Lessons Learned From Starting a Travel Physical Therapy Blog

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

Deciding to Start a Travel Physical Therapy Blog

It has now been well over three years since I first started my travel physical therapy blog, FifthWheelPT in 2016. I was very nervous and hesitant to put my writing out in the world in the beginning, especially since I’d always felt that I was a poor writer. It turns out that I was right about being a poor writer, and even with Whitney’s editing help, it still pains me to go back and read the first dozen or so articles on the website. My writing was bad not because I didn’t have adequate knowledge, but because I had very little practice writing because I had always avoided it. Creating a blog was way outside of my comfort zone. After all of this time, I can confidently say that starting to write was a really great decision for me, and I don’t think that I’d be in nearly the situation I am now both professionally and personally if I’d never taken the leap.

Originally I had only two goals with the blog: first, to chronicle our adventures as travel physical therapists, and second to educate others on how to become a traveling physical therapist like Whitney and I had both chosen to do as new grads. When starting a travel physical therapy blog (or any travel therapy discipline), it’s impossible to know what the future may hold for you, and it’s important to understand that the blog will likely change as you do. Everyone’s path is different, and it’s inevitable that our interests and passions change over time. Some jump into a travel therapy career and only take a couple of travel assignments before settling down at a permanent job. Others, like Whitney and I, fall in love with the adventure, freedom, and flexibility of travel therapy; and now, we have no plans to settle down anytime soon. I’d be lying if I didn’t also mention that the higher travel physical therapy salary didn’t have something to do with our decision as well!

Over the years my goals with the travel therapy blog changed and evolved just like my interests. I soon decided that the blog could be a place to not only talk about travel physical therapy, but also a great medium to educate others on financial literacy. I quickly began writing educational content regarding finances with information that I had aggregated over hundreds of hours of research, as well as tracking my own journey to financial independence as a traveling physical therapist. Over time that became the main focus of the website, despite it not even originally being on my radar when starting out. With such a variety of content we wanted to put out on the blog, from our personal travels, to financial information, to education on the ins and outs of travel therapy itself, the blog felt a little all over the place. That opened the door to create a separate website (this one) and put more of the travel therapy related educational content here at TravelTherapyMentor.com, while reserving the original site for finances and our domestic and international travels!

The Benefits of Starting a Travel Physical Therapy Blog

Starting the blog not only pushed me outside my comfort zone but also forced me to further my knowledge on a variety of topics. I would often come up with an idea for an article and then subsequently spend many hours researching that topic to make sure that I was as knowledgeable as possible on the subject. My first deep foray into taxes was a result of an article that I wrote on travel therapy salary and stipends. That sparked an interest in taxes that led to many future articles as well as saved me thousands of dollars by optimizing my own tax situation. Taxes are a subject that I doubt I would have ever seriously delved into if it wasn’t for researching for that article. Besides taxes, there have been many other areas that I have become much more competent in while doing research for articles. Some of those include: learning about the best travel therapy companies, learning about the array of health insurance options available and which ones may be the best choices for travel therapists, learning whether pursuing travel therapy as an independent contractor is a viable option, and learning about travel therapy bill rates in depth. All of these things not only made the articles I was writing more informative but also directly benefited me as a travel physical therapist as well.

Another big advantage to starting a travel physical therapy blog is being able to reflect on our past adventures. Whitney and I have written about every one of our travel assignments, weekend trips, changes in our lives, and our international travels on the blog. Going back now and rereading those old articles brings back incredible memories that we’ll cherish forever!

In addition to all this, networking with others in the travel therapy and personal finance world as a result of having the travel physical therapy blog has changed my life significantly. I’ve made connections and formed friendships with other bloggers and creators that I would have never had the opportunity to interact with otherwise. After well over a dozen guest posts and podcast interviews over the last couple of years, I’ve learned that networking is important for both the success of my website and for creating new friendships online that lead into the real world.

The Downside of Starting a Travel Physical Therapy Blog

With the good, there is always some bad as well, and starting a website is no different. The biggest disadvantage for me has been related to the time required to not only create content but also to market it. Social media marketing and networking became a significant portion of my life, to a nearly unhealthy degree at times and is still something that I struggle with today. I naively thought that since writing an article generally only takes me a couple hours that a blog would be a relatively small time commitment. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

In the beginning I had absolutely no idea how to start a blog or website. I Googled, “how to start a blog” and that’s where the work began. Creating and designing the website, researching articles, creating content, marketing, answering questions, and responding to comments and emails all take time. And in some cases, A LOT of time. As the blog, and this website, grow- so does the time required to keep up with all of the above.

Biggest Lessons Learned from My Travel Physical Therapy Blog

  1. Don’t start a website with a primary goal of making money.After some initial success and positive response from some of my articles, I began to consider whether my blog could eventually be profitable. I’ve written about the income that my blog generates a few times in the past, and this always leads to questions from readers regarding if they should create a blog as well to make extra money. My answer is always an emphatic no! Accounting for all of the time put into the tasks mentioned above, my hourly earnings for the first 2+ years of the blog would have been less than $1. Financially, I would be much better off if I had spent my time working PRN jobs as a physical therapist or even driving for Uber. Write because you enjoy it, want to share your story, or because you want to motivate others, and if you end up making some money from it, then wonderful, but if not then you won’t be disappointed!
  2. Expect that it will take a long time for your articles to start getting traction and to build any sort of following.Over the years I’ve watched many other bloggers in the physical therapy, travel therapy, and personal finance world come and go. The reason is usually two fold. First, they underestimate the time involved in creating content and maintaining the blog. Second, they are discouraged by the small number of views and engagement that their articles get. I sincerely understand both of these reasons and have grappled with them many times over the years as well. It can take a disheartening amount of time and effort to ever grow to a level that you feel like you’re actually making a difference. The most important factor to creating a successful blog, whether monetary or impactful, is persistence. Stick with it!
  3. Motivation comes in waves.There are times that I get really fired up and motivated to write, and then there are times where I don’t feel like writing for days or weeks at a time. Initially, I thought this was something I was doing wrong or something wrong with me, but over time I’ve figured out that this is normal. Take advantage of the times when you’re motivated to write to get ahead to make up for the times when your motivation drops off!
  4. Let your blog change with you over time, and don’t feel pressured to only write about one specific area.People usually read and follow a blog because they resonate with the writer and their story. As you change over time, let that be reflected in your writing and the topics you choose. Writing and reading about the same topic for years gets old no matter how interesting that topic is in the beginning.

Conclusion

If you’re considering starting a travel physical therapy blog or any other blog for that matter, go for it! But make sure it’s for the right reasons, and go into it informed about the time it will take. Use the blog as a way to develop your writing ability, thoughts, and to further your knowledge on various topics. Do your best to research topics thoroughly, because not only does that make the articles better, but you can also reap the rewards of that new knowledge. Network with other content creators and find community in the beginning in order to get through the early stages when it can feel like your efforts are wasted due to minimal readers. Let your blog content grow with you over time, and don’t be afraid to write about topics that are not generally the norm for your website if it’s something that interests you. Getting my thoughts down on “paper” has led to many positive benefits in my life, and who knows what it will lead to in the future!

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

Whitney Eakin headshot

Travel Therapists on the Road to Financial Independence (Guest Post for APTA National Student Conclave)

This year we will be presenting at the American Physical Therapy Association’s (APTA) National Student Conclave (NSC), October 31-November 1 in Albuquerque, NM.

NSC is a conference for physical therapy students across the country, filled with educational sessions, networking opportunities, and fun activities too!

During our presentation, we will be educating future Doctors of Physical Therapy (DPTs) and Physical Therapist’s Assistants (PTAs) on the ins and outs of travel therapy, as well as how pursuing travel therapy can help set them up for future financial success.

Below is an article we wrote for the APTA blog “The Pulse” as a preview to our session at NSC. You can see the original post here on the APTA Website.


Have you ever wanted to travel the country and get paid to do it? Us too.

Luckily with travel physical therapy, this dream can be a reality.

Discovering travel therapy during our first year of physical therapy school changed our whole life and career trajectory. At first, it seemed like an exciting and prudent thing to do for a few years. We would try out a few different settings, explore the United States (US), and save up enough money to pay off our loans. Then, we would move back home and settle down, starting permanent jobs only a few years after graduation.

But then we had a better idea. Why stop traveling when we truly love the lifestyle it’s allowed us to create?

It’s been over 4 years since we started our journey as travel physical therapists (PTs), and we don’t intend to stop anytime soon.

We’ve been able to create a lifestyle of flexibility that allows us to work in a variety of settings and states, while earning a high income (sometimes twice as much as the permanent PTs working in the same facilities), and taking off as much time as we want and can afford due to our moderate lifestyle to travel both domestically and internationally, as well as spend time at home with our families. We’ve taken full advantage of this flexibility thus far and have no regrets!

Since becoming PTs in 2015, we’ve had some amazing adventures inside and outside the clinic.

We’ve been able to travel to over half of the 50 states, with that number growing even more later this year with a couple of road trips, as well as over 30 countries—for fun, not for work.

We’ve grown professionally and personally by working in several different clinics across the US and meeting some amazing people along the way. This includes trying multiple settings in order to find where our passion, as PTs, truly lies.

And to top it off, we’ve been able to set ourselves up for financial success by contributing heavily toward retirement and investment accounts early in our careers. Many of the PTs we’ve communicated with over the years seem to really struggle with this.

Are you interested in having your cake and eating it too, even if it’s just for 13 weeks or a couple of years? Do you want to learn how you can have amazing adventures, earn higher income, meet new people, pay off your student loans more quickly, explore the country (maybe even the world), all while honing your skills and experiences as a PT?

Then we encourage you to join us this year at the American Physical Therapy Association’s National Student Conclave in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to learn more about the world of travel therapy and how it can help you achieve your personal, professional, and financial goals after graduation!

In the meantime, you can browse our social media pages to see some of our adventures around the world, including our recent 15-week trip to Europe and our 2-week road trip across the US!

Join us October 31 – November 2, 2019 at APTA’s National Student Conclave — the only conference for students, by students. For the best rates register by September 25, 2019.

Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC, and Jared Casazza, PT, DPT, run the website TravelTherapyMentor.com. Connect with them on their blogInstagram, and Facebook.

Should You Pursue Travel Therapy as an Independent Contractor?

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT


“Couldn’t I just cut out the middle man and negotiate my own contracts?”

Have you ever thought about this before? Have you considered trying to set up your own travel therapy contracts instead of working through a travel agency? If so, you’re not alone.

Whether to take travel therapy contracts through a travel company or to work as an independent contractor through a business entity as a 1099 employee is a question we’ve received quite often. This is a very valid question, considering we all know that travel companies keep a percentage (sometimes a significant amount) of the bill rate that the facility pays the travel company.

If you’re completely unfamiliar with bill rates, then this article should give you baseline knowledge to better understand the calculations that I’ll go through to compare taking jobs through a travel company or as an independent contractor.

Financially, on the surface the answer seems obvious, but upon investigation it gets much more complex as to which choice is more lucrative. Since I’m a finance nerd and all for optimizing income, I initially planned to eventually go this route myself, cutting out the middle man so to speak in order to keep more of the hard earned travel pay. I dug deep into the tax laws and ran calculations to see just how much more I would actually be able to make as an independent contractor instead of taking jobs though a travel company.

What I found surprised me and made me decide it wasn’t worth the hassle, and since then Whitney and I have continued to take travel contracts through travel companies. Let’s explore how I came to this decision and help give you some food for thought as to whether this is a possible option for you, complete with plenty of math! 🙂

Pros and Cons of working as an Independent Contractor on Travel Assignments

The main benefit of working as an independent contractor, and the reason that just about everyone that goes this route decides to do it, is to keep the entire bill rate like I mentioned above and make more money! Instead of the travel company keeping 20-25% of the bill rate, you get to keep it all! What’s not to like about that?

The downsides will vary from person to person, but generally include: establishing a business entity (most people seem to prefer an LLC for this to reduce potential personal liability), more hassle finding assignments (you have to do this all on your own of course), writing your own contracts or being able to understand the ins and outs of contracts written by the facility, being responsible for getting your own health insurance, being responsible for getting your own liability insurance, having to pay self-employment tax on income, and having no one to advocate for you. Let’s explore each of these downsides individually.

  • Establishing a business entity: For this, it is best to consult a professional for advice on which business entity would be best for your situation. As much as I hate spending extra money, if I was going to go the independent contracting route this is an area where I wouldn’t cut corners. Being sure that you’re doing everything by the book is not only the best way to avoid future issues, but will also help you sleep better at night.
  • More hassle finding assignments: When working with a recruiter, you will be presented with potential jobs options from their clients (facilities) with current therapist needs. As an independent contractor, you have to do all of this on your own which usually involves “cold calling” clinics in the area that you’re looking for a job, or looking at permanent position job openings in the area and reaching out to them to see if they would consider a traveler. This is going to be more time consuming than having the jobs presented to you by a recruiter. In addition, some facilities that need travelers often choose to work with only one specific travel company to help streamline the process, which means those jobs might not be available to you even if you contact them directly and are a good fit.
  • Writing your own contracts: When you find a facility that is willing to hire you as a traveler, you’ll either need to write your own contract to have them sign or possibly sign a contract that the facility has. This is an area where you want to be careful since legal contracts can have very specific wording, and it’s easy to miss something if you don’t pay attention. As an upside, this would probably only be an issue for the first couple of contracts as an independent contractor since you’ll almost certainly become more proficient with writing and reading contracts over time.
  • Being responsible for your own health, dental, and vision insurance: This is a big one. As an independent contractor your yearly pay will almost certainly be high enough to disqualify you for ACA tax credits, which means you’ll be responsible for the full premium amount if you get health insurance through the marketplace. The travel company pays for a portion of the usual premium for us, which is why the company sponsored plans are so much cheaper than plans through the marketplace.
  • Being responsible for your own liability insurance: This is a relatively minor cost but not something to overlook. Travel companies provide liability insurance for their travelers, but if you are working as an independent contractor then you’ll have to get this on your own. In general this shouldn’t cost more than a few hundred dollars per year.
  • Paying self-employment tax on income: This is another big one! Self-employment tax is the money paid toward Medicare and Social Security on your behalf. This amounts to 15.3% of your income right off the top, and you can’t avoid it even with retirement account contributions! When working as an employee through a travel company, they would pay for half of this tax on your behalf with you only paying 7.65% (denoted as FICA taxes on your pay stub), but when working as an independent contractor you’re responsible for the whole shebang. For more detail on this tax, check out this link.
  • Having no advocate: Your recruiter (as long as they are good) is a lifeline for you while on assignment. If you have issues with a facility, then they can be the one to have the tough talks with the facility regarding fixing things if you aren’t comfortable doing that. If a contract goes exactly according to plan, then this may not be important at all, but if you end up at a facility where things aren’t ideal then this could prove to be very valuable and significantly reduce your headache.

Yeah, Yeah… But More Money!

I hear you! Despite all the “cons” mentioned above, I was ready to accept all of that and still work as an independent contractor if it meant an extra few hundred dollars per week, and this may be what you’re thinking as well.

However, I was very disappointed to find out that for my and Whitney’s situation, the financial benefit was actually very little or even nonexistent in some cases!

How can that be if the travel company isn’t keeping 20-25% of the bill rate? That’s where the math comes in.

Before we jump into the calculations though, let me explain how that 20-25% extra can quickly evaporate.

  • Stipends (Per Diems): First I want to make it clear here that I’m not a tax professional. The information below is just my understanding of the tax laws as I’ve read them and from what I’ve learned from consulting with tax professionals. Always consult with a professional before making a decision based on what is written here! TravelTax is a wonderful resource for more information. With that being said. The big thing that makes being a travel therapist so lucrative are the stipends for those travelers who meet the requirements for maintaining a proper tax home (the vast majority). The biggest portion of those stipends is almost always for housing. On average our housing stipend has been in the $600-$700/week range while traveling depending on the location. When working through a travel company, this amount can be received even if your actual travel housing doesn’t cost doesn’t equal the full amount. While working as an independent contractor, even though you can write off your housing expense, it can only be for the actual cost of the housing incurred. What that means is that if you find low cost housing at your travel assignment, you’ll only be able to deduct the actual cost of the housing instead of being able to receive the much larger housing stipend that you would when working through a travel company. This is the single biggest reason why working as an independent contractor doesn’t make sense for Whitney and me. The most expensive housing that we’ve had to date on an assignment was $900/month, with the average being closer to $650/month. Divided between the two of us, we’d only be able to write off an average of $325/month each for those housing costs if we worked as independent contractors versus the $600-$700/week ($2,500-$3,000/month) that we each get when working through a travel company. Luckily, the full meal and incidental stipends would still apply to independent contractors just like they do for travelers working through a travel company, so no difference there. But, depending on your average cost of housing on assignment, missing that full housing stipend can be huge as we’ll see in the calculations later.
  • Self-Employment tax: As mentioned above, this amounts to an additional 7.65% of income paid off the top in taxes when working as an independent contractor compared to when working through a travel company. This becomes even more significant than it appears at first glance due to the higher taxable pay as an independent contractor.
  • Health insurance: Paying the full marketplace premium for insurance is going to be much more expensive than the insurance offered through a travel company in almost all cases. For example, on my last contract my health, dental, and vision insurance premiums through the travel company we used cost me $24/week. For comparable coverage purchased through the marketplace, I would have to pay about $120/week. That’s over $400/month more for insurance when working as an independent contractor!

Onto the Numbers

Now that we see some of the reasons why the pay actually received as an independent contractor may not be as high we initially anticipated, let’s do some calculations to see if the actual difference would be worth the other “cons” mentioned above.

I’m going to use my situation on my most recent contract as an example, but keep in mind that this will differ for everyone depending on your own variables. I don’t know what the actual bill rate for that contract was since this is usually not disclosed by the travel company, but I’ll go through two examples using a $60/hour and a $65/hour bill rate which seem to be pretty typical on the east coast in our experience. I’ll also use 25% as the travel company margin, which would typically be on the high end but it depends on the specific company and contract.

The Scenario: 30 year old male, working 40 hours per week, for 48 weeks per year, with both the contract state and the home state being Virginia, working in Fredericksburg. Housing cost of $800/month, split with Whitney ($400/month each).

Working through a travel company taking 25% margin from $60/hour bill rate

$60/hour bill rate – 25% margin = $45/hour total compensation to traveler

  • $20/hour taxable ($800/week gross)
  • $25/hour nontaxable ($1,000/week broken down into $385/week for meals and incidentals stipend and $615/week for housing stipend)

Total yearly taxable pay based on 48 weeks per year worked: $38,500

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $7,665

Total yearly (taxable hourly pay only) after taxes: $30,835

$30,835/48 weeks = $642 taxable per week after taxes

+ $1,000 per week stipends (untaxed)

=$1,642/week take home after taxes

– $24/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,618/week take home pay after insurance premiums

Working as an independent contractor making $60/hour bill rate

$60/hour bill rate (all taxable) * 40 hours  per week * 48 weeks per year = $115,200 total pay received (before taxes)

Meals and incidentals: $385/week tax deduction

Housing: $400/month rent tax deduction (actual expense incurred)

$115,200 – ($385 * 48 weeks) – ($400 * 11 months) – ($5,760 insurance premiums for 11 months) = $86,560 after deductions

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $30,080 (of which $13,244 is self-employment tax)

Total yearly after taxes: $115,200 – $30,080 = $85,120

$85,120 / 48 weeks = $1,773/week take home after taxes

– $120/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,653/week take home after insurance premiums

As you can see here, as an independent contractor in the situation, weekly take home pay would only be about $35 more per week when everything is said and done!

 

Now let’s look at the same exact scenario, but with a maxed out 401k each year in both cases since that will help reduce the taxable income (on everything except self-employment taxes) which is very beneficial with such a high income as an independent contractor.

Working through a travel company taking 25% margin from $60/hour bill rate with maxed out 401k contribution ($19,000)

$60/hour bill rate – 25% margin = $45/hour total compensation to traveler

  • $20/hour taxable ($800/week gross)
  • $25/hour nontaxable ($1,000/week broken down into $385/week for meals and incidentals stipend and $615/week for housing stipend)

Total yearly taxable based on 48 weeks per year worked: $38,500

401k Contribution: $19,000 (reduces taxable income)

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $4,344

Total yearly after taxes: $34,156

$712 taxable per week after taxes

+ $1,000 per week stipends

=$1,712/week take home after taxes

– $24/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,688/week take home pay after insurance premiums

Working as an independent contractor making $60/hour bill rate with maxed out 401k contribution ($19,000)

$60/hour bill rate * 40 hours  per week * 48 weeks per year = $115,200 total pay received (before taxes)

Meals and incidentals: $385/week deduction

Housing: $400/month rent deduction (actual expense incurred)

$115,200 – ($385 * 48 weeks) – ($400 * 11 months) – ($5,760 insurance premiums for 11 months) = $86,560 after deductions

401k Contribution: $19,000 (reduces taxable income)

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $24,808 (of which $13,244 is self-employment tax)

Total yearly after taxes: $115,200 – $24,808 = $90,392

$90,392 / 48 weeks = $1,883/week take home after taxes

– $120/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,763/week take home after insurance premiums

As we can see here, maxing out a 401k account helps to reduce taxes on the income, which benefits the independent contractor more than the traveler working through a travel company.

So in this scenario after the 401k contributions, the independent contractor would come out $75/week ahead of the traveler working through a travel company.

If I did ever change my mind a pursue traveling as an independent contractor, I would definitely take advantage of the tax deferred savings associated with a 401k to reduce the tax burden on the higher taxable pay. An extra $75/week would amount to only about $300 more per month or $3,600 more per year. That’s still not worth the “cons” mentioned earlier in my opinion.

 

The pay difference between working as an independent contractor compared to working through a travel company only narrows further as the bill rate increases. This is because as the bill rate increases, the housing stipend can also be increased. This is of course as long as the GSA allows room for additional money applied to the housing stipend without going over the limits for the area that you’re traveling in. In the case of the independent contractor, their housing price doesn’t change just because the bill rate is higher, so the deduction for housing stays the same.

To illustrate this, let’s run the same calculations using the same scenario with a $65/hour bill rate.

Working through a travel company taking 25% margin from $65/hour bill rate

$65/hour bill rate – 25% margin = $48.75/hour total compensation to traveler

  • $20/hour taxable ($800/week gross)
  • $28.75/hour nontaxable ($1,150/week broken down into $385/week for meals and incidentals stipend and $765/week for housing stipend)

Total yearly taxable based on 48 weeks per year worked: $38,500

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $7,665

Total yearly after taxes: $30,835

$642 taxable per week after taxes

+ $1,150 per week stipends

= $1,792/week take home after taxes

– $24/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,768/week take home pay after insurance premiums

Working as an independent contractor making $65/hour bill rate

$65/hour bill rate * 40 hours  per week * 48 weeks per year = $124,800 total pay received

Meals and incidentals: $385/week deduction

Housing: $400/month rent deduction (actual expense incurred)

$124,800 – ($385 * 48 weeks) – ($400 * 11 months) – ($5,760 insurance premiums for 11 months)= $96,160 after deductions

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $34,246 (of which $14,712 is self-employment tax)

Total yearly after taxes: $124,800 – $34,246 = $90,554

$90,554 / 48 weeks = $1,887/week take home after taxes

– $120/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,766/week take home after insurance premiums

With a $65/hour bill rate and no 401k contributions to reduce the taxable income, the independent contractor would actually come out with $2/week LESS after taxes in this situation!

 

Now let’s see how that would change by maxing out a 401k account.

Working through a travel company taking 25% margin from $65/hour bill rate with maxed out 401k contribution ($19,000)

$65/hour bill rate – 25% margin = $48.75/hour total compensation to traveler

  • $20/hour taxable ($800/week gross)
  • $28.75/hour nontaxable ($1,150/week broken down into $385/week for meals and incidentals stipend and $765/week for housing stipend)

Total yearly taxable based on 48 weeks per year worked: $38,500

401k Contribution: $19,000 (reduces taxable income)

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $4,344

Total yearly after taxes: $34,156

$712 taxable per week after taxes

+ $1,150 per week stipends

= $1,862/week take home after taxes

– $24/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,838/week take home pay after insurance premiums

Working as an independent contractor making $65/hour bill rate with maxed out 401k contribution ($19,000)

$65/hour bill rate * 40 hours  per week * 48 weeks per year = $124,800 total pay received

Meals and incidentals: $385/week deduction

Housing: $400/month rent deduction (actual expense incurred)

$124,800 – ($385 * 48 weeks) – ($400 * 11 months) – ($5,760 insurance premiums for 11 months)= $96,160 after deductions

401k Contribution: $19,000 (reduces taxable income)

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $28,940 (of which $14,712 is self-employment tax)

Total yearly after taxes: $124,800 – $28,940 = $95,860

$95,860 / 48 weeks = $1,997/week take home after taxes

– $120/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,877/week take home after insurance premiums

After the reduction in taxable income through the 401k contributions in this final example, the independent contractor would come out ahead by a whopping $39!

Additional Considerations

  • In the example above, I did not account for the cost of liability insurance in the independent contractor example, because this cost is negligible in most situations and just adds further complexity to the calculations.
  • In addition, I did not factor in reimbursements for travel expenses that most travel companies will give in addition to the weekly pay. The reason for this was that an independent contractor would be able to deduct that expense as well, and those are likely to cancel each other out, especially in the scenario I laid out above where travel to and from the assignment location from my tax home was only a few hours each way. If this had been a move across the country, and the travel company didn’t reimburse those full expenses, the independent contractor would at least be able to deduct those beginning and ending travel expenses, whereas the traveler working through a company wouldn’t be able to due to the tax law changes last year in The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). That would skew things more in favor of the independent contractor, but by how much would depend on the actual beginning and ending travel expenses incurred.
  • I did not include the 20% pass through deduction that was also part of the TCJA last year due to uncertainty whether that would apply to all travelers in this situation. If this does indeed apply to your business entity as an independent contractor, then that extra 20% deduction would significantly improve the financial aspects of traveling as an independent contractor. Be sure to consult with a CPA on this deduction if you do decide to work as an independent contractor through your own business entity.
  • Single travelers that will be working in higher cost of living areas where housing costs are likely to be much more expensive will have a much higher deduction than in the above example for housing expenses incurred while working as an independent contractor. A much higher housing cost will tilt things more in favor of traveling as an independent contractor and is something that should be considered if this applies to you.
  • The higher taxable pay associated with working as an independent contractor will lead to much higher monthly student loan payments for anyone that has chosen to go with an income driven repayment plan. If you plan to pay your loans off as quickly as possible while traveling by making much larger payments, then this won’t affect you at all. If you plan to pay the minimum, save/invest the difference, and potentially go for 20-25 year student loan forgiveness, then this could be a big potential downside in going the independent contractor route, especially while on REPAYE and having half of the accumulated interest subsidized each month which is the case for me.

Conclusion

Cutting out the middle man and taking travel jobs as an independent contractor to make more money is certainly enticing, but upon investigation it proves to be more hassle and less lucrative than it appears at first glance.

The actual financial benefit of going this route can very drastically depending on the individual and his/her situation, but for Whitney and I, it does not seem to be worth it. This is only a path that I would personally consider if it meant an increase in at least $200/week after taxes, otherwise I don’t think that it’s worth the extra work involved. For us, it’s clear in the above scenarios that it would not be.

If you do decide to go the independent contractor route, maxing out pre-tax accounts (401k, traditional IRA, and HSA) all become ever more attractive options as a means to reduce taxable income and therefore significantly reduce taxes.

If you’ve worked as an independent contractor as a traveler in the past, we’d love to hear about your experience and if it differs from the cases I’ve laid out here. Let us know in the comments or send us a message.

If after all of this, you’ve decided that working as an independent contractor isn’t for you and would like recommendations for recruiters/companies that pay well and that we trust, then reach out to us here! Thanks for reading and I hope that this was helpful to you in deciding the best travel therapy path for you.

How Big Should Your Emergency Fund be as a Travel Therapist?

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

What is an Emergency Fund?

An emergency fund is an important part of the total financial portfolio for all individuals and families. This is money that you have set aside that is easily accessible, usually in a checking, savings, or money market account, that is there for peace of mind for when the unexpected inevitably occurs. This could include things like a big car repair, an unexpected medical bill, or last minute travel to be with a suddenly ill friend or relative. These things usually seem to happen at the worst possible times, and since they are unexpected, they can’t really be budgeted for on a monthly basis. Even though this money is, hopefully, rarely touched, the security of knowing that it’s there if you need it can be priceless.

The Importance of an Emergency Fund as a Travel Therapist

In addition to the events above, travel therapists have many additional and usually more frequent unexpected expenses, which I believe constitutes having a larger emergency fund than is generally recommended for the typical individual. Things such as canceled contracts, difficulty finding jobs that fit your desired start date, and potential issues with short term housing all mean either less income, higher expenses, or perhaps both during any given month. An adequate emergency fund can smooth out these bumps in the road and mean a lot less stress in the long term.

Whitney and I have certainly had our fair share of costly unexpected circumstances arise during our last four years as travel therapists. These have included: extremely costly truck and fifth wheel repairs (sometimes at the same time…); Whitney’s fall and subsequent broken arm (with many weeks of missed work and lower pay once she was able to work finally); delaying starting work due to our desired contracts and dates not lining up; Whitney’s grandmother passing away; and also a canceled contract for Whitney (this ended up only being a couple of days of missed work, but could have easily been several weeks under different circumstances). This events were all unfortunate but would have been made much worse if we had money troubles thrown in there at the same time due to not having a big enough emergency fund.

So, How Much Should You Have Saved?

Most conventional financial planners recommend about 3 months worth of expenses as an emergency fund for the average employee. For travel therapists, I think that 3-6 months worth of expenses is a much safer goal with the added uncertainty that comes along with the travel therapist lifestyle. Considering the higher incomes that we make as travelers compared to permanent therapists, I think that this is definitely attainable within the first 1-2 years of working as a traveler.

If this sounds unrealistic to you, especially as a student or new grad, don’t worry, that wasn’t even close to possible for Whitney and I when we started working as new grad travel PT’s. In fact, we had almost zero money saved when we started our first contracts. This is one reason that we chose to take our first contracts only about an hour and a half from our hometown. We knew we needed to save up a big emergency fund before feeling comfortable venturing far outside our comfort zones, and in hindsight we’re very glad we did.

If you’re planning to start traveling soon and have a small or non existent emergency fund like we did, be sure to be extra cautious to minimize unexpected costs while you save up. Taking your first contract in your home state, making sure to have a 40 hour guarantee, getting a 30 day cancellation clause written into your contract, asking for up-front reimbursements on your contract, decreasing your monthly expenses, and signing up only for month to month leases (instead of locking yourself into a 3 month lease) are all great ways to minimize the frequency and/or impact of those unexpected expenses.

Once you’ve minimized your risk as a travel therapist and start working, do your best to get to that 3-6 months worth of expenses emergency fund saved up as quickly as possible. The last thing you want to do is rack up credit card debt paying for emergencies!

Do you have an emergency fund? And if so, how many months of expenses do you have saved? Let us know in the comments below!


If you need help getting in touch with recruiters that will have your back and help you avoid the unexpected as much as possible, then fill out this form and we’ll help you out! If you have questions about emergency funds or anything else travel therapy related, feel free to send us a message.

Be sure to follow along with our travels on Instagram (with occasional giveaways!) and tune into our weekly Facebook Live videos on the Travel Therapy Mentor Facebook page. For more finance related content, check out our other website, FifthWheelPT.com.

Why and How to Work with Multiple Travel Therapy Companies and Recruiters

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Understanding The Process

When therapists are looking at getting into traveling therapy, it can be challenging to learn the ins and outs and understand how it all works. If you’re new to travel therapy, you’ve hopefully already learned that you need to find a great recruiter and company to help you navigate the process of finding contracts and landing your dream jobs. However, did you know that you should be working with multiple companies and recruiters? We, as well as most other travel therapists you’ll talk to, recommend this. But why? And how does that even work? How can you work with more than one company? If you want to learn more, keep reading!

Why Do I Need Multiple Companies/Recruiters?

The answer: options! Not every travel company has access to the same jobs, so if you are working with only one company, you’re limiting your job options. This is especially true if you have a specific location or setting in mind, or if the market is particularly slow for your discipline, such as for PTAs and COTAs (and somewhat for OT’s) currently.

Why do different travel companies have different jobs? Facilities can choose who they advertise job openings to. Some staffing agencies (travel companies) have exclusive or direct contracts with certain facilities, that other agencies don’t have. Whereas, the majority of jobs are listed on a type of database called a Vendor Management System (VMS). All companies will have access to jobs listed on VMS’s. This is where you will see a lot of overlap in the job availability among different companies, but the outliers will be the exclusive or direct contracts each one has.

Besides job availability, another reason to work with multiple companies is that each company may be able to offer you different pay and benefits. Every company operates differently; depending on the size of the company and how they manage their budgets, some may be able to offer higher pay for the same job. Also their benefits can differ, including health insurance options (and start dates), retirement accounts (and when you can contribute), and additional benefits such as reimbursements for CEUs, licensing, and relocation. If you don’t work with multiple companies, you won’t ever know the differences and what benefits could be available to you with different companies. This is important to learn in the beginning when you’re first researching and talking to companies, but it’s also important during each and every new job search. Even if you tend to like the pay and benefits better with Company A, sometimes Company B might have a job that Company A doesn’t have. So it’s important to maintain communication with them both.

In addition to the differences in companies, there are differences in recruiters. It’s important, especially in the beginning, to work with multiple recruiters so you can find out which ones you like the best, as well as learn from them. Different recruiters may divulge more or less information about the process of finding travel jobs, the contracts, the pay, the benefits, etc. This is helpful for you from a business perspective. The more you can learn about the industry, the better off you’re going to be in your own career as a travel therapist. By working with only one recruiter, you’ll only ever know what that person tells you. You have no basis for comparison for whether this information is accurate or whether this is the best recruiter. You can also learn from the way that one recruiter/company does things and presents things to you, and compare that with the way another one works so you can ask better questions and grow professionally. All of these things can help you to find the best jobs, get the highest pay, and have overall the best experience as a travel therapist.

But, How Does it Work?

Okay so now you understand WHY you need to work with multiple recruiters/companies. But how?

So when we say “work with,” this just means maintain communication with them. You’re not technically working for them or an employee of theirs until you take a contract. So, the whole period where you’re searching for jobs, you are a “free agent.” You can be in communication with several different recruiters and have all of them searching for jobs for you.

We recommend initially you talk to 3-5 different recruiters and “interview them” to find out who you like. Here are some questions you may consider asking them to figure out who’s the best. Then narrow it down to about 2-3 that you like and would be happy working with/taking jobs with if the right opportunity arises. Then, you’ll need to fill out the necessary paperwork for each company, so that they are able to submit you for potential job offers. They’ll need some basic demographic information, your resume, usually a couple references, and sometimes even your CPR card and SSN in order to set up a profile for you that they can submit to potential employers. It’s important to understand that giving this information to 2-3 companies does NOT mean you are employed by them! They just need to have this information on file so that they can submit you to POTENTIAL job offers for interviews. So once you decide on your top 2-3 recruiters, don’t be hesitant to give them this information and fill out the necessary paperwork. Otherwise, they can’t submit you for potential interviews, which is the next step to getting you to your dream travel jobs!

Now, once you’ve got your 2-3 recruiters on the prowl for jobs for you, they’ll start letting you know when they see a good job that fits your search criteria. It’s important that you let them know you’re working with a few different companies, so they should not “blind submit” you to jobs. This means they should be asking you first (“There is a job in Tampa, Florida, start date 7/1, Skilled Nursing. Can I submit you to this job?”). When you’re working with multiple companies, it’s important that you don’t let them submit you to the same job, resulting in a “double submission.” (Although this is not the end of the world if it happens, it’s not ideal). If more than one of the recruiters has the same job offer, you need to pick which one you want to go with. Sometimes this comes down to which company can offer better pay or better benefits for the same job.

As far as communicating to the recruiters that you’re working with multiple, we always recommend being up front about this in the beginning. If you’re working with a good recruiter, they will understand this. If a recruiter gives you a hard time about working with others, this is not a recruiter you want to work with.

So, once you’ve been submitted to a couple jobs, maybe by a couple different recruiters, and you’ve had the interviews, then you may get an offer or more than one offer. You will decide then which job you want to take, based on how the job sounds, the pay package, the benefits etc. Once you’ve decided on a job, and you sign a contract, then you are now employed by that travel company that got you the job, just for the duration of that contract. This is when you let your other recruiters know that you’ve secured a position and are no longer searching, and no longer interested in the other potential job options they had for you. You let them know your end date for that contract, and when/where you’ll be looking for your next job.

While you’re on this contract and employed by this company, this recruiter will be your main point of contact. The company will manage your pay and benefits for the duration of that contract. But, you can still keep in touch with your other recruiters to let them know what you’re thinking for your next contract (“When I finish this job on October 1st, I’d like to take my next job in California.”) So as your contract nears its end date, you’re back on the market for a new job, and have no obligation to take the next job with the same travel company. You can switch between companies whenever you want.

How Do Benefits Work When Switching Between Companies?

Okay so this is always the next question. If you switch companies, what happens with your benefits? This can be the downside of switching between companies. This situation will vary company to company. It’s important to ask each recruiter how their insurance coverage works. Many will start on the first day of your contract. So if you finish up a contract with Company A and your insurance terminates on the last day of your contract, let’s say Friday- but then you start a new job with Company B on Monday, hopefully you’ll only go 2 days without insurance between jobs. However, if Company B’s insurance doesn’t start until day 30 or the first of the month, you’ll have a lapse in your insurance. Or, if you decide to take a longer period off between jobs, you’ll also have a longer lapse.

However, if you take your next contract with Company A (take two back to back contracts with the same company) and take a few days to a few weeks off between jobs, usually your insurance will carry over during the gap. This is a big benefit to sticking with the same company. It does vary by company the length of time they’ll cover you between contracts, but usually it’s about 3 weeks or up to 30 days.

There are some exceptions to this. There are a few smaller companies who have more flexibility in their agreements with insurance companies that will allow coverage to start before your job begins, or can extend coverage beyond your contract end date, even if you aren’t working for them during the next contract. But this is more rare, so you’ll need to ask around to find out if your travel company can do this.

To learn more about your options on insurance coverage, including using COBRA to manage lapses in coverage, check out this article on insurance as a traveler.

Besides insurance, another company benefit to consider is your retirement savings account, or 401k plan. This can be another downside of switching between companies, as many require you to work for them for a certain period before you are able to contribute to their 401k. This is the fine print you’ll need to look into if a company sponsored retirement account is important to you. Being eligible to contribute continuously to a 401k with your travel company may be a consideration that sways you to stay with the same company continuously.

There are some companies that allow contributions to 401k immediately, so it’s possible you could contribute to one during one contract, then another during another contract. In this case, you could be maintaining more than one 401k account. Then later, it’s pretty easy to roll them all over to an individual retirement account (IRA) that you manage rather than keeping different accounts with different companies.

Summary

So in summary, there are lots of benefits to working with multiple travel therapy companies/recruiters, but there are downsides as well. Most travel therapists, us included, will recommend you maintain communication with multiple to give yourself the most job options, help ensure the best pay, and learn the most about the industry to help set yourself up for success. However, this process can be challenging at times and does come with certain limitations when switching between companies during different contracts.

If you want to learn more or have questions, please feel free to contact us. If you’d like recommendations on travel therapy companies and recruiters we know and trust, we can help you with that here!

Working in Schools as a Travel Therapist

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

For PT’s, OT’s, SLP’s and assistants interested in taking travel contracts working with pediatrics, sometimes these jobs can be harder to come by than other settings. The most common settings available for travel positions include home health, SNF, acute, and outpatient orthopedics. But for those looking to work in peds, school contracts may be a great option!

You might be wondering how school contracts are set up for a traveler. Do you have to work the full school year? What is the pay like? Do you get paid during school breaks? Since this setting is a bit different than others, we wanted to provide some key information to working in school contracts as a traveler.

The Basics of Working School Contracts

Most school contracts will typically be for the full school year, but some schools are open to just doing half the school year with the possibility of extending, or a little less than that even. Every situation is different, so if you’re unsure if you want to commit to a full year, work with your recruiter and the facility to find out what’s possible.

When school jobs are listed with an “ASAP” start date and it’s the middle of the school year, that contract would be from now or as soon as you could start, until the end of this school year. If you see a job listed with a July or August start, that would be for the upcoming school year.

Schools will typically have a very low facility cancellation rate, making it a pretty stable commitment on your end. This is helpful to know because as a traveler, you need to consider planning your housing for the duration of the contract.

The typical hours you will see for a school contract are between 35-37.5 hours per week. There are some contracts with 40 hour weeks, but it’s not usually the norm. Although most are not 40 hour guarantees, the rates are usually a bit higher in this setting which can help to offset the lower hours. This may bring your weekly take home to be similar or even better than a normal 40 hour work week in another setting.

A cool perk to working in schools is you have all of the school holidays off, so you know your days off in advance, and they are setup around desirable holidays/days people want to take off anyways. The uncool part of this, is you may not get paid during school holidays. So you will have to plan accordingly around this.

If you are off for the entire week for a school holiday (such as Spring Break or Winter Break), you will not be paid at all for that week. However, if you are off for only part of the week for the holiday, you may still receive your full week’s per diems, or part of the week’s per diems, in addition to the hourly pay for the days you did work. It’s important you clarify this with your travel company to understand how your pay will work around school holidays.

What Disciplines Are Most Needed?

The majority of school positions tend to be open for SLP, but there are options for PT’s, OT’s, PTA’s, and COTA’s as well. The market can vary across different states and school districts with different needs.

School positions often accept and support CF SLPs as well. However, this may or may not be a desirable setting for a lot of SLPs coming out of school that may be more interested in medical job settings.

What Questions Should I Ask During an Interview?

Not all travel therapy school positions are created equally. There are some important questions you should consider asking during your interview to decide if a contract is right for you, which might include:

  • How many children will be on caseload?
  • Who are the other staff members? (PT, OT, SLP, aids, etc.)
  • Have you had a travel therapist there before?
  • What is the facility like? (equipment, etc.)
  • What will my hours be?
  • Will I be covering more than one school?
  • What age groups will I be covering?

What Are Some Pros & Cons to Working School Contracts?

There are some benefits to working in schools pertaining to taking a longer (full school year) contract, which include more job stability; moving less often between contracts (as opposed to the typical 13 week travel contract); exploring an area for a longer period of time; and potentially saving on housing costs with a longer lease.

Another benefit is that you have planned time off to be able to take trips, and this time off is usually around holidays when you may want to spend time with family and friends.

Another potential benefit would be building your skill set in a different setting. This could be especially important with pending changes in Medicare, which could affect the market for settings such as Skilled Nursing Facilities.

However, for some people, there could be cons to taking a school contract. Some may consider committing to a full school year as limiting their ability to travel and see the country. They may also have fear of getting locked into a long contract without knowing if it’ll be the right fit for them. Fortunately for this concern, we as travelers have the option of a 14 or 30 day cancellation notice if placed in a bad situation.

Another con can be the paperwork and IEP meetings involved in working in schools. As with every setting, you have to take into consideration the documentation and meetings involved, which is the not-so-fun part of our jobs as healthcare providers.

And the last consideration would be not getting paid during school holidays. This may require some additional budgeting on the traveler’s part, or working with the recruiter to rearrange the pay package as needed. But for many travelers who tend to take a week or so off between their normal 13 week travel contracts to travel for leisure, relax and recharge, or go home to visit family and friends, these school breaks can provide the same thing, just structured a bit differently.

Is a School Contract Right for You as a Traveler?

Some clinicians absolutely love working with pediatrics and in the school setting. For others, this may be a totally new experience. As with any travel therapy job, you will have to take into consideration many factors when choosing if a particular school contract is right for you.

If you have questions or would like help getting started with your travel therapy journey, please contact us!