Earning Six Figures in Six Months as a New Grad Physical Therapist

Guest Post by Traveling Physical Therapist Jeff Camara, PT, DPT


EARNING SIX FIGURES IN SIX MONTHS

We can all agree that the cost of obtaining a graduate degree vs. the income for physical therapists isn’t exactly an equal ratio. I knew this going in to my career choice as a physical therapist. However, I still decided to choose a career that would fulfill my life, despite the enormous amount of debt I would have to take on to get there.

I decided early on while still in graduate school that Travel Physical Therapy (Travel PT) would be the best career path for me, as it would not only help me financially, but give me the freedom to explore the country and work in various settings. I can’t say that my other physical therapy friends made the same decision. Following school, many of them have had to move back home in order to save their paychecks as New Grad PT’s and get on their feet.

Many physical therapists would say that you can’t make a six-figure salary or ever pay off your debt in this career. Well, I am here to tell you how I not only earned those six-figures, but I did it in just six months as a New Grad PT.

HOW IT STARTED

My girlfriend, and fellow physical therapist, and I were fortunate enough to land six-month Travel PT contracts at an outpatient ortho clinic in northern Virginia as new grads in 2019 (shout out to Whitney and Jared at Travel Therapy Mentor for help with finding those contracts as well!).

Jeff1

During my first six months as a new grad PT at this travel position, I learned a ton and loved the clinic– not to mention my awesome co-workers instantly became great friends and we enjoyed exploring a new area of the country. I was able to earn a high paycheck every week by starting my career as a Travel PT, making over $7,000 per month after taxes. This added up to roughly $43,000 after taxes in my first six months of work as a new grad! Comparatively, some new grad PT’s hardly make that much in twelve months after taxes at some lower paying salaried positions.

With one month left in our first ever Travel PT contracts, the pandemic had hit. As the country panicked, I started to see other travelers’ contracts come to an end, and the permanent PT’s at our clinics were losing their caseload and being furloughed. I knew I had to shine in the clinic, or I was going to be next. Fortunately for me, I already had a great rapport with my patients and was able to continue to provide them with valuable treatments whether it was in the clinic or through telehealth. I took initiative and managed my own schedule, which made it possible for me to maintain around 90-95% of my caseload. My hard work led not only to not losing my travel contract, but to having my contract extended.

Despite this contract extension, I still had my doubts, as jobs are rarely secured as a traveler, so I began the job hunt to gain that security. I was fortunate to have one of my co-workers reach out and ask if I would be interested in working home health PRN. Without any home health experience, this company was willing to bring me on board and train me. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. This was perfect for gaining some experience in the home health world in addition to diversifying my paycheck in case my travel contract got cancelled.

STEPPING OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE

At this moment, I was still working 40 hours per week in the outpatient clinic at my travel contract, while starting to build a caseload with the home health company PRN. My outpatient schedule was perfect for this, providing me with 3 short days working 7am-2pm, leaving me plenty of time to hustle and earn money on the side with home health PRN hours.

Jeff2The flexibility with home health is great. I would be sent referrals daily, and it was up to me to either accept or deny each patient, based on my own schedule with my primary job, and based on how much extra I wanted to work. I started with 2-3 patients after work, 3 days per week, which quickly adds up. It wasn’t easy at first being more the “outpatient ortho type of guy,” but I started to pick it up quickly. I had to step out of my comfort zone and learn a lot about the OASIS documentation (aka the death of home health), but I got into a rhythm and started to push how many patients I could see in a week. I started out with 5-8 patients, then 8-10, and before you know it, I was able to see 15-20 home health patients per week, in addition to my outpatient job, while still having weekends off.

FINDING A BALANCE

When working 7am-7pm, or some days even later, you realize quickly you need the weekends for yourself. We all hear about the “burnout” in healthcare professions, and I remained mindful of that, making sure I was still finding joy in what I was doing. Many of my coworkers didn’t understand, always asking “how do you work so much?” In all honesty, I found it quite easy, because I was actually enjoying a large part of it. There is something satisfying when working hard and seeing results, you know?! Well, what if those results were not only seeing your patients getting better, but seeing growth in your bank account.

THE RESULTS

In the midst of this pandemic, despite uncertainty with the job market, and despite being a relatively new graduate, I have been fortunate to not only maintain a full time physical therapy position, but to pick up extra work too. In addition to working in outpatient ortho full time as a travel PT, plus home health PRN, I was also able to start my own LLC for a cash-based home health business.

Working an average of 60 hours per week for the last 6 months between these 3 jobs, I have been able to achieve my financial goals and more. From May to November 2020, I have been able to earn over triple the amount of my coworkers who work permanent positions in the outpatient clinic.

Jeff3My take home, after tax pay has been approximately $80,000 in the last 6 months. I REPEAT, AFTER TAXES! This is the equivalent to making a gross salary of around $120,000 in just 6 months, from one travel PT contract, part time home health, plus the start of my own LLC in the last two months.

Today the average physical therapist makes approximately $50-55k per year after taxes (not including retirement contributions). I was able to make that amount in 4 months, during a pandemic! One can see the potential for growth at this rate. I hope through my story I can help to show other therapists the possibilities that are out there, especially for those who want to pay off debt quickly and are willing to hustle hard early in their career to do it.

IF IT WAS EASY, EVERYONE WOULD DO IT

At the end of the day, you must ask yourself what is important to you. You might be reading this thinking it’s totally unrealistic for you. I sacrificed a lot to reach this goal. It hasn’t been easy doing late dinners throughout the week, less sleep, no daily gym session, more time driving, an increase in notes brought home, and less time spent with my significant other. This would certainly be more difficult for someone in a different life circumstance than me, for example someone who is married with children, or just needs more personal leisure time or time to de-stress.

For someone who is not familiar with working this much, it would be very hard and draining to do day in and day out. I think I am someone who hardly stresses during work and doesn’t get overwhelmed easily, so working multiple jobs comes easy to me. I have actually worked several jobs since I was in undergrad, so it’s something I’m used to. However, this is certainly not a pace that I could keep up, nor would I want to, forever. This is more so a way for me to get ahead financially early in my career to have more options in the future. Being able to pay down debt and invest early puts me well on my way toward financial independence!

Jeff4


Below is an excerpt from a Harvard Business Review article that I found interesting:

The American Dream on Steroids: “The first thing that becomes clear is that successful professionals are working harder than ever. The 40-hour workweek, it seems, is a thing of the past. Even the 60-hour workweek, once the path to the top, is now practically considered part-time, as a recent Fortune magazine article put it. Our data reveal that 62% of high-earning individuals work more than 50 hours a week, 35% work more than 60 hours a week, and 10% work more than 80 hours a week. Add in a typical one-hour commute, and a 60-hour workweek translates into leaving the house at 7 am and getting home at 9 pm five days a week.”


MY RECOMMENDATIONS

When I tell people about my current lifestyle, they typically respond with, “there is no way I could ever do that.” This is most likely true, and I wouldn’t recommend this for many people. For those who struggle already with their 40 hour work week, I would recommend against this type of workload.

However, for those therapists that may be thinking about getting a second job in order to hustle and make more money to meet your financial goals, I would highly recommend to look for a PRN home health job, versus a second outpatient or acute care job. Home health provides great flexibility and higher pay, and it gives you the freedom to take on as many patients as you desire within the time that you want.

I am not saying this is only way to make money, nor am I saying that money is the only important aspect in life. For me, the thought of being financially free someday keeps me grinding. My goal is to work hard and hustle during the beginning of my career to help meet my financial goals and increase my savings, so that I can work less in the future and shift my focus to other pursuits, such as having a family.

Now, after hustling for the last 6 months, I have decided to take some time off from work to spend the holidays with my family and friends. This sacrifice, I believe, has been well worth it to be able to take several weeks or a month off at the holidays. After this break, I am looking forward to going into 2021 and getting back at it again!


ABOUT JEFF

jeff9Jeff is a travel physical therapist originally from Massachusetts. He earned his Doctor of Physical Therapy degree at American International College in May of 2019. Jeff was a multi-sport intramural champion in college and enjoys friendly competition in all sports and games. He has lived in 9 different states so far and loves traveling to new areas, hiking, and riding his motorcycle. Jeff and his girlfriend, Megan, are hoping to sign new travel physical therapy contracts at the start of the new year. The best way to contact Jeff is through Facebook or email at jcamara6@yahoo.com.


We would like to thank Jeff for sharing his story in this inspiring article! If you’re also considering pursuing travel therapy to help set yourself up for a strong financial future, please feel free to contact us and we can help you get started on this path!

~Whitney & Jared, Travel Therapy Mentors

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.