To Extend, or Not To Extend a Travel Therapy Contract?

Written by Travis Kemper, PT, DPT

Should I stay or should I go now?

How do you know when to extend a contract or when to move on? There is no definitive answer to this.

My fiancée Julia and I have extended contracts anywhere from 2 weeks in order to better accommodate our travel plans, to a full thirteen weeks at one contract. In general, we have found that we are usually ready to move on at the thirteen week point whether we extended or not. In all cases of extensions, we have been persuaded to stay partially by the facility having a desperate need for PT coverage.

In the future, we will only extend if it is in our best interest, and we will always ask for an increase in pay with an extension. Thus far we have gotten up to $200 net per week bonus pay with an extension.

Know Your Preferences

An extension is always a personal decision, and you need to know yourself. Many times a facility will approach you very early in the contract for an extension, so you need to understand your own preferences.

If you are like us, you may get an itch to leave starting about 10-12 weeks in. Extending causes that itch continue for the entire extension period.

However, many travelers, such as Jared and Whitney,  find they would rather do 4-6 month contracts, or even up to 1 year so they can get comfortable with the position and location before they move on, as well as earn guaranteed money and not have to deal with the hassle of moving. If that is you, extending can be a great way to earn some more money and have a little more stability in your life.

Signs That The Facility May Want an Extension

Sometimes you can get a feel during the interview if the facility is the type to want a traveler to extend or not. You can also sometimes get a feel for whether they are likely to keep you for the duration of your contract or if there’s a possibility your contract could get cut short.

If you can find out the reason why they need a traveler in the first place, that will give you a good idea. For example, maybe it’s a rural area and they have been using travelers back to back for a year or more. In that case, there’s a good chance you could stay there longer if you wanted to. Or maybe it’s not a rural area, and they’re still using travelers back to back and can’t find a permanent employee. Maybe then you should be hunting for reasons why they can’t keep permanent staff.

On the other hand, if someone just quit and they are rapidly trying to find a permanent employee and conducting permanent interviews, there’s a chance they might cut your contract the first chance they get when someone permanent is hired. This also might not be an ideal situation for you, especially if you are traveling a long way to take the job.

It’s a good idea to feel out these things early on, as it can definitely give you a good indication of what type of situation you’re getting into as a traveler. But, don’t always fear the rotating-traveler, begging for you to extend facilities. They’re not all bad, and you could have a great experience there and want to extend.

Do you have questions about contract extensions? Send us a message and we can chat! Want to tell us about an experience you had with a contract extension? Leave a comment below!

Opportunity Cost: Passing on a Travel Job and Having Unplanned Time Off

Written by Travis Kemper, PT, DPT

What is Opportunity Cost?

Opportunity cost is an important economic term that most of us rarely think about. An opportunity cost is quite simply a lost benefit from choosing one option instead of another.

Opportunity Cost and Travel Therapy

Why is this important and what does it have to do with travel therapy? We’ve seen a number of travelers post about a potential job opportunity that they were passing on due to the pay being too low for them by $100 or $200 per week. They say if the pay was higher they would take the position because everything else sounded great!

So let’s analyze the opportunity cost of passing on a position without a replacement position readily available:

  • John is a new grad traveler and receives an offer of $1500 per week that starts 10/1.  John turns down the position, stating that his minimum acceptable pay is $1650 per week because he wants to pay down his loans as fast as possible.  Good news, John finds a position paying $1650 per week that starts just 2 weeks later on 10/15, and he takes this position.
  • Sally also is traveling with the goal of paying down her loans quickly.  Sally takes the position for $1500 per week and starts 10/1.

Who makes out better financially?

  • Sally makes $1500 x 13 weeks= $19,500 net pay, 13 weeks after 10/1
  • John took 2 weeks off waiting for that bigger paycheck. 13 weeks after 13/1, John earns $1650 X 11= $18,150.

The opportunity cost for John is $19,500 – $18,150 = $1,350 in lost income, due to waiting for the higher paying position.

Conclusion

The moral of the story is that higher pay isn’t always higher pay if you have to wait to start. This is a very simplistic example, but as you can see, continually passing on “low pay” will hurt you financially in the long term if you take extra, unplanned time off.

We recommend you take the right job instead. Pay is important, but sometimes the highest paying positions can also be the least desirable positions.

If you have questions about a travel therapy position, pay packages, or need help in your travel therapy journey, please shoot us a message and we would be happy to help!

Why Choose Travel Therapy?

Written by Travis Kemper, PT, DPT

My “Why” For Travel Therapy

Everyone’s “why” will be very personal and may be very different. My fiancée Julia and I are traveling for the freedom it provides. We enjoy not being tied down to one geographic location and not being obligated to work 50 weeks per year. There are too many things we want to do with our lives to settle down in a permanent position.

We want to travel, not for 2 weeks each year, but long enough to immerse ourselves in the culture of a new place. We would someday like to do international mission trips as well where we can use our skills and training to help others that have tougher challenges and decreased access to appropriate healthcare.

What’s Your “Why”?

You don’t have to want the same things I want, but you should know your why. Maybe it’s to travel, maybe it’s to pay student loans off, maybe it’s for financial independence. It could be that you completed 3-4 internships and have no idea what setting you want to practice in because your profession has too many awesome options (I can relate to this)! Maybe you’re burnt out in your current position and need a change of scenery.

Whatever your why is, you hopefully take it into consideration before embarking on a traveling or permanent career decision.  Your why can, and hopefully will, change as you grow as a person, but your why can always provide you with direction in your career and life.

So, what is your “why” for considering travel therapy? Shoot us a message or leave a comment below. We’d be happy to help you get started on your journey to pursuing travel therapy today.

Travel Therapy: What is a “Tax Home”?

Authors: Travis Kemper, PT, DPT; Jared Casazza, PT, DPT; Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

What is a Tax Home?

If you are just starting out in travel therapy you may not be familiar with the concept of a “tax home.”  Basically, a tax home is your primary residence, where you live and/or work. When you’re working as a travel therapist, having a tax home allows you to take housing and per diem stipends provided by travel therapy companies without having to pay taxes on them due to the stipends being a reimbursement for costs incurred at the travel assignment location.

This is a major benefit for you and greatly increases your potential total compensation, if housing costs are kept at a reasonable amount, when compared to a permanent job, where all your income is taxed. This is the main reason why “take-home” pay (otherwise known as your after-tax pay, the money that actually goes into your bank account) as a traveler is higher than pay in permanent jobs.

But, maintaining a proper tax home is a little more complicated than just saying you “have” a permanent residence.

The Basics of Maintaining a Tax Home

To be allowed to take the untaxed stipends, per IRS guidelines, you need to be able to demonstrate at least two of the following three criteria:

  1. You must maintain a place of permanent residence and pay expenses there (i.e. rent, own/mortgage, pay bills, pay taxes, etc.) while ALSO paying expenses at your travel location. This is called “duplicating expenses.”
  2. You must not abandon your tax home. Generally speaking, you should return there at least 30 days per year but these days don’t have to be consecutive.
  3. You must still conduct business in the area of your tax home. For example, you have a PRN job there or maintain some type of other business there.

The third criteria is a little vague, as some interpret “conducting business” as having bank accounts and credit cards, car registration and insurance, and voter registration associated with the tax home, not specifically working in the area.

Without meeting at least 2/3 of these requirements, you would be considered an “itinerant worker,” and all of your income will be taxed.

There is nothing wrong with having all of your income taxed, and you may still come out ahead this way as compared with a regular, permanent job. But, we like to keep as much of our money as possible, so qualifying for the tax free stipends is ideal provided that maintaining your tax home isn’t so expensive that it negates the benefit.

To find out more about tax homes and all things about travel taxes, we recommend you check out the website TravelTax.com/traveler.html. (Specifically, scroll down to the section “how to keep a tax home”). This is a wonderful website where we have all learned a significant amount over the years.

What Are Some Strategies to Keeping a Tax Home?

Of course if you already own a home/have a mortgage, or rent an apartment, these can be maintained as your tax home. But this method can be more costly and also more complicated since you may not have someone to look after your place while you’re away. You may be thinking you could rent out your house while you are gone, but this is not advisable unless you specifically state in the lease agreement that you would maintain at least one room in the house as your own and you stay in that room while in the area (at least 30 days per year as mentioned above).

Perhaps a better option is renting a room out from your parents or a friend, which in our opinion is great way to maintain your tax home. Go on Craigslist, see what a comparable room rents for, and pay your family/friend to rent the room in their house. It’s also recommended that you have a contract written and signed. They will have to claim it as income on their tax returns, but they can keep the extra income to help around the home. That is the simplest way, and that is what we have been doing since starting to travel. As mentioned by Joseph Smith at Travel Tax, you ideally would also want to work in this new area for a while before traveling in order to solidify this new area as your tax home.

A more unique strategy that Julia and I are considering doing next year is house hacking for our tax home. House hacking is simply performed by purchasing a multi-unit home (duplex, triplex, quadplex), and renting out the other units, while you live in one unit.  Your tenants can effectively pay your rent and pay down your mortgage at the same time, enabling you to live for free or dramatically reducing your housing costs. You can find more information on house hacking here.

Do you have a different creative way of keeping a tax home? Do you have questions about tax homes? Send us a message and we can chat!

The Ultimate Guide to Getting Started as a Travel Therapist

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Starting Your Travel Therapy Journey

If you are an experienced therapist, you’ve decided to take the leap from a permanent job to a travel job. If you’re a student or a new grad, you’ve determined if travel therapy is the right move for you. Now what?

READ OUR ULTIMATE GUIDE TO GETTING STARTED AS A TRAVEL THERAPIST:

Step 1: Research and find a great recruiter and travel company.

  • Read reviews online and ask around.
  • Reach out to us for our recruiter recommendations!
  • “Interview” a few recruiters, ask them these questions, and find out which ones you like.
  • Find out about the basics of the companies including benefits, reimbursements, and pay packages.
  • Work with 2-3 companies at a time to give yourself the most options for the best jobs.
  • Don’t be afraid to fill out necessary paperwork for a few companies once you’ve decided you like them. This does NOT lock you in to taking a contract with that company. They need this information to be able to submit you quickly to jobs when the time comes (which you definitely want them to be able to do)!

Step 2: Make sure you understand tax homes and have yours squared away.

  • Read our post on tax homes.
  • Don’t skimp on staying within legal guidelines, should you get audited by the IRS!
  • Check out Traveltax.com for the best tax info from tax professionals.

Step 3: Consider in what areas of the country and what settings you would like to work.

  • In many cases, you’ll have a lot of options, and should narrow down your search to a specific state or region, or narrow down by what setting you’d like to work in, or both.
  • Sometimes, you may not have as many options if you’re picky on both setting AND geographical region.
  • For some disciplines during certain times (currently, COTA’s and PTA’s), you may not have as many options across the US, so you’ll have to be less picky to have the best chances of finding a job.

Step 4: Think about how you’re going to tackle housing in each travel location.

Step 5: Consider how you’re going to handle insurance/benefits.

  • Do you need the company provided benefits?
  • Will you get personal insurance through the marketplace?
  • Do you already have benefits from a spouse?

Step 6: Figure out when you can start working.

  • Have an estimated start date in mind.
  • You’ll want to start contacting travel companies/recruiters at least 8 weeks in advance to get the process started with necessary paperwork, and then they can start your job search.

Step 7: Consider getting licensed up front in a couple states.

  • When it’s time to look for jobs, most positions will be “ASAP” start dates from the time you interview. So that normally means 4 weeks or less, which means under most circumstances you’re better off to have license in hand already.
  • Most often, there’s no time to wait for licensing; you’ll lose the job to someone already licensed.
  • Some jobs won’t even accept you for an interview if you’re not licensed in the state.
  • You’re better off to risk eating the cost of an extra license or two to go ahead and have them and make it easier when you’re on the hunt for a job than to risk missing a week or more of work from a delayed license. Your travel company should reimburse you for the cost of your license when you take a contract in that state. Then, you can try to use the other license(s) at a later time.

Step 8: Let your recruiter know about your preferences and start date, and have them start the search for your travel job!

  • Once you’ve done all the aforementioned preparations, it’s time to have them be on the hunt for the right job for you!
  • Keep in mind, many companies may have the same jobs. So it’s best to have them tell you about the potential job and ask you before they submit your profile for consideration. It’s best not to let more than one company submit you for the same job.
  • Weigh your options if you’re presented with a bunch of jobs, because once you’re submitted for a job, things move quickly. If they proceed with an interview, then they’ll want a decision within usually 24-48 hours. This means that you generally won’t have time to tell them to wait while you consider a different job. Choose wisely!

Step 9: Once your recruiter(s) have presented you with some good potential job options:

  • Do some research about the facility and the area.
  • Have a phone interview with the facility.
  • Get an idea of whether you’ll be able to find housing in the area.
  • If they offer you a job, look at the contract offered and consider the pay package, cancellation policy, start and end dates, reimbursements specified, and time off requests.
    • You’re welcome to contact us and we’ll review potential pay packages for you and look for red flags for free!
  • Decide whether to accept the job!

Step 10: Begin your travel therapy journey!

  • Once you have a signed contract, it’s time to start making plans to pack up, move to your assignment location, set up housing, and get ready to start your travel job!

Still have more questions about the process to becoming a traveling therapist? Send us a message and we’d be happy to help you!

Travel Therapy: An Alternative Lifestyle

Written by: Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

An Amazing Adventure

If you had told me in 2015 when I graduated from physical therapy school that at 3 years into my career I would be working only 6 months out of the year, taking a 5 month long trip around the world, with a couple weeks off at home, while barely touching my savings, I certainly would not have believed you! But here I am, doing just that. And I think my life will look a lot like that for the next few years, not just this year.

Making the choice to pursue traveling physical therapy has been life changing for me. And I’m not alone. Many therapists and other healthcare professionals have tapped into this role and aren’t looking back!

How Is This Possible?

Many know that as a traveling therapist, you make more money. How you choose to spend this extra money can dramatically change your lifestyle.

Personally, my boyfriend Jared and I have chosen to live frugally, and for 3 years we worked back to back to back contracts only on the East Coast of the US, minimizing unpaid time off. We have been saving up to take this amazing 5-month trip to over 10 countries in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Between the additional income we’ve been able to earn as traveling physical therapists, making early investments to produce passive income, as well as utilizing credit card rewards and other travel hacks, we have been able to take this trip with only a small impact on our total net worth.

Other travel therapists choose to take time off between contracts to take shorter trips, perhaps a week or so to explore part of the US while they travel from one contract to the next, or a couple weeks here and there to take trips out of the country. This is also a great option and is all possible with the flexibility and extra income that travel therapy provides.

An Alternative Lifestyle

By choosing to be travel therapists and go out of the country for half the year, we have perhaps “given up” some other things that many of our friends at home have, such as having a house, having kids or pets, or being in close proximity to family. We hope to enjoy those parts of life at a later time, but for now we are so happy with the flexibility and endless adventures that our lifestyle choice has afforded us!

Plus, no two travel therapists are alike. We know travel therapists with homes, and children, and pets, who get to see quite a bit of their family. The best part about being a travel therapist is lifestyle flexibility!

The Bottom Line

If you’ve been considering pursuing travel therapy, all I can say is give it a try! The best part about travel therapy is you can do just one 13-week contract and not be tied down to being a traveler forever. If you try it and it doesn’t work out for you, then you can always take, or return to, a permanent position. But, you may just find that an alternative lifestyle is right for you too. It’s been the best choice of our lives, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

Travel therapy may not be for everyone, but if you can make it work for you, it can open the door to financial freedom and unlimited adventure!

If you have questions about starting your travel therapy journey, please reach out to us and we’d be happy to help get you started!

 

Is Travel Therapy Right for You as a New Grad?

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

The Big Debate

So we’ve all heard the varying opinions. You’re a student studying to become a therapist (PT, OT, SLP, PTA, COTA). You’ve heard of this thing called Travel Therapy, that it’s awesome, and that you make more money! So you really want to explore the country, have flexibility, try out different settings, earn more cash, and pay off student loans quicker, right? But then you hear from professors and other therapists that you shouldn’t start out as a traveler right out of school; that you won’t have enough experience and won’t get any mentorship! So what do you do?

Our Experiences

All of us who are part of this site started working as traveling physical therapists right out of the gate as new grads, and none of us regret our decision! For us, this has been the best path and we wouldn’t have it any other way. But, it may not be right for everyone.

Things to Consider

There are a few key factors in determining if you’re cut out for starting as a traveler right out of school:

  • Confidence in your skill set:
    • It was very important for me that I felt confident in my independence as a therapist during my last couple of clinical internships before graduation before I set out to take my first job as a traveler. If you get to your last internship, and you really feel like you need additional mentorship, it may not be right for you to take your first job as a traveler. But, it may not be a complete deal breaker. Keep reading…
  • Sense of adventure:
    • Are you going to feel comfortable moving from place to place and being in a new area all the time? You have to know yourself here.
  • Ability to adapt quickly:
    • This is a big one as a traveler! You are going to have to learn quickly and adapt to a new setting, new coworkers, new patients, new EMR all the time! If you struggled with this during internships, travel therapy might not be right for you.

What to Look For in Your First Contract

If you’re still a little uncertain and want to make sure to have the most success during your first contract, there are several things to make sure to ask for. Going from being a student/intern to an independent practitioner is going to be eye-opening, no matter if it’s a permanent job or a travel job. Of course we all want some mentorship at our first job or two to make sure we are being the best practitioners possible. Who says you can’t find mentorship at a travel job too?

Here are some things to ask about for your first couple of contracts:

  • What other healthcare professionals are at the facility?
    • Is there another person of your same specialty that can help you? This is ideal. For example, as a PT, I really did not feel comfortable being the only PT at my first couple jobs, especially since I knew I would be the only one doing evaluations, progress reports, and discharges, while also overseeing PTA’s. Unfortunately, I did have a couple jobs where I was the only PT. In those situations, it was surprisingly helpful to have knowledgeable and experienced OT’s and SLP’s there. Even though they weren’t from the same discipline, they were able to help me during occasional co-treats and co-evals in the inpatient setting, as well as understanding things like documentation, billing, the EMR, and productivity for the facility. Also, some of the experienced PTA’s helped me with some physical therapy related things. Overall, I was able to find a lot of “informal” mentorship at my first few travel jobs.
  • Is there a mentor available by phone through the travel company?
    • This can be surprisingly helpful, especially for an unbiased opinion. My very first travel contract I had to utilize my travel company’s mentor by phone for some ethical billing and productivity questions I had. It was nice to have an experienced and unbiased PT to talk to.
    • At another contract, the travel company had their clinical liaison contact Jared and I because the facility was expressing concerns about our productivity. This was due to us billing 100% ethically and accounting for all of our time at a very disorganized SNF, which led to our numbers not meeting the facility’s expectations. We were thankful to be able to talk to someone with clinical and managerial background to help diffuse the situation.
  • What are the productivity expectations?
    • As mentioned above, this can become a real issue at a lot of facilities, particularly SNFs. Knowing what the expectations are going into a contract is helpful, as well as being realistic and upfront with the fact you are a new grad. If they’re asking for 90+% productivity at a SNF as an evaluating therapist (PT, OT, SLP), that’s not realistic no matter who you are, especially as a new grad. You need to know your limits and be honest about them, or you’re going to get yourself into some bad situations.

Other Considerations

  • What is mentorship, really?
    • Remember that in today’s times, there is a ton of information available at our fingertips: through the internet, consulting textbooks, or contacting colleagues, professors and former clinical mentors. In my opinion, starting your career as a traveling therapist instead of a permanent therapist isn’t much different clinically as far as building your skills and growing as a clinician. Not all permanent jobs have clearly defined “mentorship” roles either. Mentoring can be found in many ways, shapes and forms.
  • Do No Harm
    • Additionally, I always tell myself when working as a physical therapist, there are only a few life or death situations I might face while in the workplace. For most other things as a clinician, if I can at least get through the evaluation, I can always go look something up or ask someone if I need help thereafter. And in many situations even during an initial evaluation, I can stop and go consult a colleague in the building or look something up quickly. As long as you have a good grasp on what you’re doing (and you should after finishing your rigorous academic and clinical curriculum), and you follow the golden rule Do No Harm, you will be fine!
  • What are you giving up… or putting on hold?
    • Of course there are some other things to consider with travel vs. permanent jobs. In travel therapy, you may not know completely what environment you’re getting yourself into at each new contract, and in most cases you won’t see the facility until your first day of work. This means you have to rely on asking the right questions before your interview.
    • Additionally, you are changing facilities and moving around often, so you will not be growing a patient following or building rapport in your community like you would as a permanent therapist.
    • You may miss out on some of the things that are important to you, like being close to family and friends, buying a house, or starting a family. But then again, you may not have to “give up” these things. There are many therapists that have homes, see their friends and family just as often, or have children and spouses on the road with them. You may still be able to pursue some or all of them while also working as a traveler, or maybe you choose to just put them on hold temporarily while you give traveling a shot.

Bottom Line

One of the most amazing things about being a therapist or therapist’s assistant is the flexibility in career paths. Pursuing travel therapy can lead you down some incredible roads if you so choose.

It’s important to weigh all of your options and determine if travel therapy is the right choice for you straight out of school. If you choose this path, you won’t be the first and you certainly won’t be the last. And the best part is, choosing to take a travel contract only locks you in for +/- 13 weeks, not the rest of your career, unless you want it to!

Feel free to contact us if you want to know more about our journeys as travel physical therapists starting as new grads. We would be happy to mentor you as you consider the path to being a travel therapist too!