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.

How Do You Find the Best Travel PT Companies?

Finding the Best Travel PT Companies

One of the most common questions we get regarding travel physical therapy is which companies we work with and which travel companies are the best. Surprisingly, we’ve even gotten this question more often than questions about travel PT salary recently. Most new or prospective travel PTs don’t realize that there are well over 200 travel therapy companies out there. With that many different choices, there’s no way to interview them all, much less pick one or two that are better than all the rest in every situation. That’s certainly not to say that there aren’t some that are better than others.

When Whitney and I first started traveling as new grad PTs in 2015, there was very limited information about the travel therapy industry available. Even with limited information, we did our best to find a few good travel companies to work with by word of mouth from current travelers. While that was certainly better than picking companies randomly from a Google search or signing up with a travel company at a conference booth, we quickly found that some companies and recruiters that were recommended to us weren’t very good. The reason for this wasn’t that the travelers we talked to didn’t have our best interest in mind, it was simply because they had limited experience with various companies. When you’re trying to find your first travel job, you only have so much time to put into finding good companies and recruiters, so most travelers pick a couple and then end up sticking with those same ones for their entire travel careers. They may like them well enough, but their perspective is understandably limited. So, the best recruiter and company that they have worked with may very well be in the bottom half of all the options out there. Add to this the fact that current travelers are incentivized to recommend the recruiters that they work with in order to receive referral bonuses, so they’ll often highlight the positives and overlook the negatives of their recruiters and companies. The result of these issues combined are a lot of bad recommendations being given to new travelers!

The Problem with Taking Travel PT Company Recommendations from Current Travelers

Whitney and I were not only impacted by this with the recommendations that we got for ourselves initially, but also when we gave recruiter recommendations to friends and acquaintances during our first couple years as travelers. Once I started writing articles on our original blog FifthWheelPT and gradually built a following, I started to get frequent questions about which companies I’d recommend. Being a new traveler, the only companies and recruiters that I knew of were the few that I had interacted with, so I started sending everyone to them. After all, why not? They had found Whitney and I jobs, been pretty decent, and they would also give me a bonus for sending people to them. It sounded like a win-win. The issue was that once I started branching out and talking to other companies, I realized that a couple of the initial companies/recruiters that I worked with either didn’t pay very well, weren’t very responsive, or were lacking in other ways. In short, they certainly weren’t the best travel PT companies.

It was then that I realized the flaws in the travel company recommendation system laid out above. Here are those flaws:

  1. New and prospective travelers don’t have tons of time to interview dozens of companies and recruiters to find a good fit.
  2. Since they don’t have the time, they rely on current travelers that they know to recommend companies and recruiters to them.
  3. Current travelers are incentivized to recommend companies and recruiters that they work with, even if they aren’t the best.
  4. The new traveler takes those travel PT company recommendations and begins working with subpar companies, and since they don’t know any better, they may or may not be happy with the choice.
  5. The cycle repeats itself when the following year new prospective travelers look for advice and get recommended those same companies/recruiters from the previously new PT, who is now incentivized to recommend them as well.

What’s the Solution to Finding the Best Travel PT Companies?

I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out ways to avoid this cycle.

It drove me crazy over the years having travelers reach out and ask me questions, only to find that they had been being severely low balled or taken advantage of by their travel company, simply because they didn’t know any better and the company had been recommended to them. These situations are what give travel physical therapy a bad name. Those travelers have a bad experience with a recruiter that is not only paying them a low travel PT salary but also pushing them to take jobs that are not a good fit for them. They end up quitting travel PT after only a couple of contracts and telling other PTs to avoid travel as well. We talked to many of these therapists when starting out as new grad travel PTs, and they really made us second guess our decision for a while. That’s a shame, because with all the talk of burnout in the physical therapy world, I think that travel PT can be a solid choice for many new grads to avoid burnout.

Unfortunately there is no easy solution, and there certainly is no best travel PT company for everyone. They all have their pros and cons depending on desired setting, location, benefits, and pay. That is a major reason why we decided to start this website. We realized that individual travelers can’t put in all the effort to talk to dozens of companies to find which ones would be a good fit for them, but we could. Then when prospective travelers contact us looking for the best travel PT companies for them, we can ask them questions about their needs and desires, and then do our best to match them with a few companies/recruiters that should work well for them. Since starting this website, we have interviewed several dozen companies and recruiters to do our best to find which ones would be best for various different scenarios. We are now able to give recommendations with a much broader perspective than we possibly could have after only a couple years of being travel PTs and working with just a handful of recruiters.

Ways to Find the Best Travel PT Companies: Ranked from Best to Worst

#1 (Top Choice)

Take recruiter recommendations from a service that has put in the time to interview many different companies to find which ones are great and which ones are not.

We have spent a lot of time finding some of the best ones so that you don’t have to keep searching!

 

#2

Get recommendations from an experienced traveler (3+ years). Even though an experienced traveler has probably not interacted with tons of companies over the years, they will still have much more knowledge about the industry than a new traveler. And they have likely changed companies at least a few different times, which gives them more insight into what to look for in a good recruiter and company.

 

#3

Get recommendations from a new traveler that you know (0-3 years). This is certainly better than picking a company at random, since hopefully you can trust that person to not recommend someone that has been bad for them. But, it’s important to recognize that they will likely have a very limited perspective and will just be recommending to you the same companies/recruiters that were recommended to them.

 

#4

Use Google searches and job websites to find reviews for various companies and research them yourself. You can sometimes find good companies this way based on reviews, but you’re limited by the names that you know to search for, and there are also limitations to reading through various good/bad reviews. The biggest issue here is that even if you find a great company, you don’t know if the recruiter you get set up with is good or not. The recruiter can really make or break your experience with a company, not only in terms of communication, but also in terms of pay as we’ve found out over the years.

 

#5

Go to PT conferences and talk to different recruiters and companies to find a couple that you like. This can work, but you have to remember that recruiters are salespeople and your initial conversation often sounds wonderful. They’re trying to sell you on their company and themselves as a person. That initial conversation doesn’t tell you anything about how good the company really is, or how responsive that recruiter will be when it really matters. Also, what often happens is you get signed up for call lists that are nearly impossible to get off of!

 

#6 (Last Resort)

Rely on advertisements for travel companies and cold calls from recruiters. This is the worst. Not only does this almost ensure that you won’t get a good recruiter, but often the companies that spend the most on advertising and marketing pay the least! We’ve found this repeatedly over the years. Typically, recruiters making cold calls are either not very good recruiters, or are new, which can be hit or miss. The best recruiters get plenty of business from referrals and have no need to call random people to try to drum up business. Stay away from ads and cold calls!

 

Other Considerations when Finding Travel PT Companies

We’ve learned a lot over the years about the travel industry and how it works. Here are a few other considerations that you should pay attention to as a new travel therapist looking for the best travel PT company:

  1. It is vital to work with more than one travel PT company/recruiter on each job search. The main reason for this is so that you have the largest number of job options available to you to find a job that seems like the best fit for you. This is especially true for new grad PTs. Another reason is that this introduces some healthy competition between the recruiters that you’re working with and makes them more likely to give you their best pay offer right off the bat. Recruiters are only paid a commission if you take a job with them, so if they know that you will be getting offers for jobs from recruiters at other companies as well, then they know if they try to low ball you on pay then they’ll likely miss out on landing a job for you.
  2. Even if you find the best recruiter ever, that doesn’t mean they will always be good. You see, recruiters are people too that have things going on in their lives, and personal issues can easily lead to a recruiter being less responsive or spend less time job searching for you. In addition, good recruiters can quickly become very busy from word of mouth and referrals, and the more busy they become, the less time they have to spend on each individual traveler. We’ve had this happen several times over the years.
  3. Some recruiters and companies really shine in certain areas, but fall short in others. This is a major reason why taking company recommendations from current travelers with limited experience can lead to issues. For example, you might get suggestions from a traveler that is a school based PT and has found a company that has found them consistent contracts in that setting. You, on the other hand, might be a die hard outpatient PT (like me), and maybe that company has very few jobs in the outpatient setting. Most recruiters aren’t going to tell you upfront that they don’t have as many jobs as other companies in a certain area because they want your business. This can mean that you get strung along and eventually placed in a less than ideal situation once you become desperate and settle. Avoid that!

Bottom Line on Finding the Best Travel PT Companies

Unfortunately there is no one “best” company or even a few best companies since so much depends on your unique situation. Taking recommendations from current travelers is certainly better than choosing companies/recruiters at random, but it can lead to a lot of issues since the traveler is incentivized to recommend companies that they work with whether they’re truly above average or not. This becomes obvious when you see the majority of brand new travelers on Facebook and Instagram raving about their recruiters and companies and offering to give their info out to anyone that wants it. Not only are they incentivized to recommend the ones they work with, but they also have a very limited perspective to know what a good or bad company/recruiter actually look like. Even if their recruiter and company truly are amazing, that doesn’t mean they will be the right fit for you with your unique needs! This is an issue with no easy solution, but we’re doing our best to methodically interview companies and recruiters to find the best travel PT companies for many different situations to give more informed recommendations.

If you want us to help you in your search for companies and recruiters, then fill out this questionnaire and we’ll match you with a few based on your situation!

If you have any questions about this topic or anything else travel related, check out our other articles as well as our weekly Facebook Live videos! If you don’t find the answer to your question then contact us!

 

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

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