Getting Started as a Travel Therapist
For those who are just getting started and looking into becoming a travel therapist, they often wonder how to find travel therapy jobs. The process can be pretty straightforward and easy sometimes. But, depending on your preferences, the process might look a little different and might be a little more challenging. Here I’ll outline how the process works and some routes you can take to best find the travel jobs that are right for you.
Working with Travel Therapy Agencies
The easiest way to find travel therapy jobs is by working with a travel therapy agency/company. There are hundreds of companies out there, and most of them will have access to many of the same jobs. However, each company may have individual connections with certain facilities or in certain areas of the country, allowing them to have some jobs that are different from other companies. Many jobs are offered through a “Vendor Management System” or VMS, which is a central database that lists jobs in a standardized format. Some larger companies may get “first dibs” to these jobs, then if they are not filled within a certain time frame, the jobs will be opened up to other companies.
It’s generally best to work with two to three different travel therapy companies at a time so that you can keep your options open for the best choices of job listings. You will find a lot of overlap in the jobs available, but sometimes there will be outliers. In addition, each company may be able to offer you a different pay package for the same job, based on the amount of overhead and other costs that the company must incur. You can better understand these pay differences by reading about how pay works as a travel therapist and what a travel therapy contract bill rate is.
By “working with” a few companies, this just means you are in communication with a few recruiters at different companies, and you’re having the recruiters search for jobs for you. They will probably have you fill out some paperwork for them so that they can build a traveler profile for you in order to submit you for jobs. By doing this with a few companies, you have not committed yourself to be an employee of that company. You are only an employee of that company once you have accepted a travel position with them and have signed a contract to work at a facility. Otherwise, you can be in communication with as many companies as you want and have profiles with all of them, but not be committed. While you can work with an endless number of companies, we feel about 2-3 is usually enough since more than 3 can start to become a headache when trying to communicate with each recruiter, and you likely won’t get much additional benefit from working with more than 3. To learn more about how and why to work with multiple agencies, check out this article.
The Process of Finding Jobs with Travel Agencies
Once you’re in communication with one or a few travel companies, you need to make some decisions regarding your preferences. You have to decide about where you’d like to work, in what setting(s), when you can start, and how much money you’re looking to earn.
Based on your preferences, when working with a travel agency, the recruiter will notify you of jobs they have available. Sometimes they will be able to provide you a lot of details about a job upfront, sometimes not, depending what information is available to them. If they present you with a job, and you like it, they can “submit” your application/profile to that job for consideration.
Here are the things you need to consider when communicating with a recruiter and being considered for job submissions:
Location: Are you most concerned with the state you’re in, the region of the country, or a certain city? You usually need to already be licensed in a particular state before you are submitted for any jobs there, so you need to plan ahead. However, sometimes job listings will be posted far enough in advance to have time to get licensed in a particular state, if it is a short licensing process. Work with your recruiter and the state’s licensing agency to better understand how long licenses usually take for each state. This can be a tricky game of limbo, and in general we recommend being licensed in a state before allowing travel companies to submit your application for jobs there. Often, therapists will choose to be licensed in more than one state to allow them more flexibility with job options. If you are a PT or PTA and your home state is part of the “PT Compact” then you are in luck regarding your job options. Other disciplines may have the state compact licensure option in the future but not currently.
Setting: You need to let your recruiter know what your preferred setting(s) are, which ones you would consider, and which ones are a definite “no” for you. For example, you’d prefer inpatient acute, would consider SNF, but definitely could not do outpatient. Depending on your other preferences, including location, start date, and desired pay, you may have to be more flexible on setting. But for some therapists, setting is the most important, and the other factors are more flexible.
Start Date: You need to have a start date in mind and let your recruiter(s) know. Usually jobs are posted with “ASAP” start dates, which generally gives you up to about 4 weeks depending if the facility can wait and if another clinician interviews and could start earlier. Sometimes jobs will be posted with a specific start date in mind, usually no more than 2-6 weeks out. Rarely, you’ll see jobs that they know will be available 2-6 months in advance (for example if there is a planned maternity leave). But for the most part, when you’re about 4-6 weeks out from your desired start date is when you’ll start seeing jobs posted for that time frame.
Pay: You need to have an idea of your desired weekly pay. For example, many physical therapists will look for jobs somewhere around $1500-1700/week “take home pay.” This can vary highly across different regions, settings, and disciplines. You also need to take into account the weekly pay amount vs. the cost of living in a certain area. $1500/week is going to mean a lot more money in your pocket in rural Virginia vs. coastal California. Usually letting your recruiter know what a “minimum” pay would be for you will help them narrow down job options and avoid submitting you to jobs that are very low paying. However, some therapists will recommend you don’t give the recruiter a minimum pay number, because hopefully the recruiters will offer you the highest pay available for each position based on the bill rate, and not “low ball” you based on knowing you’ll accept a lower number. Again, this part can be a bit tricky and why it’s vital to have a recruiter that you get along well with and trust to not take advantage of you.
Once you’ve let the recruiter(s) know about your preferences, they will start the job search for you. They will notify you of a potential position, and ask if you would like to be submitted. You should avoid giving permission for the recruiters to “blind submit” you to any jobs. They should ask your approval first, to ensure that it is truly a job you’re interested in, so as not to waste your time, their time, or the facility’s time. In addition, you want to avoid being “double submitted,” or submitted to the same job by two different companies. If two companies present the same job to you, you can decide who you would like to submit you based on the pay package each company presents and the benefits they’re able to offer. If you do end up accidentally getting double submitted, it’s not the end of the world, and normally the facility will give you the choice of which company you’d like to take a contract through if offered the position, but it’s best to avoid if possible.
In addition to the recruiters searching for jobs for you, you may also be able to monitor their websites or search online for jobs, then ask the recruiter about those jobs. But generally speaking, the job listings on the travel company websites are usually not the most up to date, and the recruiter can let you know about the most up to date listings a lot quicker.
Finding Jobs on Your Own as an Independent Contractor
For most therapists, working with a travel company is going to be the easiest for finding travel therapy jobs and setting up contracts and benefits. However, some therapists choose to search for jobs on their own and set up their own contracts.
The perks to this may be that you can make more money by “cutting out the middle man” and you may be able to find some jobs that are not open to the travel therapy agencies. But do keep in mind that you will also lose out on company benefits such as health insurance, which will usually be a lot cheaper since the company gets a group rate. By opting for your own health insurance, you may have higher out of pocket costs, which should be accounted for in your bottom line. You also wouldn’t be able to contribute to a company 401k plan, although you may choose to set up your own solo 401k as an independent contractor, but there will undoubtedly be more work involved.
If you are able to find your own position by searching job listings online or by “cold calling” facilities, you may be able to negotiate a higher rate and negotiate your own contract terms. Sometimes this may be in the form of a 1099 contract employee or as a direct hire employee of the facility, but with a mutual understanding you may only be there a short time. In general, we don’t feel that independent contracting is the best route for most therapists though. You can learn more about why that is here.
Generally the easiest way to find travel therapy jobs is by working with one or more (preferably 2-3) travel therapy companies and having them search for jobs for you. Be sure to work with highly regarded recruiters/companies in order to avoid falling prey to being low-balled with pay offers. Determine which aspects of travel jobs are most important to you between pay, location, and setting. You can occasionally get a great job that has your preference for all three, but usually you’ll have to settle on 1-2 of these so it’s important to determine what is most important ahead of time. You may also be able to find jobs on your own by doing online searches and cold calling facilities.
I hope that this information has helped you to better understand the process of finding travel therapy contracts. If you have more questions or would like our recommendations for which travel companies we work with, please reach out to us!
Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC