you could contribute to one during one contract, then another during another contract. In this case, you could be maintaining more than one 401k account. Then later, it’s pretty easy to roll them all over to an individual retirement account (IRA) that you manage rather than keeping different accounts with different companies.

Summary

So in summary, there are lots of benefits to working with multiple travel therapy companies/recruiters, but there are downsides as well. Most travel therapists, us included, will recommend you maintain communication with multiple to give yourself the most job options, help ensure the best pay, and learn the most about the industry to help set yourself up for success. However, this process can be challenging at times and does come with certain limitations when switching between companies during different contracts.

If you want to learn more or have questions, please feel free to contact us. If you’d like recommendations on travel therapy companies and recruiters we know and trust, we can help you with that here!

Working in Schools as a Travel Therapist

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

For PT’s, OT’s, SLP’s and assistants interested in taking travel contracts working with pediatrics, sometimes these jobs can be harder to come by than other settings. The most common settings available for travel positions include home health, SNF, acute, and outpatient orthopedics. But for those looking to work in peds, school contracts may be a great option!

You might be wondering how school contracts are set up for a traveler. Do you have to work the full school year? What is the pay like? Do you get paid during school breaks? Since this setting is a bit different than others, we wanted to provide some key information to working in school contracts as a traveler.

The Basics of Working School Contracts

Most school contracts will typically be for the full school year, but some schools are open to just doing half the school year with the possibility of extending, or a little less than that even. Every situation is different, so if you’re unsure if you want to commit to a full year, work with your recruiter and the facility to find out what’s possible.

When school jobs are listed with an “ASAP” start date and it’s the middle of the school year, that contract would be from now or as soon as you could start, until the end of this school year. If you see a job listed with a July or August start, that would be for the upcoming school year.

Schools will typically have a very low facility cancellation rate, making it a pretty stable commitment on your end. This is helpful to know because as a traveler, you need to consider planning your housing for the duration of the contract.

The typical hours you will see for a school contract are between 35-37.5 hours per week. There are some contracts with 40 hour weeks, but it’s not usually the norm. Although most are not 40 hour guarantees, the rates are usually a bit higher in this setting which can help to offset the lower hours. This may bring your weekly take home to be similar or even better than a normal 40 hour work week in another setting.

A cool perk to working in schools is you have all of the school holidays off, so you know your days off in advance, and they are setup around desirable holidays/days people want to take off anyways. The uncool part of this, is you may not get paid during school holidays. So you will have to plan accordingly around this.

If you are off for the entire week for a school holiday (such as Spring Break or Winter Break), you will not be paid at all for that week. However, if you are off for only part of the week for the holiday, you may still receive your full week’s per diems, or part of the week’s per diems, in addition to the hourly pay for the days you did work. It’s important you clarify this with your travel company to understand how your pay will work around school holidays.

What Disciplines Are Most Needed?

The majority of school positions tend to be open for SLP, but there are options for PT’s, OT’s, PTA’s, and COTA’s as well. The market can vary across different states and school districts with different needs.

School positions often accept and support CF SLPs as well. However, this may or may not be a desirable setting for a lot of SLPs coming out of school that may be more interested in medical job settings.

What Questions Should I Ask During an Interview?

Not all travel therapy school positions are created equally. There are some important questions you should consider asking during your interview to decide if a contract is right for you, which might include:

  • How many children will be on caseload?
  • Who are the other staff members? (PT, OT, SLP, aids, etc.)
  • Have you had a travel therapist there before?
  • What is the facility like? (equipment, etc.)
  • What will my hours be?
  • Will I be covering more than one school?
  • What age groups will I be covering?

What Are Some Pros & Cons to Working School Contracts?

There are some benefits to working in schools pertaining to taking a longer (full school year) contract, which include more job stability; moving less often between contracts (as opposed to the typical 13 week travel contract); exploring an area for a longer period of time; and potentially saving on housing costs with a longer lease.

Another benefit is that you have planned time off to be able to take trips, and this time off is usually around holidays when you may want to spend time with family and friends.

Another potential benefit would be building your skill set in a different setting. This could be especially important with pending changes in Medicare, which could affect the market for settings such as Skilled Nursing Facilities.

However, for some people, there could be cons to taking a school contract. Some may consider committing to a full school year as limiting their ability to travel and see the country. They may also have fear of getting locked into a long contract without knowing if it’ll be the right fit for them. Fortunately for this concern, we as travelers have the option of a 14 or 30 day cancellation notice if placed in a bad situation.

Another con can be the paperwork and IEP meetings involved in working in schools. As with every setting, you have to take into consideration the documentation and meetings involved, which is the not-so-fun part of our jobs as healthcare providers.

And the last consideration would be not getting paid during school holidays. This may require some additional budgeting on the traveler’s part, or working with the recruiter to rearrange the pay package as needed. But for many travelers who tend to take a week or so off between their normal 13 week travel contracts to travel for leisure, relax and recharge, or go home to visit family and friends, these school breaks can provide the same thing, just structured a bit differently.

Is a School Contract Right for You as a Traveler?

Some clinicians absolutely love working with pediatrics and in the school setting. For others, this may be a totally new experience. As with any travel therapy job, you will have to take into consideration many factors when choosing if a particular school contract is right for you.

If you have questions or would like help getting started with your travel therapy journey, please contact us!