Working as a Travel PT in the US Virgin Islands

We love to share unique travel therapist stories, so today we’re bringing you Marcela’s story about working as a Travel PT in the US Virgin Islands! We’d like to note that it’s not very common to see travel therapy contracts in the Virgin Islands, and most travel staffing companies do not staff in the Virgin Islands. But on rare occasion you might see a job opportunity pop up there! If so, hopefully Marcela’s insights can help you learn what to expect from a contract there!


Good day, you guys!

My name is Marcela and I’ve been a Physical Therapist for 7 years and a Travel PT for 5 years. I went to PT school in Virginia– the same school that Whitney went to actually! I’ve worked in multiple settings including acute care, skilled nursing facilities, home health, and outpatient. So far, I’ve worked in Virginia, Texas, and St Thomas. In this article, I want to share the details about my assignment in St Thomas, US Virgin Islands with you all since it’s a unique contract location!

How Did I Land an Assignment in the US Virgin Islands?!

It was pretty simple really, but mostly by luck and good timing! One day while scrolling on Facebook, I saw a job posting on the Facebook group Travel Therapy Job Opportunities for an outpatient PT assignment in St. Thomas. It was with a company and recruiter that I had never worked with before. I reached out to the recruiter, set up a phone interview with the clinic manager a few days later, and got the assignment!

The Licensure Process

My next step was to get my USVI PT license, which I didn’t know at the time is infamous for taking a really long time. I’ve heard of one PTA that took 6 months to get his license! Upon signing the contract for the assignment, I was given the contact information of an island PT, Erin, who has a side business of helping people expedite their USVI PT licensure. At the time, Erin charged $1,000 — but it was absolutely worth every penny! She helped me get my license in only 4 weeks. At different times in the process, she was able to go into the licensing office and figure out what was slowing down my licensing application. She truly did shorten the whole ordeal, as I had a few snags which were totally out of my control. Without her help, it easily would have taken 6+ weeks, and the clinic in St Thomas was holding a spot for me which I did not want to miss out on! If you need help getting your USVI license expedited, you can contact Erin at: erindavidson13@gmail.com.

Housing on Island

While Erin was working hard for 4 weeks to help me with the licensure process, I then turned my attention to finding housing. I usually find cheap furnished housing by renting a room in a home for my travel assignments. I am okay with cheap housing and living with others, as I’d rather spend my money in other categories. Well, unfortunately for this assignment, I quickly found out the islands are not a place for cheap housing. Almost all places cater towards tourists, so you’re going to get tourist prices. Expect to pay about $2,000/month or more if you want a clean place with the amenities you’re used to on the mainland. My landlady is currently not renting rooms anymore, so I sadly don’t have any current housing leads to share.

I want to add something else about housing that will be very important to know. The USVI has one utility company and its infrastructure is dated. In 2017, two category 5 hurricanes, Irma and Maria, hit the islands and further damaged the already struggling infrastructure of the utility company. Because of this, it’s very common to lose power on island. One week I was there, we were without power for 30 hours. If you’re there during hurricane season, just assume you won’t have power for a while after a storm. I grew up close to the Southern US coast and have experience living through hurricanes and without power before. You either have to be okay with living like this or willing to pay extra to stay at a place that has a backup generator.

My PT Contract

I ended up working for 4 months on island at this contract. It was a private practice outpatient PT clinic. I had the opportunity to work a schedule of 4, 10 hour days each week, which was great for having 3 day weekends and being able to explore. As far as pay, the pay tends to be a bit on the lower end than what I’ve seen for mainland contracts. But it’s kind of like taking an assignment in Hawaii: you don’t go there for the pay, you go for the experience! And contracts in Hawaii usually tend to pay on the lower end as well. In addition to my weekly pay, I did also receive reimbursement for my flight to the island.

Insights on Island Living

Public Transportation

St Thomas does have public transportation, but the route is limited. The type of public transport is called a “safari” which is essentially a diesel pickup truck with covered open-air benches in the back.  It’s a great way to assimilate with the local culture and enjoy the wind. But like with all public transportation: be patient (haha)! The hours are limited and so are the locations to which they travel. St Thomas is very rocky, so the safaris don’t go up the hills. If you plan to live up a hill, you’ll have to get a car or walk a distance to get to a safari. I did not want to have a car on island, so I relied heavily on safaris, walking, and taking taxis.

Resources

Another thing to take into consideration is that you’re living on an island that does not have the same resources that the mainland does. Lots of things are imported and therefore the cost of food and other supplies reflects that. The islands also don’t have the same variety that the mainland does in terms of resources. But, you should totally enjoy the food that the islands do have to offer. If you eat local food, it greatly helps! Plus, you get to eat all kinds of tasty fruits, juices, and sea food!

The People

Many people in the Caribbean like to call themselves West Indians. West Indians are probably the nicest people I have ever encountered. Once you learn the proper way to greet in the Caribbean, people will easily give you directions, help you with a ride, and share food with you. It’s truly a village mindset. Everyone’s also on “island time” there, so don’t expect anyone to be prompt. Haha. As patients, they have been the best population I’ve ever worked with. They are respectful and hard working. I often found myself telling them to stop doing extra sets to allow their bodies to rest.

The good stuff!

Now onto the super fun stuff about living and working in the Virgin Islands!

The beaches are to die for! Sand so white it glitters, water you can see straight down into for yards, sunsets you can frame, waves so calm you can soak and float, and water activities for everyone! Snorkeling, kayaking, waterskiing, parasailing, regular sailing, yachting, scuba diving, sea planes, and hiking! (I know, not a water activity but would be a shame to not list). Each island has its own vibe, so visiting all three major USVI islands is required. And many more islands in the archipelago are also worth visiting! Depending on which island you’d like to visit, most can be reached by boat/ferry, but some of the further islands require private boat or a flight.

If you think you can handle life in the islands, then I recommend trying to get an assignment there. If interested, I can give you the name of the recruiter I used. You can reach me here via Facebook.


We’d like to thank Marcela for sharing her insights with us about her travel therapy contract in the US Virgin Islands! Please feel free to contact Marcela via Facebook or message us with any questions!

Earning Six Figures in Six Months as a New Grad Physical Therapist

Guest Post by Traveling Physical Therapist Jeff Camara, PT, DPT


EARNING SIX FIGURES IN SIX MONTHS

We can all agree that the cost of obtaining a graduate degree vs. the income for physical therapists isn’t exactly an equal ratio. I knew this going in to my career choice as a physical therapist. However, I still decided to choose a career that would fulfill my life, despite the enormous amount of debt I would have to take on to get there.

I decided early on while still in graduate school that Travel Physical Therapy (Travel PT) would be the best career path for me, as it would not only help me financially, but give me the freedom to explore the country and work in various settings. I can’t say that my other physical therapy friends made the same decision. Following school, many of them have had to move back home in order to save their paychecks as New Grad PT’s and get on their feet.

Many physical therapists would say that you can’t make a six-figure salary or ever pay off your debt in this career. Well, I am here to tell you how I not only earned those six-figures, but I did it in just six months as a New Grad PT.

HOW IT STARTED

My girlfriend, and fellow physical therapist, and I were fortunate enough to land six-month Travel PT contracts at an outpatient ortho clinic in northern Virginia as new grads in 2019 (shout out to Whitney and Jared at Travel Therapy Mentor for help with finding those contracts as well!).

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During my first six months as a new grad PT at this travel position, I learned a ton and loved the clinic– not to mention my awesome co-workers instantly became great friends and we enjoyed exploring a new area of the country. I was able to earn a high paycheck every week by starting my career as a Travel PT, making over $7,000 per month after taxes. This added up to roughly $43,000 after taxes in my first six months of work as a new grad! Comparatively, some new grad PT’s hardly make that much in twelve months after taxes at some lower paying salaried positions.

With one month left in our first ever Travel PT contracts, the pandemic had hit. As the country panicked, I started to see other travelers’ contracts come to an end, and the permanent PT’s at our clinics were losing their caseload and being furloughed. I knew I had to shine in the clinic, or I was going to be next. Fortunately for me, I already had a great rapport with my patients and was able to continue to provide them with valuable treatments whether it was in the clinic or through telehealth. I took initiative and managed my own schedule, which made it possible for me to maintain around 90-95% of my caseload. My hard work led not only to not losing my travel contract, but to having my contract extended.

Despite this contract extension, I still had my doubts, as jobs are rarely secured as a traveler, so I began the job hunt to gain that security. I was fortunate to have one of my co-workers reach out and ask if I would be interested in working home health PRN. Without any home health experience, this company was willing to bring me on board and train me. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. This was perfect for gaining some experience in the home health world in addition to diversifying my paycheck in case my travel contract got cancelled.

STEPPING OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE

At this moment, I was still working 40 hours per week in the outpatient clinic at my travel contract, while starting to build a caseload with the home health company PRN. My outpatient schedule was perfect for this, providing me with 3 short days working 7am-2pm, leaving me plenty of time to hustle and earn money on the side with home health PRN hours.

Jeff2The flexibility with home health is great. I would be sent referrals daily, and it was up to me to either accept or deny each patient, based on my own schedule with my primary job, and based on how much extra I wanted to work. I started with 2-3 patients after work, 3 days per week, which quickly adds up. It wasn’t easy at first being more the “outpatient ortho type of guy,” but I started to pick it up quickly. I had to step out of my comfort zone and learn a lot about the OASIS documentation (aka the death of home health), but I got into a rhythm and started to push how many patients I could see in a week. I started out with 5-8 patients, then 8-10, and before you know it, I was able to see 15-20 home health patients per week, in addition to my outpatient job, while still having weekends off.

FINDING A BALANCE

When working 7am-7pm, or some days even later, you realize quickly you need the weekends for yourself. We all hear about the “burnout” in healthcare professions, and I remained mindful of that, making sure I was still finding joy in what I was doing. Many of my coworkers didn’t understand, always asking “how do you work so much?” In all honesty, I found it quite easy, because I was actually enjoying a large part of it. There is something satisfying when working hard and seeing results, you know?! Well, what if those results were not only seeing your patients getting better, but seeing growth in your bank account.

THE RESULTS

In the midst of this pandemic, despite uncertainty with the job market, and despite being a relatively new graduate, I have been fortunate to not only maintain a full time physical therapy position, but to pick up extra work too. In addition to working in outpatient ortho full time as a travel PT, plus home health PRN, I was also able to start my own LLC for a cash-based home health business.

Working an average of 60 hours per week for the last 6 months between these 3 jobs, I have been able to achieve my financial goals and more. From May to November 2020, I have been able to earn over triple the amount of my coworkers who work permanent positions in the outpatient clinic.

Jeff3My take home, after tax pay has been approximately $80,000 in the last 6 months. I REPEAT, AFTER TAXES! This is the equivalent to making a gross salary of around $120,000 in just 6 months, from one travel PT contract, part time home health, plus the start of my own LLC in the last two months.

Today the average physical therapist makes approximately $50-55k per year after taxes (not including retirement contributions). I was able to make that amount in 4 months, during a pandemic! One can see the potential for growth at this rate. I hope through my story I can help to show other therapists the possibilities that are out there, especially for those who want to pay off debt quickly and are willing to hustle hard early in their career to do it.

IF IT WAS EASY, EVERYONE WOULD DO IT

At the end of the day, you must ask yourself what is important to you. You might be reading this thinking it’s totally unrealistic for you. I sacrificed a lot to reach this goal. It hasn’t been easy doing late dinners throughout the week, less sleep, no daily gym session, more time driving, an increase in notes brought home, and less time spent with my significant other. This would certainly be more difficult for someone in a different life circumstance than me, for example someone who is married with children, or just needs more personal leisure time or time to de-stress.

For someone who is not familiar with working this much, it would be very hard and draining to do day in and day out. I think I am someone who hardly stresses during work and doesn’t get overwhelmed easily, so working multiple jobs comes easy to me. I have actually worked several jobs since I was in undergrad, so it’s something I’m used to. However, this is certainly not a pace that I could keep up, nor would I want to, forever. This is more so a way for me to get ahead financially early in my career to have more options in the future. Being able to pay down debt and invest early puts me well on my way toward financial independence!

Jeff4


Below is an excerpt from a Harvard Business Review article that I found interesting:

The American Dream on Steroids: “The first thing that becomes clear is that successful professionals are working harder than ever. The 40-hour workweek, it seems, is a thing of the past. Even the 60-hour workweek, once the path to the top, is now practically considered part-time, as a recent Fortune magazine article put it. Our data reveal that 62% of high-earning individuals work more than 50 hours a week, 35% work more than 60 hours a week, and 10% work more than 80 hours a week. Add in a typical one-hour commute, and a 60-hour workweek translates into leaving the house at 7 am and getting home at 9 pm five days a week.”


MY RECOMMENDATIONS

When I tell people about my current lifestyle, they typically respond with, “there is no way I could ever do that.” This is most likely true, and I wouldn’t recommend this for many people. For those who struggle already with their 40 hour work week, I would recommend against this type of workload.

However, for those therapists that may be thinking about getting a second job in order to hustle and make more money to meet your financial goals, I would highly recommend to look for a PRN home health job, versus a second outpatient or acute care job. Home health provides great flexibility and higher pay, and it gives you the freedom to take on as many patients as you desire within the time that you want.

I am not saying this is only way to make money, nor am I saying that money is the only important aspect in life. For me, the thought of being financially free someday keeps me grinding. My goal is to work hard and hustle during the beginning of my career to help meet my financial goals and increase my savings, so that I can work less in the future and shift my focus to other pursuits, such as having a family.

Now, after hustling for the last 6 months, I have decided to take some time off from work to spend the holidays with my family and friends. This sacrifice, I believe, has been well worth it to be able to take several weeks or a month off at the holidays. After this break, I am looking forward to going into 2021 and getting back at it again!


ABOUT JEFF

jeff9Jeff is a travel physical therapist originally from Massachusetts. He earned his Doctor of Physical Therapy degree at American International College in May of 2019. Jeff was a multi-sport intramural champion in college and enjoys friendly competition in all sports and games. He has lived in 9 different states so far and loves traveling to new areas, hiking, and riding his motorcycle. Jeff and his girlfriend, Megan, are hoping to sign new travel physical therapy contracts at the start of the new year. The best way to contact Jeff is through Facebook or email at jcamara6@yahoo.com.


We would like to thank Jeff for sharing his story in this inspiring article! If you’re also considering pursuing travel therapy to help set yourself up for a strong financial future, please feel free to contact us and we can help you get started on this path!

~Whitney & Jared, Travel Therapy Mentors