Is travel therapy as a new grad a good idea in 2023?
In the summer we get lots of questions about whether it’s a good time to travel as a new grad. This is because most students graduate in May and take their board exams in either April or July, then plan to start their careers sometime between May-September.
PTs, OTs, and SLPs considering starting their careers as travel therapists has gotten a lot more popular since we began traveling as new grad physical therapists in 2015. There are a variety of reasons for this, including more exposure to the concept from social media. But, in my opinion, the biggest reason is increasing tuition costs, and subsequently higher student loan debt. With salaries for permanent therapy jobs remaining very stagnant, many therapists are very disillusioned with the debt to income ratio they face upon graduation.
Since almost everyone understands that you can earn significantly more money as a travel therapist, taking travel therapy assignments is enticing for those wanting to pay down their loans quickly or just invest money for their future. Some new grad therapists who are willing to hustle as travelers are able to make multiple six figures in their first year out of school.
The travel therapy job market can swing wildly from year to year, which can make a big impact on the feasibility of traveling as a new grad therapist. So, each summer is a good time to revisit this topic.
Is Traveling as a New Grad a Good Idea?
Before we get into the travel therapy job market and the outlook for travel therapy as a new grad in 2023, let’s address the elephant in the room. Is this actually a good idea for new grads?
Nearly every student considering travel therapy as a new grad is told by professors and/or clinical instructors that it’s a bad idea. This was certainly what we heard when we were physical therapy students. The interesting thing about this is that the majority of those opinions come from therapists who never actually traveled themselves. They’re usually just relaying horror stories that they’ve heard over the years about bad travel contracts. While there are certainly bad contracts out there, it’s easier than ever to avoid those contracts with all of the information available now.
With thorough interviews and asking the right questions, we’ve been able to largely avoid bad contracts in our years of traveling. After traveling as new grads ourselves and mentoring thousands of other new grad travelers, we’ve learned that the truth is that the vast majority of new grad travelers have a great experience, with there being many more pros than cons.
I recently wrote an article for the MedBridge blog discussing the three major reasons that new grads should consider travel therapy, which I encourage you to check out if you’re on the fence about pursuing this path.
With all of that being said, pursuing travel therapy right out of school certainly isn’t for every new grad. You need to be confident in your evaluation and treatment skills, and adaptable to new and changing situations. If you are uncertain or don’t feel comfortable in your final clinical internships, then there’s no harm in working for a year or two in a permanent position prior to embarking on your travel therapy journey.
If you’re on the fence about it, then this article should help you determine if travel as a new grad is right for you.
Pursuing Travel Therapy as a New Grad in 2023
The travel therapy job market has been pretty strong for the past two years, for both new grads and experienced therapists. Many therapists left the field completely in 2020 due to a sudden drop in caseloads, with many being laid off or fired from their jobs, and they then decided to retire or pursue other career options. Once patient census returned to normal levels, this left the healthcare industry with staffing shortages. The shortage of healthcare workers, combined with increasing demand in all settings as the population ages, has meant a huge increase in need for therapists.
We saw record numbers of travel therapy jobs at the end of 2021 and into 2022, which gave travel therapists lots of room to negotiate due to the supply/demand imbalance. It became common to see much higher pay packages during this timeframe than in prior years. At the end of 2022 into the first half of 2023, things began to stabilize, with slightly fewer jobs and slightly lower pay, but still elevated compared to the norm. All in all, the travel therapy job market remains strong with lots of open jobs for travel therapists and high pay packages.
To hear the full scoop on the current travel therapy job market, watch our most recent Travel Therapy Job Market Update from July 2023.
Because the travel therapy job market is currently very strong, this summer is a great time to start traveling as a new grad! Facilities are eager to fill open positions, and many will be willing to train and/or mentor new grads as they get started in their careers.
Differences Across Disciplines for Traveling as a New Grad
It’s important to note that the demand for travel positions is not the same across all disciplines. Currently, the demand is the highest for physical therapists, followed by speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapist assistants, and last being occupational therapy assistants.
With this in mind, it means that the disciplines which have lower demand will have higher competition among candidates for travel therapy jobs. This makes it particularly challenging for new grad therapists to out-compete experienced clinicians for travel jobs in these lower-demand specialties.
PTAs & COTAs
This is particularly the case for PTAs and COTAs who have the lowest availability of travel jobs. This makes it a lot more challenging for new grad PTAs and COTAs to find consistent work as travelers, resulting in unwanted and unpaid time off. It also means they may potentially be put into bad clinical environments, because they are desperate to accept any job that will take them.
Because of this, we encourage new graduate PTAs and COTAs to gain experience at a permanent job for at least 6-12 months, if not longer, before pursuing travel therapy. This will allow them to gain valuable experience and boost their resumes, making them more competitive for travel therapy positions. It will also allow them to build up some savings in case of gaps between travel jobs or unexpected cancellations because a travel job becomes filled with a perm candidate.
For a more in depth look at the travel therapy job market for PTAs and COTAs, I would encourage you to read this article from 2020 which discusses the obstacles that PTAs and COTAs have faced in the last few years with staffing. The job market has improved some since 2020 for these disciplines, but this gives a good overview of where the job market has been in the past leading up to now.
PTs, SLPs, and OTs
We do not have these concerns as much for newer graduate PTs, SLPs, and OTs, because the demand for these disciplines is higher, and there will be more opportunities to choose from. This means that the candidates are more likely to have consistent work, and they will also have the opportunity to choose among a lot of job options to find a clinical environment that is a good fit for them as new grads.
I will add that since the demand for OTs is slightly lower than that of PT and SLP, new grad OTs may have to be a bit more flexible on settings and locations when looking at travel therapy jobs. There are currently fewer open positions for travel OTs compared with PT and SLP, so the competition is slightly higher for new grad OTs.
Last, it’s important to note that when we discuss opportunities for “new grad SLPs,” we mean after they have received their CCC’s. Once an SLP has received their full credentials and is an SLP-CCC, the opportunities are numerous, and the new SLP-CCC will have many jobs to choose from. However, when SLPs are in their clinical fellowship year, travel therapy jobs are more limited. There are only certain travel therapy job opportunities that will allow the supervision hours necessary to complete the requirements of the CFY. I would recommend reading this article to further help you decide if traveling during your clinical fellowship year is a good choice or not.
If you’re considering travel therapy as a new grad in 2023, and you’ve determined that it’s a good option for you based on your own personality as well as the job market prospects for your discipline, then go for it! If you don’t like it, then there will always be permanent jobs to go back to. But, you may end up loving it and traveling for much longer than you anticipated, like we have.
Pursuing travel therapy provides a unique opportunity to explore the country and have new adventures, while setting yourself up for financial success in the future.
Before you jump in, be sure to check out the six ways to ensure success as a new grad travel therapist. Then, when you’re ready to dig deeper into your research, you can check out our free Travel Therapy 101 Series to learn all the essentials to beginning your travel therapy journey!
If you’re ready to get started traveling within the next few months, be sure to fill out our Recruiter Recommendation form so we can help get you connected with the best travel therapy recruiters and companies to help you along your way!
Best of luck to you, and feel free contact us with any questions!
- Is Travel Therapy Right for You as a New Grad?
- 6 Ways to Ensure Success as a New Grad Travel Therapist
- The Ultimate Guide to Getting Started as a Travel Therapist
Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT – Jared has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015. He has become an expert in the field of travel healthcare through his experience, research, and networking over nearly a decade.