Should SLPs Travel During Their Clinical Fellowship Year?

Should SLPs Travel during their Clinical Fellowship year?

We often get questions about whether it’s a good idea to pursue travel therapy as a new grad therapist. We have addressed this topic as it pertains to PT/OT many times, but not specifically for SLP’s during their clinical fellowship year. In this guest post, traveling SLP Kathryn Mancewicz outlines the pros/cons to traveling during the CFY and gives her insights and advice to those considering it!

Guest Post by Kathryn Mancewicz, MS, CCC-SLP

Should You Travel During Your Clinical Fellowship Year?

Congrats! You survived the sometimes grueling but yet wonderful experience that is grad school. Next stop, your first real SLP (Speech Language Pathologist) job. As you start searching for jobs, you might be wondering, should I pursue travel therapy as a new grad SLP?

Travel therapy as a new grad is a little different for SLPs because, unlike physical therapists (PTs) and occupational therapists (OTs), we have to complete a Clinical Fellowship Year (CFY) before we are officially released into the world. This means we have to consider what our CFY will look like as a traveler versus in a permanent position. As someone who began traveling after 2 years in a permanent job, I can definitely see the pros and cons of both options.

So, should you travel for your clinical fellowship? That’s a question only you can answer, but consider the following before jumping into this exciting (and crazy!) time in your career.

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Pros of Travel Therapy as a Clinical Fellow

Chances are if you are reading this, you already know that you can make way more money as a travel therapist than you can in a permanent job. So I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this pro of travel therapy since there are lots of posts which address this more specifically.

So what other benefits are there to traveling as a clinical fellow?

First of all, you have the opportunity to go somewhere you might not ever live in otherwise. That is one of the most fun parts of traveling. The US is an amazing country and travel therapy makes accessing new places much easier. Traveling as a clinical fellow (CF) allows you to explore new places without having to fully commit to “settling down” there.

Another benefit of travel therapy is the diversity of experiences you can have in a relatively short amount of time.

Over the past year of traveling, I have had the opportunity to gain clinical experience with a lot of different disorders and settings. In just the past 9 months (the approximate length of a clinical fellowship), I have worked in an inpatient hospital, an outpatient hospital clinic, a small rural hospital that was really more like a SNF, and a middle school. I have worked with people from ages 18 months to 99 years. I have treated everything from articulation disorders to dysphagia and all sorts of things in between.

Since then, I have been told by several seasoned SLPs who have interviewed me that I have a very impressive resume. This isn’t said to brag, but to show you the possibility that travel therapy can offer. Getting that wide range of experiences definitely isn’t possible in a traditional clinical fellowship. But, that begs the question, is more necessarily better during a clinical fellowship, or would you be better off waiting and getting that experience after you have a year or two of work under your belt?

Limitations and Challenges of Traveling During your CFY

According to ASHA regulations, a clinical fellow needs to have 36 weeks of supervised experience during which time they need at least 6 hours of direct and 6 hours of indirect supervision from their CFY supervisor each segment (a segment is 12 weeks). Your clinical fellowship mentor is someone who is meant to help guide you through the first part of your career. And this experience and mentorship (or lack thereof) can really shape your future career and confidence as an SLP.

As someone who had a knowledgeable, amazing, caring mentor for my clinical fellowship, I cannot stress just how important this person is. I am so much more confident as a clinician because of that experience. Additionally, staying at the same perm job for another year after completing my clinical fellowship helped me grow and thrive even more.

If you jump around every 13 weeks as a traveler, ensuring you have strong supervision for all 3 of those 13 week placements becomes significantly more challenging. It can be hard to find one good CF supervisor, let alone 3. Plus, if your mentor doesn’t actually provide all the supervision necessary, you run the risk of having your license in question before you even get it. Terrifying if you ask me.

Typically, traveling SLPs are also expected to be independent. So, it is even possible that you will be the only SLP onsite as a traveler. Not having someone else around to bounce ideas off of or ask questions to can be really challenging, and especially so as a CF.

What Settings are Most Conducive to Travel Therapy for Clinical Fellows?

If you really have your heart set on becoming a traveling SLP during your CFY, I definitely think there are some settings that are more conducive to travel than others.

I completed my CFY in an elementary school as a permanent therapist and then traveled in the medical setting starting in my 3rd year, so I feel I can attest to the experience in both settings.

My first medical experience, it was really important to me to have a hospital that would provide some support before just throwing me into it, since I had completed my CFY as a school therapist. I was fortunate to have an awesome mentor for what I consider to be a mini medical clinical fellowship experience while on my first travel therapy contract. Without this, I would have been in huge trouble on my second placement where I was all on my own. I cannot imagine doing this as a clinical fellow. It would have been a nightmare.

In my opinion, a school is the place to be if you want to be a traveler for your CFY. There are several reasons.

  • You are more likely to stay in one place for the entire 36 week CFY.
  • There are most likely other SLPs in the district to provide mentorship and supervision even if they aren’t at your same school.
  • You can focus on honing your clinical skills and adjusting to your job without having to change it again in 3 months.
  • The pay is still travel pay, which is significantly more than you would make as a district employee.
  • While it is always possible to be cancelled, it is less likely to occur in a school setting than in an acute or SNF setting.

Tips to Maximize Success if You Decide to Travel During Your CFY

Whether or not you decide to travel, it is very important to be able to speak directly with your would-be clinical fellowship supervisor. Interviewing with the hiring manager and never getting to talk to your soon to be mentor is NOT something I would recommend.

The transition from grad school to the “real world” is huge. That’s why having strong mentorship and being in a situation where you won’t have to deal with ethical quandaries is so important. Here are some questions I would recommend asking in the phone interview to maximize your chances of having a successful travel clinical fellowship year.

Questions to ask the facility/travel company:

  • What kind of mentorship will I have onsite or in the district? Will there be any other SLPs at my school/facility? And will I be servicing more than one site? Will my supervisor be another district employee or will it be someone off site from my travel company (ask this to your travel company and to the location where you are interviewing).
  • Will my CFY supervisor be allotted time in her/his schedule to complete required supervision activities?
  • What kind of training/orientation will I be given? Am I expected to start seeing my full caseload day one or do I have a “ramp up time”?
  • How many hours of work am I expected to get each week? (Fewer hours could potentially result in a longer clinical fellowship experience. ‘Guaranteed hours’ from your travel company will get you paid even if you don’t actually have full time work hours, but the hours where you aren’t seeing clients or completing other relevant tasks won’t count towards your CFY requirements.)
  • Has your facility worked with clinical fellows before?
  • Will I be allowed to participate in SLP professional development activities with other district SLPs?
  • How much time will I have during a typical day for planning/paperwork/completing evaluations?

Questions to ask your potential clinical fellowship supervisor:

  • How do you approach mentorship? Are you more hands on or hands off? What can I expect mentorship to look like with you?
  • What kind of feedback will you provide me with and how often can I expect it?
  • What was your clinical fellowship experience like and how does that impact how you will engage in supervision?
  • Why are you willing to supervise a CF?
  • Have you supervised clinical fellows or students before? How did you manage it with your other workload responsibilities?

To Travel or Not to Travel

As we all know, the clinical fellowship year is really important for us as SLPs. Not just for the 9 months that it is happening, but for our long term success as well. It is up to you to decide what is right for you, but here are my thoughts about the bottom line.

Do I think completing your clinical fellowship in a travel contract at a school setting would be ok? Probably yes if you ask the right questions and don’t settle for a subpar contract/mentorship. Would I recommend working as a traveler for a medical CFY? No, I definitely wouldn’t. I think all the jumping around would be just too much on top of what is already a very challenging year.

I am very happy with the decision I made to complete my clinical fellowship year and one additional year at the same school district before deciding to become a traveling SLP. I got great mentorship, and the experience helped me feel more confident in my clinical skills even as I transitioned to other settings. My clinical fellowship experience is not something I would have changed because it has helped me become a stronger, more confident SLP, and that is something I now take with me to every place I go.

Kathryn Mancewicz, MS, CCC-SLP is a full time RVer and traveling speech language pathologist (SLP). She also provides online speech therapy for kids of all ages. She graduated in 2017 from the University of New Mexico with a Masters of Speech Language Pathology and a bilingual emphasis. In the past 5 years, Kathryn has lived in 7 different states and counting. She writes about her work as a traveling SLP and how it has helped shape and accelerate her journey towards financial independence at her blog Money and Mountains.

We would like to thank Kathryn for her insightful article about traveling during the clinical fellowship year! If you’re an SLP or SLP student considering getting into travel therapy, please feel free to contact us for advice and mentorship, or to get recommendations for travel therapy recruiters who can help you get your travel career started!

~Whitney & Jared, Travel Therapy Mentors