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 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

What is Travel Physical Therapy?

Did you know that you can get paid to travel for work as a physical therapist (PT)? In fact, physical therapist’s assistants (PTA), occupational therapists (OT), occupational therapist’s assistants (OTA), and speech language pathologists (SLP) can all get paid to travel!

Maybe you’ve heard of travel therapy (or travel nursing) before, but don’t really understand what it is or how it works. Travel physical therapy (“Travel PT”) and other travel therapy careers are growing in popularity, and for good reason, as it is actually a very accessible and lucrative career path.

Keep reading if you want to learn more about the basic ins and outs of travel physical therapy (and other disciplines!), and how you can get started!

 

What Is Travel Therapy?

Travel therapy is a career option for PTs/PTAs, OTs/OTAs, and SLPs/SLPAs allowing them to work temporary, short-term contracts while moving around to different facilities all over the United States. The length of each contract varies from a few weeks up to a year, but the most typical travel therapy contract length is 13 weeks (3 months). Travel therapists work at facilities that need a temporary employee for various reasons which could include: a temporary medical leave, a seasonal increase in caseload requiring increased staffing, or a short term staffing need while trying to hire a permanent employee.

Why Choose Travel Therapy?

There are many benefits of choosing a career in travel therapy. Financial gain is a major reason many therapists choose to travel, since travel therapists typically earn a higher income than permanent therapists. Another perk of choosing travel therapy is being able to explore new areas of the country and experience new adventures. Therapists can also gain experience in new practice settings, learn new skills, and meet new friends and co-workers. Plus, travel therapy can afford therapists significant lifestyle flexibility, as they can choose to work when they want to and take off from work when they want to. For example, we have been able to work only one or two 13-week contracts per year, while taking 6 months or more off from work each year to travel around the world for leisure!

For more on our domestic and international travel adventures, check out our travel physical therapy blog

How Does Travel Therapy Work?

There are different ways that a therapist can become a traveler, for example by working through a travel staffing company, working as an independent contractor, or working as an internal traveler through a particular medical system. The most common way is working through a staffing company, often referred to as a “travel company.”

Travel therapists, especially new grad travel therapists, often ask, “Which is the best travel company?” The truth is that there are well over 100 different travel companies out there, and they all have their pros and cons. Each travel therapist has their own unique situation and needs that will influence which travel company is best for him/her. Finding the ideal travel company for you can be difficult, but it helps to get individualized recommendations based on your situation.

If you’re wondering which travel company to choose, send us a message and we’ll give you personalized company recommendations based on our experience!

When working through a travel company, the therapist’s primary point of contact is the recruiter. Your recruiter helps you find travel therapy jobs, assists you throughout the process, and is a resource to you during your contract. The individual recruiter you work with can make or break your experience with a particular travel company. It’s vital to find a great recruiter at any company you choose to work with in order to have a successful travel therapy career. You want to search for a recruiter that is personable, trustworthy, attentive, and understanding. Unfortunately there are many recruiters out there that are willing to low ball travel therapists on pay and push therapists into a bad situation just to make money off of them. Be sure to choose wisely and reach out if you need help!

Travel therapists should communicate with more than one company in order to have the most job options, because not all companies have access to the same jobs. This also introduces a bit of healthy competition between recruiters, which discourages low ball pay offers that I mentioned earlier. Since the recruiters are working to get your business and are aware that you have other options, they are much more likely to present the therapist with the highest pay offer possible in order to not lose out to a different recruiter/company. Therapists are free to work with as many companies as they want, and they are only employees of one company during the length of one contract. There are no binding commitments to stay with one company for a certain length of time. Travel staffing companies are simply there to help you through the process and offer positions for you to pursue.

Travel therapists have a choice to take as many or as few contracts as they wish. They can work one 13-week contract, then decide they want to take a permanent job after that, or they can continuously work travel contracts for their entire careers, with short or long breaks between jobs. They also have a choice as to where they would like to go and when they would like to work. However, finding a position depends on the jobs that are available and the timing. Therapists have three major factors to consider when searching for positions: location, setting, and pay. The more flexible therapists are on these factors, the more job options they will have. If they are too particular, for example only willing to work in one setting and in one state, there will be less job options and may lead to extended periods of unwanted time off.

How Much Money Do Travel Physical Therapists Make?

Travel physical therapy salary is a major concern for many prospective travel PTs. This is no surprise with the massive amounts of student loans that many new grad physical therapists begin their career with these days! Travel physical therapists can sometimes make up to double what a permanent physical therapist would make! Similarly, travel OT’s, SLP’s and assistants can make quite a bit more than permanent therapists in these professions.

A typical weekly pay for a Travel PT would be between $1500 to $1800 after taxes. This is the equivalent of a permanent gross salary of over $120,000 in many cases! Some travel physical therapy jobs can pay as high as $2,000/week after taxes, although these jobs are usually on the west coast and in the home health setting. Travel SLPs and Travel OTs make similar weekly take home pay, while assistants can expect to make between $1100-1300 per week after taxes.

Travel therapist pay works a little differently than salary pay. Typically the travel therapist will be paid an hourly rate, plus a stipend for housing, meals and incidentals. The stipend is not taxed, as long as the therapist meets the IRS requirements for maintaining a proper tax home and traveling away from that tax home. Since part of the pay is untaxed, the net amount that the travel therapist keeps is much higher than with a permanent, salaried position. The bottom line is that a travel physical therapist salary, when working consistently throughout the year, is very high, and that is even the case for new grad travel physical therapists!

In What Settings Do Travel Therapists Work?

The most prevalent travel physical therapy jobs are in Skilled Nursing Facilities and home health, followed by outpatient and acute, then schools. Specialty settings such as pediatrics, neuro, and women’s health are less common to see for travel physical therapists. Skilled Nursing and home health are by far the most common for Travel PTA’s and Travel COTA’s. Travel OTs and Travel SLPs most often work in Skilled Nursing, acute, home health, and schools.

Do You Have to Be Licensed in Each State?

When moving to a new state to work as a travel therapist, you must have a license to work in the new state. Traditionally, therapists apply for licensure in each individual state in which they plan to work. Currently, physical therapists in some states are eligible for an an interstate licensure agreement called the “PT Compact” which makes licensing easier between states. Hopefully in the future, all 50 states will participate in this agreement, which would be a huge perk and make life much easier for travel physical therapists! Occupational and speech therapy organizations are in the process of working on this type of compact licensure as well, which would greatly benefit Travel OT’s and Travel SLP’s.

Do Travel Therapists Receive Benefits?

When therapists take travel contracts through a staffing agency, they become employees of the staffing agency, just like the recruiter with whom they’re communicating. During that contract, they are eligible to receive benefits (including health insurance, liability insurance, 401k, etc.) through the staffing company. They would maintain these benefits as long as they are on contract, and the benefits would carry over to the next contract and during short breaks between contracts if the therapist takes the next contract with the same company. If, however, the therapist switches companies, the benefits would change and switch to the new company.

If therapists choose to work as independent contractors, or choose to decline the benefits from the travel company, they would be responsible for maintaining their own benefits. For more information, check out this article explaining how benefits work as a travel therapist.

What About Housing?

There are many options for housing as a travel therapist. The staffing agency can help you set up housing, however it is often better to set up your own housing. If they set up your housing for you, they will not pay you a housing stipend, and your weekly pay would be reduced. If you opt to set up your own housing, they will pay you the tax-free housing stipend, and you are responsible for making your own housing arrangements.

There are a variety of ways to go about searching for short term housing as a travel therapist. Some real estate agencies and apartment complexes allow short term housing arrangements. Therapists can stay in extended stay motels, or many therapists choose to use sites such as Airbnb, VRBO, Furnished Finder, and Craigslist to find short term housing. Some travel therapists choose to stay with friends or family, or search Facebook communities to find housing options using their peer groups. You can also contact the facility where you would be working and ask if they have any housing leads. Others choose to live in an RV and stay at campgrounds, like we did for several years! Finding short term housing as a travel therapist can be a hassle, but there are many options!

Is Travel Therapy Limited to the United States?

The typical travel therapist is licensed to work in the United States and takes contracts within the United States or the US Territories.

Therapists who are trained outside of the US can pursue travel therapy within the US, but there are more regulations and hoops to jump through, so often this is not an easy career path. It is generally recommended that foreign-trained therapists apply for their work visas within the US at a permanent position prior to pursuing travel contract positions.

US-trained therapists who would like to travel for work outside the US will encounter similar challenges. It is possible to arrange short term travel contracts in another country, but it is certainly more challenging and not the norm. US therapists may have more success applying for a work visa in another country and applying directly to a certain facility to work there, rather than searching openings to try to obtain short term contracts.

How Do I Get Started?

If you’re interested in getting started as a travel physical therapist or other travel healthcare professional, check out our guide to starting your travel therapy career to learn what steps to take.

If you’d like our recommendations on travel therapy companies and recruiters that we’ve had a good experience with, fill out this form and we will send you personalized recommendations for your situation!

To learn even more about travel therapy, you can visit the other articles on our Travel Therapy Mentor website, and check out some of our own personal stories on our travel physical therapy blog “Fifth Wheel Physical Therapist.” Feel free to send us a message if you have more questions about pursuing a travel therapy career!

 

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

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