What is a Typical Travel Physical Therapy Salary?

Travel PT Salary Explained

When it comes to travel physical therapy pay (travel PT pay), there is a lot of misinformation and deception out there. There are dozens of different ways that money can be moved around and presented differently in a travel PT pay package to try to make the compensation look better. Understanding a typical permanent physical therapist’s salary and benefits package can be difficult enough, but travel PT pay packages take that to a new level. The big reason for this is that travel physical therapy pay can’t be expressed in a a yearly salary amount due to the nature of the jobs being temporary, short term positions. One traveler may choose to work back to back contracts for the whole year, while others, like us, may choose to just work one or two contracts each year. This will obviously make a massive impact on the amount each travel physical therapists earns each year. Since discussing compensation in terms of travel physical therapist salary doesn’t work, our best solution is to discuss pay in terms of weekly pay.

Now to complicate matters even more, most travel PTs receive tax free stipends for housing, meals, and incidentals (assuming they maintain a tax home) in addition to their hourly taxable pay. That means that even discussing pay in terms of weekly gross or net amounts can be confusing, since part of the money we receive each week is taxed and part of it is not. The best solution for all of this is to discuss all travel PT pay in terms of a weekly “take home pay” amount. This is essentially the net pay amount that the traveler will receive in their bank account each week. To determine this amount, we take the regular hourly taxable amount, multiply by 40 hours (the typical work week), subtract out the estimated taxes on that amount, and then add the stipend (sometimes called per diem) amounts. Since the majority of travel physical therapists and travel therapy recruiters talk about pay in these terms when discussing various travel PT jobs, it’s vital to understand how this all works when first starting out. To see in much more depth how this is calculated and how to find what your tax rate may be on the taxable portion of your travel PT pay, check out this article breaking it all down.

What is Normal for a Travel Physical Therapy Salary?

Now that we understand how travel physical therapy pay works, let’s discuss what you can actually expect to make in those weekly take home pay terms. If you ask a few travel therapists and recruiters what average pay should be for a travel contract, you can almost guarantee you’ll get conflicting answers. The reason for this is that is depends on a number of different factors. These factors include:

  • The location of the travel PT job
  • The setting in which the travel therapist will be working
  • The company and recruiter that the traveler chooses to work through
  • The urgency with which the facility needs to fill the position
  • The reimbursements included in the pay package that are separate from the weekly pay amount

Depending on these factors, over the past several years we’ve seen travel physical therapist pay offers range from $1,300-$2,500/week after taxes! That is a truly massive range, which leads to a lot of confusion for new travelers! You may talk to a current travel PT that tells you that you should never accept a job making less than $2,000/week take home, while another tells you they usually make around $1,500/week take home. To understand why this is, let’s discuss each of the factors mentioned above in more detail and explain exactly how they affect travel PT salary.

Travel PT Job Location

In general, the location of the potential travel PT job usually has the biggest impact on the pay that is offered. Travel jobs in higher cost of living areas tend to pay higher than jobs in lower cost of living areas. Also jobs on the west coast tend to pay higher than jobs on the east coast or in the midwest. In addition, rural jobs (read: less desirable locations) usually pay higher than jobs in cities where more physical therapists want to go. What this all means is that you’re much more likely to see a very high paying travel PT job in California in a high cost of living area or a very rural area than you are in a city on the east coast or in the midwest. As I mentioned earlier, every travel PT jobs is unique, so this isn’t always true but in the majority of cases it holds true.

  Travel PT Job Setting

Just like in the permanent physical therapy world where physical therapy salary is significantly affected by setting, so is the case with travel PT jobs. Interestingly enough, the settings that would typically pay well for a permanent PT aren’t always the ones that pay travel physical therapists well. Whereas for permanent therapists, skilled nursing facilities (SNF) often offer comparatively high pay, for travel therapists SNFs are usually the lowest paying setting. This can leave new travel PTs frustrated when they’re offered low pay for a SNF job that may not even be much higher than it would be for a permanent therapist taking a job in that facility. For travel physical therapists, typically home health pays the highest followed by outpatient and acute care, with SNFs and schools bringing up the rear.

Travel PT Company and Recruiter

There are well over 200 travel therapy companies in existence, so it should be no surprise that some of them pay better than others. In addition, over the years we’ve learned that some recruiters will pay more or less than others even at the same company for a given travel job. This means that when picking a company and recruiter you need to choose wisely! Generally (although not always) smaller companies with lower overhead are able to pay higher than bigger companies that have more buildings to maintain and employees to pay. The flip side though is that the bigger companies almost always have more jobs and better benefits. This makes the choice between big companies and small companies difficult. After all, high pay is wonderful but not if it means getting placed in a job that is a bad fit for you due to the company not having as many options.

***For help finding companies and recruiters that will fit you well, fill out this short questionnaire and we’ll help you out! 

Urgency of the Need of the Travel Job Facility

Every travel job is unique, which means that each job will differ with regards to why a travel PT is needed and how urgently they need the physical therapist. For example, a small outpatient facility that just had their only physical therapist leave will need someone to fill in much more urgently than a large company that just lost one out of their twelve PTs on staff. In the first situation, the facility will likely be willing to pay more to get a PT in there as quickly as possible (our specialty as travelers) so that they can get new evaluations in, whereas the second facility might be fine spreading the caseload out among the other therapists for a few weeks. Some jobs pay higher in a given location and setting just because the need is more urgent.

Reimbursements in the Pay Package

You have to look at each pay package as one big pie. You can cut the pie into two huge pieces or eight small pieces, but in the end it’s still the same amount of pie. For any travel job, there is a total amount that the travel company is able to pay you, and it’s up to you and them how that pay is divided. New travelers not understanding this is why some travel companies will use things like tuition reimbursement, vacation days, and money for CEUs to entice travelers to work with them, but ultimately that money all comes from the same pie. In practical terms, that means that the more reimbursements and perks that you receive in your contract, the lower your weekly take home pay amount will be. Let’s look at an example of this:

  • Contract 1: $1,600/week take home pay x 13 weeks
    • $400 license reimbursement for the cost of getting this new state license
    • $350 beginning and $350 ending travel reimbursement for getting to and from the travel assignment location
    • $300 CEU reimbursement during the contract
  • Contract 2: $1,700/week take home pay x 13 weeks
    • No reimbursements offered for licensing, travel costs, or CEUs

In this example, Contract 2 pays $100/week higher than Contract 1, but when we break all of those reimbursements down into a weekly amount ($400 + $350 + $350 + $300 = $1,400 / 13 weeks = $107/week) the traveler would actually make less in total with Contract 2.

This is the difficulty with discussing only weekly pay and not looking at the whole picture. It’s completely possible (and we’ve seen it often) that the traveler that takes Contract 2 could brag about making $1,700/week after taxes, and the traveler that takes Contract 1 could feel like they are being taken advantage of by their company since they’re only making $1,600/week after taxes, when in reality the total compensation with Contract 1 is better than Contract 2! This is the danger of comparing weekly pay to other travelers sometimes. In addition, one of these contracts could have some intangible benefits that don’t necessarily show up in the weekly pay or reimbursements that the other one doesn’t!

What Does This All Mean for Average Travel PT Salary?

Determining a normal travel physical therapist salary is impossible since, unlike permanent PT positions, travelers may choose to work any number of weeks per year with the time off between contracts being unpaid. This means the best way to compare pay in the travel PT world is in terms of weekly take home pay amounts. When determining what is a normal weekly take home amount, we have to take in to account a variety of factors that have a significant impact on the pay amount. The location, setting, urgency, reimbursement amounts, and the travel company that a particular travel job is through all have a big impact on weekly pay.

It’s very difficult to make an apples to apples comparison in pay between travel PT jobs and with other travelers since every travel company and contract is unique. Don’t be fooled by travel companies offering high weekly pay but no reimbursements and poor benefits because when you consider the total compensation package you may actually make more with a recruiter offering less pay weekly. Take the whole pay package and the company benefits into account each time!

If after reading all of this, you still want a general range as to what you can expect to earn as a travel physical therapist (I hear you, I searched far and wide before we started traveling 4.5 years ago), here’s a general guideline I can give you:

  • East Coast and Midwest: $1,500-$1,900/week after taxes
  • West Coast: $1,700-$2,100/week after taxes

Where you can expect to fall within that range will depend on the factors above, but the majority of jobs are going to be within these amounts. Any job offers paying less than this are probably not worth considering. You can certainly make more than this sometimes as well in certain circumstances!

Travel therapy can be confusing and intimidating when first starting out. We’re doing our best to help travelers become as knowledgeable as possible to avoid being taken advantage of by marketing gimmicks and smooth talking recruiters. If you would like help finding a few recruiters and companies that we like and trust then, feel free to reach out and we can help you. If you have any questions or suggestions, then contact us!

 

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

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Jared has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015 and is co-founder of Travel Therapy Mentor. He travels with his girlfriend, fellow physical therapist, and Travel Therapy Mentor partner, Whitney.

Avoiding Bad Job Environments as a Travel Therapist

Combating the Stereotype

We often hear this idea from current therapists and students that travel therapists are expected to go into bad environments in their travel jobs. Have you heard this before? That all travel jobs are terrible clinics and work environments, and that “there’s a reason they need travelers”?

The thought process follows these lines: Since travelers make more money, then they should expect that the clinics they go into won’t be as good, or that the situation in the clinic will probably be less than ideal. A similar myth that is frequently told is that travel therapists are worked harder and given more difficult patients than the permanent staff at a facility. While there are certainly cases where these things are true, this has not at all been our experience as travel physical therapists over the past 4.5 years.

When we started traveling as new grad PTs in 2015, we heard all of these same stories and were warned to avoid traveling as new grads; but despite these warnings, we were confident in the path we had chosen. Now, years later, we couldn’t be happier that we made that decision. The vast majority of our contracts have been in clinics that we really enjoyed and have considered going back to in the future. Based on our experience interacting with well over a thousand other travel therapists over the years, we believe that travelers that get into those toxic situations have often not done their research or asked the right questions. We want to change this stereotype and give current and future travel therapists the tools to advocate for themselves and avoid those bad job environments!

Do Your Research

If you’ve read any of my prior articles here or any of my financial articles on FifthWheelPT, it’s probably pretty apparent that I thoroughly research things before making a decision. There are times when this is either good or bad, but in terms of our travel PT careers, this has certainly been a blessing. Before we had ever even graduated from PT school, I had already spent a lot of time researching about travel physical therapy to go into it as informed as I could possibly be. This included the basics, but also things like learning what a reasonable travel PT salary would be, what questions to ask during an interview with a facility, learning how to find a good recruiter and why it’s vital to work with more than one, learning how to solidify a tax home, and how best to approach getting licensed and finding jobs.

Researching these things may seem like common sense to some of you, but after conversations with many travelers in bad situations, I can assure you that it isn’t. In fact, it seems that a large proportion of travel therapists get all of their information from a single recruiter. This is a recipe for disaster, since often recruiters are trying to fill jobs as quickly as possible and not necessarily trying to find a job that is the best fit for the traveler. It may sound like they have your best interest in mind, and the good ones certainly do, but that’s not always the case. It’s extremely important to be informed and to get your information from sources that are as unbiased as possible.

Avoiding Bad Situations

We’ve talked to a number of travel PTs working in outpatient settings that have completely absurd schedules. One in particular we’ve talked to was having patients frequently triple booked throughout the day. That is not only very poor patient care, but also an extremely stressful environment for the therapist. This doesn’t just happen in outpatient though. In skilled nursing, I’ve heard of evaluating therapists that are expected to achieve 95%+ productivity. How?! Other settings can have equally ridiculous situations, but it doesn’t seem to be as common. The important thing to know is that these situations can be avoided, and we’ve had no issue finding good fitting assignments without unrealistic or unethical expectations.

The first step to finding a good clinic that fits you well as a traveler is having all the available options presented to you. This is where working with more than one company/recruiter comes into play. Many travel companies have contracts that are exclusive, meaning that no other travel company has access to those jobs. That’s important to know, because a certain travel company may have a perfect job for you in a great location, but if you aren’t actively job searching with them then you’d never even know it exists. While it’s unreasonable to try to work with a dozen or more companies, talking to 3-4 is reasonable and will ensure that you have an increased number of jobs available to you. On the other hand, many travelers that have a bad experience are working with only one recruiter and are likely only presented with a couple of different job options, and they’re told that if they don’t take one of those then they will probably have to go without work for a while. In some cases depending on your needs and preferences, that may be true, but often those are just the jobs that the recruiter needs to fill most quickly, or might be the only ones that company has, and that is why you’re being presented with only those few.

Once you are presented with a job (or several) that sounds like a good fit for you, then the next critical step is the phone interview with the manager/rehab director. Phone interviews can be intimidating, but they are usually pretty laid back with minimal or no difficult questions like you might receive during a perm job interview. The important thing during the interview is to go into it with a list of questions that YOU need answered prior to determining if the job will work for you. Sometimes the interviewing manager will be trying to get a traveler in the position as quickly as possible, in which case it may turn into you interviewing the manager more than them interviewing you for the position. If you don’t ask the right questions, then you can easily accept a job and really have no idea what you’ll be walking into. This is where you’ll ask about things like productivity, other staff on site, documentation systems, schedule, and job expectations. At this point in our careers, if double booking is expected in the outpatient travel PT job we’re interviewing for, then we’re out. Plus a few other red flags we look out for during the interview, such as PT/PTA ratio, being the only PT (in some cases), and being expected to “take your laptop home to document” (off the clock).

What if the Job Isn’t What You Expected?

Even when you go into an interview as prepared as possible, you’ve done your research, and you ask all the right questions, it’s possible that you get to the clinic and the job isn’t what you were told it would be. This is pretty rare in our experience, because clinics don’t want to waste time training someone for them to just turn around and leave/quit early, but it does happen. This is the situation that the cancellation policy in your travel contract is for. It’s always best to inform your recruiter of the issues you’re having and to do your best to work out a compromise with the clinic director/manager that works for everyone if things aren’t going as expected; but if that isn’t possible, then there’s no shame in ending your contract early and finding something that fits you better, especially if you’re being faced with illegal or unethical situations. Putting in your cancellation notice isn’t something that should be taken lightly because the facility and the travel company will both likely be upset, but if it’s between you leaving early or staying at a job that you’re miserable in (or potentially breaking laws/ethics), then put in your notice!

Don’t Fear Traveling

Bad situations certainly come up as a travel therapist, but if you’re an informed traveler and do your best to ensure that each contract fits you well, then it should be no more common than bad situations at permanent jobs.

The keys to avoiding bad job situations as a traveler are:

  • do your research on travel therapy and the process beforehand
  • allow yourself the largest number of job options possible by working with multiple companies
  • ask the right questions and listen for inconsistencies when interviewing for a travel position

If you do those things then you’ll be well on your way to having a successful and prosperous travel career while avoiding the bad job environments!

If you need help getting started with travel therapy then check out the articles I linked to in this post as well as our Facebook Live videos covering many common questions we get. If you need help finding recruiters you can trust with good companies, fill out this short questionnaire and we’ll do our best to match you with a few great recruiters and companies that should work well for you!

 

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

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