Do You Receive Mentorship as a Travel Therapist?

A common question we get is whether or not you’re able to receive mentorship as a travel therapist. This most often comes from new grad therapists or students considering travel therapy right out of school. Occasionally, this question also comes from an experienced therapist who wants to take a travel therapy contract in a brand new setting, but who is fearful he/she won’t be able to succeed without some guidance.

As with just about all things therapy related, the answer is “it depends.” It depends on the particular travel assignment that you choose as well as on what you mean by mentorship, as we’ve found that this can often mean different things to different managers and therapists.

Choosing the Right Travel Assignment for Mentorship

Every job as a travel therapist can be completely different, so if mentorship is important to you, then this is something you’ll have to prioritize when searching for the right travel therapy assignment. You’ll work alongside your travel therapy recruiter to identify facilities that may offer mentorship. Then, you’ll need to ask questions during your phone interview with the facility to determine what type, if any, mentorship is available.

Whitney and I found out the hard way during our very first travel therapy assignments that not all of them will be a supportive environment with mentorship for new grads.

Our Experience with New Grad Travel Therapy Mentorship

Whitney and I both started travel physical therapy right away as new grads in 2015. When we started, we both had about the same level of clinical skills and the same level of knowledge about travel therapy. We started working travel PT jobs as our very first jobs as clinicians, and we took jobs less than 30 minutes from each other. Based on this, you might guess that our experiences as new grad travelers were pretty similar. That was not the case at all. Whitney had a very difficult first travel assignment with a lot of hardship throughout the 13 weeks, whereas mine was wonderful. The interesting thing about this was that before we started the jobs, we both thought that her job would be great and that I would struggle at mine.

Much of this is because we were naïve new travel therapists that didn’t know how important the facility interview is, and therefore we didn’t ask the right questions. By, essentially, luck of the draw, she got a travel contract that wasn’t supportive or helpful at all, whereas mine had a lot of support.

At her contract, after a 30 minute orientation on the first day, she was expected to jump right into to seeing a full day of patients at the large retirement community, which included several different buildings for skilled nursing, long term care, assisted living, and independent living. The facility was new to her, the patients were new to her, and she was unfamiliar with the documentation system, yet the regional manager still expected her to achieve 90% productivity in her first week. That’s completely unreasonable for a new grad, or really for anyone starting their first week in a new place. To make matters worse, she was told there would be another PT on staff there to help her and answer questions, but it turned out that she was actually filling in for the PT who was out on medical leave, so she was on her own.

On the other hand, my contract which was at a small rural hospital, knew that I didn’t have any acute care experience, and the manager was very accommodating and wanted to help me succeed in the new setting. She let me shadow a current PT there for an entire week before I ever saw my first patient. After that, I had a week long ramp up to a full caseload. I wasn’t on my own with a full caseload until the third week, which gave me plenty of time to get aquatinted with the facility and the documentation system. I didn’t have many issues, and if I did, there was always another PT there willing to help and answer my questions.

What Can be Expected on an Average Travel Contract?

Since these first assignments, we’ve learned a lot about what can be expected when starting a new travel job. The truth is that there’s a wide range of what’s normal in terms of travel therapy mentorship. Both of our first jobs were outliers on different ends of the spectrum.

It’s not often that a travel therapist is thrown right into a full caseload on day one like Whitney was, and it’s fairly easy to avoid those jobs with a thorough interview. Being at a facility with unrealistic expectations is no fun, and we advise therapists to avoid those places at all costs. However, it’s also not common to get a full two weeks of orientation, shadowing, and ramp up like I received.

Most travel jobs are somewhere in the middle, and it’s very important to use the phone interview with the facility to determine if the support provided is adequate for your needs as a new travel therapist. Picking the right contract, especially for your first one, is vital in having a good experience as a travel therapist.

Do Travel Therapists Really get Less Mentorship?

To be honest, Whitney and I were both nervous to start out as new grad travel therapists. We’d heard some good things about travel therapy and knew we wanted to see more of the country and to earn more money, but we’d also heard a lot of negative stories from professors and clinical instructors.

There were no resources for travel therapists online back then, so we had no way to know how to choose the right travel companies and recruiters, which was also a big impediment to our success.

We thought about taking a permanent job to get mentorship and experience before traveling, but we were really eager to start exploring. Many permanent jobs in our area advertised mentorship to new grads but were vague as to what that really entailed. As we later found out, in most cases mentorship didn’t really mean much at those jobs.

After a couple weeks at my first travel contract, I talked to many of my PT school classmates to hear how their first jobs were going. They all took permanent jobs, so I was very interested to see how their experience would differ from mine. To my surprise, I actually got more mentorship at my first travel contract than all but one of them did at their permanent jobs. It turned out that most of the clinics that were offering mentorship really just meant that they would get a week ramp up period to a full caseload and have another PT in the facility to answer questions. So much for the “mentorship” I thought I was missing out on as a travel therapist!

As we’ve gotten further into our careers, we’ve learned that our area wasn’t an anomaly. While there are some facilities that offer a dedicated mentorship program, most facilities that advertise mentorship for new grads really just mean an orientation, a ramp up to a full caseload, and another therapist in the facility to ask questions if needed. This is exactly what most new grad travel therapists get as well, so the difference between permanent job and travel job mentorship is often minimal.

Different Types of Mentorship as a Travel Therapist

In addition to the mentorship that travel therapists receive being similar to that of permanent therapists in many cases, I believe that travel therapists receive a different type of mentorship that is more valuable.

In my first two years as a travel therapist, I worked alongside several dozen different therapists at different facilities all over the country. I learned from all of these therapists and got a broad view of the different treatment styles and therapy perspectives out there, which made me a more well rounded clinician. Had I worked at the same permanent job for those two years, I would have had a much more limited perspective.

I also got to learn what I liked and didn’t like about the policies and procedures at the various different facilities. Some were run extremely well, whereas others needed a lot of work. That taught me what I would want to look for in a future permanent position to have the best possible work-life balance.

On top of the above, I also got to thoroughly try out a variety of different settings and learn from each about the various stages of healing and rehab. This gave me a much better view of the patient as a whole and the progression from acute care to outpatient therapy. Trying out different settings also made me realize that although I loved outpatient, a future permanent job in a different setting might be better for me long term. I probably would have never given any other settings a try if I had taken a permanent job right out of school, and I wouldn’t have known what I was missing.

Mentorship and growth as a clinician comes in all shapes and sizes. With all things considered, I think what the average travel therapist receives is more valuable than what the average permanent therapist receives.

Types of Mentorship to Ask About as a Traveler

When it comes time to search for travel therapy jobs, you’ll want to keep in mind the different forms of mentorship you can receive and be sure to ask about these.

As we’ve already discussed, the most common type of mentorship will be another clinician on staff who can help you and whom you can ask questions. Be sure to ask if there will be a clinician of your same discipline on site, full time, at the same facility with you. Also be sure to ask about training/orientation and ramp up time as well, especially if the job is in a setting that is unfamiliar to you.

In addition to on site mentorship, you can also ask your recruiter if there is a mentor available by phone through the travel company. Often they will have clinical staff (sometimes called a clinical liaison) who works for the travel company and can help you in any tricky situations at your travel therapy contract. They may also be able to connect you with a mentor who is an experienced travel therapist who you can talk to and get advice from.

Is Travel Therapy Right for You?

If you’re considering travel therapy and are concerned about the mentorship aspect, I hope that this article sheds some light on what’s available. If you’re relatively confident in your skills as a clinician and pick a good first few contracts based on your phone interviews, then you’ll be in good shape.

On the other hand, if you aren’t confident and feel that you need more in depth help starting your career, then searching out a permanent job with a more structured mentorship program might be a good idea. While most mentorship programs at permanent jobs are minimal, we have seen some over the years that are very thorough and helpful for new grads that need to build skills and confidence.

If you plan to start as a new grad travel therapist like we did, it’s vital to be prepared and as informed as possible about the process to avoid a first contract like Whitney had. A great place to start your learning is our free travel therapy 101 series. It covers the basics and has links to more in depth learning on important topics. If you want a step by step guide to becoming a successful and financially savvy travel therapist, then our course is ideal for you. If you need help getting connected with great recruiters who are very supportive, fill out our recruiter recommendation form so we can get you in touch! Feel free to message us with any questions. Best of luck in your travel therapy journey!

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Jared Casazza Travel Therapy Mentor

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT – Jared has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015. He has become an expert in the field of travel healthcare through his experience, research, and networking over nearly a decade.

Is Travel Therapy a Good Option for New Grads During COVID-19?

Is travel therapy a good option for new grads during Covid-19?

Over the last few weeks, we’ve had dozens of new grad and soon-to-be new grad therapists reach out to us asking if now is a good time to start traveling as a new grad. This happens every year during May when the bulk of therapists graduate, but with all the uncertainty currently and full time therapy work being difficult to come by in some locations, there’s been much more interest in travel therapy than normal this year. Unfortunately, when there is uncertainty in healthcare, it is rarely a good thing for the travel therapy market, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no different.

While travel therapy has historically been a good career choice over the last decade for many therapists, including new grad therapists, things have really been shaken up recently. Let’s dive in to why travel therapy has been affected and whether or not it’s a good time for new grads to be trying travel therapy.

Travel Therapy During the Pandemic

As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a widespread impact on our world, including US healthcare jobs. “Uncertainty” is the buzz word as we all wait and see what will happen as the situation continues to evolve worldwide.

A big reason why uncertainty impacts the travel therapy job market to such a large degree has to do with the cost of hiring travel therapists incurred by facilities. Travel therapists can be significantly more expensive than full time and PRN staff, so in a situation where caseloads could suddenly decrease, many facilities don’t want to risk spending money on a traveler that they may end up not needing. Instead, they’ll make do with current staff while supplementing with PRN or offering overtime to full time therapists if needed, and wait out the uncertainty.

In the past two months we’ve seen hundreds of travel contracts ended early or cancelled before they even started due to fluctuations in caseloads in all settings. There has been a significant decrease in the number of new travel job openings due to facilities not hiring. With that being said, settings have certainly not all been affected evenly. Outpatient and school contracts have been the hardest hit by contract cancellations and job cuts, with home health, acute care, and SNF jobs impacted to a lesser degree. Even in the lesser impacted settings, COVID has still caused problems. This is primarily due to the fact that elective surgeries have been limited or cancelled altogether for almost two months now. Fewer elective surgeries means fewer patients across the board.

Flooding the Market

Less patients means less demand for therapists and subsequent layoffs across the board, not only in the form of travel therapy job cancellations but also for permanent full time staff. Some of the laid off permanent therapists are unable to find work in their area right now and are turning to travel therapy for some respite during tremulous times. This is bad news for current and prospective new grad travel therapists.

The combination of previously permanent therapists, new grads, and current travelers whose contracts have come to an end or were ended prematurely all looking for travel contracts at the same time, has caused the travel therapy market to get flooded with therapists searching for jobs. This flood of job seekers, combined with a reduction in overall jobs, has led to significant over-saturation of the travel therapy job market.

The impact is evident in the number of open travel contracts available and the declining pay rates offered on those contracts. The recruiters and companies that we work closely with are all reporting about 10 times less travel therapy jobs currently for PTs and OTs when compared to earlier this year before the pandemic. When comparing to the travel market at this time last year, the numbers look even more grim.

The travel jobs that are available are getting many more applicants submitted than normal and are closing very quickly. In some cases jobs will get to the maximum number of applicant submissions in a matter of a couple hours. With facilities getting so many submissions for their available travel contracts, a natural consequence is reductions in the bill rates offered, meaning lower pay for travel therapists. In nominal terms, this manifests as a reduction of about $100-$200/week on average for many of the open jobs.

What Does This Mean for New Grads?

Due to a minimal number of travel therapy jobs open at any given time currently, higher competition for those few jobs, along with lower pay, we can definitely say that now certainly isn’t the best time for new grads to begin travel therapy careers.

If at all possible, our recommendation right now would be for new grads to consider finding a full time or PRN position for a few months to a year to save some money and get some experience until things improve.

It certainly doesn’t hurt to consider travel jobs as an option and be on the lookout for travel job opportunities, but we encourage you to keep your options open and consider all job opportunities available to you, including perm and PRN locally.

Actions to Take for Those Dedicated to Pursuing Travel Therapy as a New Grad Currently

If you’re set on starting out as a new grad travel therapist despite the current environment, there are a few things you can do to have the best chance of finding a contract.

  1. Be willing to accept lower pay now than during normal times.
    • We’re always advocates of being informed and understanding how travel therapy pay works prior to jumping in, in order to avoid inadvertently taking low ball offers from non-reputable companies and recruiters. However, in this situation, you should expect for pay to be lower due to the declining bill rates mentioned above. Unfortunately, even though we normally recommend avoiding any pay rates less than $1,500/wk after taxes, there are some contracts paying travel PTs in the $1,300/week range right now that are still getting tons of submissions.
  2. Work with at least a few different good companies and recruiters.
    • This is more vital than ever right now. Having a few recruiters from different companies helping you search for jobs leads to more options and a better chance of finding a travel contract that will work for you. If you need help finding reputable companies and recruiters, fill out our recruiter request form, and we’ll match you with some that should work well for you.
  3. Be more flexible on travel assignment setting and location.
    • In the past, Whitney and I have been able to find consistent contracts close to each other in the states and settings that we prefer. Currently that just isn’t possible. To have a chance of finding a travel contract in the coming weeks (possibly months) as a new grad, it is important to be lenient on location and setting as much as possible. In the future when the travel therapy market picks up again, you can go back to being more selective with regards to setting and location. And even better, by that time you will have experience under your belt and will be more competitive when applying to the setting and location of your choice.

The Future of Travel Therapy

With states beginning to open back up and elective surgeries beginning to commence again across the country, the need for therapists will undoubtedly pick back up, and with that, we anticipate the travel therapy job market will improve. In addition to patients undergoing elective surgeries, patients that have become deconditioned due to COVID will require skilled therapy to a larger degree than before in SNFs, home health, outpatient, and inpatient rehab facilities. It’s hard to say exactly how long it will be before the travel therapy job market gets back to normal completely, but in the last couple of weeks we’ve seen things starting to trend upward, which is a good sign. Once demand picks back up and travel jobs are more prevalent, increases in travel pay back to normal levels should follow.

We are optimistic that demand will increase in the coming months and travel therapy will once again be a great option for new grads, like it was for us back when we started traveling as PTs after graduation in 2015!

If you have any questions or need help getting started, feel free to contact us. We’ve helped well over 1,000 new and current travel therapists to be better informed over the past few years! Best of luck & stay safe!

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

Jared has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015 and travels with his girlfriend and fellow travel PT, Whitney. Together they mentor other current and aspiring travel therapists.