Navigating Travel Therapy as a Pair

Pros and Cons of Traveling Together

Whitney and I have been traveling as a physical therapist (PT) pair for almost 5 years now since we were new grad PTs in 2015. During this time, we have learned a lot about both the benefits and the disadvantages of traveling as a healthcare pair. Traveling with a healthcare partner can be a wonderful experience and can make pursuing a travel healthcare career much easier in some ways, but there are certainly some struggles to be had at times. If you’re considering pursuing travel therapy with a partner or friend, here are some of the biggest pros and cons you should consider, based on our experiences.

Pros:

  1. Having a guaranteed adventure buddy!It’s not uncommon for Whitney and I to have some sort of adventure planned nearly every single weekend when we’re away on travel assignments. This is especially true if we’re in an area where we’ve never been before and there are lots of things we want to do and see within a few hours drive. For example, while working in Massachusetts, we took weekend trips to Boston, New York City, Rhode Island x 2, Maine x 2, New Hampshire x 2, Vermont, Connecticut, Quebec City, and Montreal! That was a busy and exciting few months! In our opinion, going on hikes, visiting waterfalls, and exploring cities is a lot more fun with a partner. It’s certainly possible to find someone to explore with in a new area as a single traveler, but it can be much harder than taking your adventure buddy with you!
  2. Saving money on housing expenses!Our thoughts on this have actually shifted a little over time. Initially we looked at it as basically half the costs when traveling as a pair due to being able to split housing and utility costs when at each location. While this is true theoretically, in reality housing options are more limited and more expensive for a pair than for a single traveler in many cases. This is especially the case when comparing a single traveler that’s willing to rent a room in a house to a travel therapy pair. We’ve found that most people who are renting a room in their house don’t want two people there and if they will allow it, they always want higher rent each month. That almost always leaves the travel pair looking for an apartment of some sort, which can often be 2-3x as much as a room in a house. But, when comparing traveling as a pair and renting an apartment to traveling as a single traveler who wants their own space and isn’t willing to rent a room in a house, the pair will come out ahead by splitting housing and utility costs!
  3. Less potential loneliness!We’ve met tons of single travelers that seem to really thrive on getting a brand new start in each location. But we’ve also met many other single travelers that feel lonely when starting a new assignment, or never start traveling at all because they fear being away from everyone they know. This seems to be the case even more so for travel assignments in rural locations where there is less to do and it’s harder to meet people outside of the clinic. We find that many single travelers avoid rural locations because they’re afraid they won’t be able to meet new friends or find people to hang out with when population density is lower and options are more limited. Meanwhile, Whitney and I love traveling to rural places as a pair due to the more laid back environment, lower cost of living, and usually more friendly people. We know that even if we don’t meet new friends in the area that we will always have each other to hang out and do things with! And it decreases our loneliness from being far away from our home community, family and friends.

Cons:

  1. Less available jobs.This is definitely the biggest downside to traveling as a pair in our opinion. While there might be hundreds of open travel PT jobs throughout the country, there are usually less than a dozen jobs that are outpatient (the setting we prefer) and close enough to each other for us to consider at a given time. We’ve been lucky to mostly avoid lengthy commutes and find consistent outpatient jobs near each other, but we’ve had to be much more flexible on the location we’re willing to go to in order to make that happen. When we’re looking for new states to get licensed in, we aren’t necessarily looking for where we really want to go, but instead where we have the best chances of finding two outpatient jobs close to each other since that’s our main priority. For a travel therapy pair, it is vital to be lenient on either setting, location, or both, whereas a single traveler will undoubtedly be able to be more picky when job searching.
  2. Less negotiating power on new contracts.Anyone familiar with negotiation knows that the more good options you have, the more negotiating power you have. For a single traveler with many jobs that fit their criteria, it’s not a big deal if they miss out on a job by playing hardball to make a little extra money on a contract or passing on a job until the perfect one comes along. They’ll almost always be able to find something else that is decent with a start date in their desired time frame (provided they aren’t being too picky). For a travel pair, trying to negotiate for higher pay on good fitting contracts can lead to missing out on one or both of the jobs, which means going back to the drawing board and potentially one or more weeks of missed work. Because of this, Whitney and I only work with recruiters that we trust to give us their best offer right off the bat so we don’t risk missing out on two good jobs near each other, which can sometimes be tough to find.
  3. More difficulty finding housing.As mentioned above, a travel therapy pair will have less housing options in any given location than a single traveler will. This is simply due to the fact that landlords offering some rooms or small efficiency apartments will only accept an individual, not a pair. This difficulty with finding viable and affordable housing was the primary driver of us deciding to buy our fifth wheel camper. For our very first assignments in a rural area of Virginia, we spent dozens of hours trying to find housing, only to settle on a less than ideal place. Had we been single travelers, there were rooms in houses in the surrounding area where we could have stayed, but none of them would accept a pair!

Is Traveling as a Healthcare Pair for You?

When comparing travel therapy as a pair versus traveling as an individual, I really think the pros and cons even out. This depends highly on your personality though. If you’re an extroverted person who’s great at making new friends, is willing to rent a cheap room in a house, and isn’t worried about being lonely, then traveling by yourself will be an awesome adventure and you’ll almost certainly come out ahead when compared to a travel therapy pair. If you’re more introverted (like me O_O), wouldn’t want to rent a room and live with a stranger, and want someone to experience new things with, then traveling as a pair would probably be better.

Unfortunately not everyone has the ability to choose between the two, as we usually encounter single therapists that are going to travel by themselves or not at all, and couples or friends that are going to travel together or not at all. In that case, it’s important to understand the pros and cons and be willing to accept them whatever your situation happens to be, and employ certain strategies to make traveling successful!

Strategies for Traveling as a Pair

Taking into account these pros and cons for traveling as a pair, there are lots of strategies we’ve learned over time that go into being a successful travel pair. Here are our top suggestions for traveling as a pair:

  1. Be Flexible!As I alluded to above, it’s important for travel pairs to be flexible on setting, location, and/or pay in order to successfully line up two jobs together. These variables are always at play regardless of whether you’re traveling as a pair or traveling solo, but when traveling as a pair, your top priority has to be finding two good jobs close together, so the other factors have to go lower on your priority list. In an ideal situation, you’d always find two jobs together, in your favorite setting, in the perfect location, and with the highest pay. Sometimes all the stars align and this is the case, but realistically you need to be as flexible as possible on these factors to maintain consistent employment as a healthcare pair.
  2. Work with multiple recruiters!We always recommend that travelers, whether traveling solo or as a pair, work with more than one recruiter to give themselves the most job options and be able to compare how different recruiters/companies operate, and compare pay and benefits on different offers. However this is most crucial for travel pairs. It is much more challenging to find two jobs together, so pairs need to have as many job options available as possible. We generally recommend working with 3-4 different recruiters as a pair. While each recruiter will have access to some of the same jobs, they will each have some exclusive/direct jobs that the others may not have.
    • *For more information on the process of working with multiple recruiters and companies, check out this article.
    • *If you’d like specific recommendations from us for recruiters and companies that would work well for you as a pair, you can fill out this form.
  3. Strategically choose states licenses!In order to be more flexible on finding jobs, it’s important to have at least 2-3 different state licenses. You need to be strategic in choosing these state licenses, based on which states tend to have the most jobs for your disciplines. Over time, we’ve tracked different job lists and talked to several recruiters to learn the trends for which states tend to have more PT jobs for us. We also pay attention to which states tend to have two jobs closer together that will work well for us as a PT pair. In our experience, some states that have been good for PT pairs are: California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia. We have made sure to get licensed in a couple of these states, and we always have the license in advance before applying to jobs in each state.
  4. Scope out housing in advance!A final piece of advice we have for lining up travel jobs as a pair is being aware of the housing situation before accepting your contracts. Quite often, recruiters will try to pitch two jobs close together to you, stating that if you “live in the middle,” then you will each only have a commute of “X” time or distance. However, sometimes when you start looking more closely, you’ll see that there’s no way to actually live in the middle to make this a realistic commute for the both of you. Often, the only real housing options are closer to one job or the other, making the commute unrealistic for one of you, or the area has really bad traffic, so even though on the map it looks close, the commute time would be insane. We always try to at least scope out the housing options to see if there are viable options that will make the two jobs worth our while before we accept a position. Ideally, you’d try to secure the housing before accepting, but this is not always possible with how quickly contracts move in the travel healthcare world. So at least do a little housing research before you agree to any contracts!

The Bottom Line for This Travel Pair

For both Whitney and I, I don’t think we would have been adventurous enough to travel by ourselves, and we almost certainly wouldn’t have continued to travel for almost 5 years now if we weren’t traveling as a pair. Travel therapy as a pair has not only provided us with countless adventures and lifestyle flexibility but has also brought us closer together as a couple when we encounter the inevitable hardships. Despite the challenges that sometimes come with traveling as a pair, we wouldn’t change anything we’ve done to this point for the world!

If you’re a current traveler (individual or pair) let us know about your experience in the comments below!

 

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

Jared and his girlfriend Whitney have been traveling as a physical therapist pair since 2015. Together they form Travel Therapy Mentor and offer free advice and mentorship to current and future travel therapists!

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Your Guide to Pursuing Travel Therapy in 2020

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

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

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

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

The Current Travel Therapy Job Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are All Therapy Disciplines Affected?

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

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

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

Should I Avoid Travel Therapy in 2020?

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

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

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

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

How to Be a Successful Travel Therapist in 2020

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

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

Here are our recommendations for you:

1. Be Flexible

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

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

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

2. Have Multiple State Licenses

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

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

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

3. Work with Multiple Recruiters

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

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

4. Build Up Your Resume

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

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

5. Be Prepared and Prompt

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

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

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

6. Be Realistic

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

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

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

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

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

7. Have a Back-Up Plan

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

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

Conclusion: Should I Pursue Travel Therapy in 2020?

The answer is: Maybe!

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

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

Happy Traveling in 2020!

 

Whitney Eakin headshot

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

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

International Travel Therapy: Can I Work as a PT/OT/SLP in Australia?

A question we get often is whether it is possible to work as a travel therapist outside of the United States. Since we are only interested in working as travel physical therapists inside the US, taking traditional US-based travel contracts — (with plenty of international travel for leisure mixed in of course) — this is an area that we know very little about. Luckily, we found a therapist who has worked in Australia for the past several years to shed some light on the process of working as a therapist abroad! Take it away, Tori! 


Guest post written by Tori Frost, SLP

“Can I work as a Travel PT/OT/SLP in Australia?”

It might take some time and research, but it’s definitely possible!

I want to share with you a little about my story, and then help you with some ways that you can also pursue working as a PT, OT, or SLP in Australia or elsewhere abroad.

My Story

I’m an American Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) who has been working in Australia since 2016. I worked in acute care for a bit over 4 years in Michigan, USA, before coming over to Australia. I actually thought about doing travel therapy in the United States, but ultimately I decided to move to Australia instead. I initially came over here to work as an au pair, and then once I was here, I decided to see if I could practice as an SLP here, because I didn’t want to leave! The rest is history, and I’m still here over 3.5 years later!

The Process for Working in Australia

Although the considerations below would be more specific to Australia, you’d probably have similar things to consider for another country if you are thinking about working internationally.

Things to Consider:

Visas – You will need a visa in order to work abroad. Look into which visas you would be eligible for and which would best suit your needs.

  • Check out the Department of Home Affairs website [immigration and citizenship] for specifics regarding visas [age requirements, etc.] 
  • PTs, OTs, and SLPs are all currently on the Skilled Occupation List, and may be eligible for the following visas:
    • 186 – Employer Nomination Scheme visa (subclass 186)
    • 189 – Skilled Independent (subclass 189) – Points-Tested
    • 190 – Skilled Nominated (subclass 190)407 – Training visa (subclass 407)
    • 485 – Temporary Graduate (subclass 485) – Graduate Work
    • 489 – Skilled Regional (Provisional) visa (subclass 489) – Family sponsored
    • 489 – Skilled Regional (Provisional) visa (subclass 489) – State or Territory nominated
    • 482 – Temporary Skill Shortage (subclass 482) – Medium Term Stream
    • 187 – Regional Sponsor Migration Scheme (subclass 187)
    • 462 – I also came out initially on a 462 Work and Holiday Visa [although there is an age limit of 30 and generally you can only work up to 6 months with one employer on this visa, which is a one-year visa] 

Certifications – Look into what certifications you need and contact the association directly if you have questions

  • SLPs – Speech Pathology AustraliaMutual Recognition Agreement [MRA] with ASHA – check out the website for specifics regarding applying through the MRA 
  • OTs – Occupation Therapy Council of Australia Limited
  • PTs – Australian Physiotherapy Council Limited 
  • OTs and PTs – you may be required to register with AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency) 
  • For other countries, you would need to research their specific therapy associations

Job Searching 

  • Word of mouth
  • Internet – Google groups, job search websites [e.g. SEEK, Jora], recruitment agencies, job boards on the association’s website, etc. 
  • Government websites [check each country/state’s individual Government website for positions]
  • As with travel therapy in the US, decide if you want to be in a specific area or if you’re open to working anywhere [some rural and remote jobs may be available] 

Housing and Accommodations

  • There are lots of Facebook groups and websites [e.g. Gumtree, flatmates.com.au] to search for accommodations and or/flatmates in Australia
  • Rent is generally listed as a price per week
  • Research similar housing sites for other countries

Other Things to Consider

  • Pay – Check out the pay rates, but remember if you’d end up converting it back to USD from the Australian dollar, it will be less
    • I wasn’t living/working in a large city in the US, but I have found that in general, cost of living seems to be higher here in Australia 
  • Transport – depending on where you are/your job, you’ll have to check public transport options or decide if you’d want to get a car [remember: you’ll be driving on the left side of the road in Australia!

 

Can You Do Short-Term Contracts?

In Australia and abroad, there are not usually your standard 13-week travel therapy gigs as in the US, but there are opportunities to do short-term contracts [although I’m not sure the likelihood of lining them up like you might in the US with the typical 13-week
contracts].

You would want to look for the word “locum” when searching for positions, which is the term they use often for temporary jobs. That being said, some locum positions might be up to a year if they are needing someone for a longer time [e.g. to cover a maternity leave, which is often a lot longer than in the US]. Locum jobs vary in length, and you might be able to find some short-term ones for a shorter number of weeks.

I have done one locum job here which was offered as a 12-week position. I worked 10 weeks at a hospital that needed someone in acute care [I found this job by word
of mouth through a Speech Pathology Australia branch meeting].

Are There Any “International Travel” Staffing Agencies?

There are lots of recruitment agencies out there if you search, which may recruit for
both temporary or permanent positions abroad. One of my jobs was advertised through a recruitment agency [Sugarman International]. At this position, I worked part-time for a private hospital, although I later was hired on/employed directly by the hospital.

Other recruitment agencies [I have not used any of these for my jobs] include:

  • Aussie Locums
  • Healthcare Australia
  • Global Health Source

There are probably a lot more agencies out there than this, but again, I have not found any jobs through these myself. However if you’re interested in trying to travel for work abroad, they might be worth looking into!

I hope this information helps you as you explore your options regarding working internationally as a PT, OT, or SLP.

Happy Traveling! ~Tori


We would like to thank Tori for sharing her insights regarding working in Australia and abroad as a therapist!

For more information on traveling, working, and living in Australia – please check out Tori’s blog – ‘Speech Down Under’ at www.speechdownunder.com.au

Avoiding Bad Job Environments as a Travel Therapist

Combating the Stereotype

We often hear this idea from current therapists and students that travel therapists are expected to go into bad environments in their travel jobs. Have you heard this before? That all travel jobs are terrible clinics and work environments, and that “there’s a reason they need travelers”?

The thought process follows these lines: Since travelers make more money, then they should expect that the clinics they go into won’t be as good, or that the situation in the clinic will probably be less than ideal. A similar myth that is frequently told is that travel therapists are worked harder and given more difficult patients than the permanent staff at a facility. While there are certainly cases where these things are true, this has not at all been our experience as travel physical therapists over the past 4.5 years.

When we started traveling as new grad PTs in 2015, we heard all of these same stories and were warned to avoid traveling as new grads; but despite these warnings, we were confident in the path we had chosen. Now, years later, we couldn’t be happier that we made that decision. The vast majority of our contracts have been in clinics that we really enjoyed and have considered going back to in the future. Based on our experience interacting with well over a thousand other travel therapists over the years, we believe that travelers that get into those toxic situations have often not done their research or asked the right questions. We want to change this stereotype and give current and future travel therapists the tools to advocate for themselves and avoid those bad job environments!

Do Your Research

If you’ve read any of my prior articles here or any of my financial articles on FifthWheelPT, it’s probably pretty apparent that I thoroughly research things before making a decision. There are times when this is either good or bad, but in terms of our travel PT careers, this has certainly been a blessing. Before we had ever even graduated from PT school, I had already spent a lot of time researching about travel physical therapy to go into it as informed as I could possibly be. This included the basics, but also things like learning what a reasonable travel PT salary would be, what questions to ask during an interview with a facility, learning how to find a good recruiter and why it’s vital to work with more than one, learning how to solidify a tax home, and how best to approach getting licensed and finding jobs.

Researching these things may seem like common sense to some of you, but after conversations with many travelers in bad situations, I can assure you that it isn’t. In fact, it seems that a large proportion of travel therapists get all of their information from a single recruiter. This is a recipe for disaster, since often recruiters are trying to fill jobs as quickly as possible and not necessarily trying to find a job that is the best fit for the traveler. It may sound like they have your best interest in mind, and the good ones certainly do, but that’s not always the case. It’s extremely important to be informed and to get your information from sources that are as unbiased as possible.

Avoiding Bad Situations

We’ve talked to a number of travel PTs working in outpatient settings that have completely absurd schedules. One in particular we’ve talked to was having patients frequently triple booked throughout the day. That is not only very poor patient care, but also an extremely stressful environment for the therapist. This doesn’t just happen in outpatient though. In skilled nursing, I’ve heard of evaluating therapists that are expected to achieve 95%+ productivity. How?! Other settings can have equally ridiculous situations, but it doesn’t seem to be as common. The important thing to know is that these situations can be avoided, and we’ve had no issue finding good fitting assignments without unrealistic or unethical expectations.

The first step to finding a good clinic that fits you well as a traveler is having all the available options presented to you. This is where working with more than one company/recruiter comes into play. Many travel companies have contracts that are exclusive, meaning that no other travel company has access to those jobs. That’s important to know, because a certain travel company may have a perfect job for you in a great location, but if you aren’t actively job searching with them then you’d never even know it exists. While it’s unreasonable to try to work with a dozen or more companies, talking to 3-4 is reasonable and will ensure that you have an increased number of jobs available to you. On the other hand, many travelers that have a bad experience are working with only one recruiter and are likely only presented with a couple of different job options, and they’re told that if they don’t take one of those then they will probably have to go without work for a while. In some cases depending on your needs and preferences, that may be true, but often those are just the jobs that the recruiter needs to fill most quickly, or might be the only ones that company has, and that is why you’re being presented with only those few.

Once you are presented with a job (or several) that sounds like a good fit for you, then the next critical step is the phone interview with the manager/rehab director. Phone interviews can be intimidating, but they are usually pretty laid back with minimal or no difficult questions like you might receive during a perm job interview. The important thing during the interview is to go into it with a list of questions that YOU need answered prior to determining if the job will work for you. Sometimes the interviewing manager will be trying to get a traveler in the position as quickly as possible, in which case it may turn into you interviewing the manager more than them interviewing you for the position. If you don’t ask the right questions, then you can easily accept a job and really have no idea what you’ll be walking into. This is where you’ll ask about things like productivity, other staff on site, documentation systems, schedule, and job expectations. At this point in our careers, if double booking is expected in the outpatient travel PT job we’re interviewing for, then we’re out. Plus a few other red flags we look out for during the interview, such as PT/PTA ratio, being the only PT (in some cases), and being expected to “take your laptop home to document” (off the clock).

What if the Job Isn’t What You Expected?

Even when you go into an interview as prepared as possible, you’ve done your research, and you ask all the right questions, it’s possible that you get to the clinic and the job isn’t what you were told it would be. This is pretty rare in our experience, because clinics don’t want to waste time training someone for them to just turn around and leave/quit early, but it does happen. This is the situation that the cancellation policy in your travel contract is for. It’s always best to inform your recruiter of the issues you’re having and to do your best to work out a compromise with the clinic director/manager that works for everyone if things aren’t going as expected; but if that isn’t possible, then there’s no shame in ending your contract early and finding something that fits you better, especially if you’re being faced with illegal or unethical situations. Putting in your cancellation notice isn’t something that should be taken lightly because the facility and the travel company will both likely be upset, but if it’s between you leaving early or staying at a job that you’re miserable in (or potentially breaking laws/ethics), then put in your notice!

Don’t Fear Traveling

Bad situations certainly come up as a travel therapist, but if you’re an informed traveler and do your best to ensure that each contract fits you well, then it should be no more common than bad situations at permanent jobs.

The keys to avoiding bad job situations as a traveler are:

  • do your research on travel therapy and the process beforehand
  • allow yourself the largest number of job options possible by working with multiple companies
  • ask the right questions and listen for inconsistencies when interviewing for a travel position

If you do those things then you’ll be well on your way to having a successful and prosperous travel career while avoiding the bad job environments!

If you need help getting started with travel therapy then check out the articles I linked to in this post as well as our Facebook Live videos covering many common questions we get. If you need help finding recruiters you can trust with good companies, fill out this short questionnaire and we’ll do our best to match you with a few great recruiters and companies that should work well for you!

 

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!

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.

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!