Your Guide to Pursuing Travel Therapy in 2020

It’s the new year, and you’re ready for a new adventure, right? Travel therapy here you come!

Travel Therapy (Travel PT, Travel OT, Travel SLP) can be an awesome career choice – one that we’ve been thoroughly enjoying for over 4 years – but there are lots of considerations that go into pursuing this path – especially in 2020!

As many of you may know, there have been lots of changes recently affecting the therapy world, and this has had an impact on travel therapy jobs too. Unfortunately, the travel therapy market hasn’t been quite as “hot” in the last several months as it was in prior years.

So what does this mean if you’re looking to get into travel therapy in 2020? Let’s take a look:

The Current Travel Therapy Job Market

Recent changes to Medicare reimbursement are having an impact on the job market for PTs, OTs, SLPs and assistants, both for permanent positions and travel positions.

In October 2019, Medicare initiated the Patient Driven Payment Model (PDPM) for the Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) setting, and as a result, we saw layoffs occur nationwide in SNFs. This meant permanent therapists losing jobs, hours being cut, and a gap between the supply and demand for open positions. Naturally, this impacted both perm and travel therapists fighting for some of the same jobs. In travel therapy, we saw less overall SNF openings and higher competition for those that were available. This also had a carry-over effect into other settings, as therapists shifted from SNF positions into other settings to find work.

To learn more about the PDPM changes, check out this video where we discussed what PDPM is, and this video where we discussed the current impact it’s having on travel therapy!

In early 2020, Medicare will begin the Patient Driven Groupings Model (PDGM) for the home health setting. We anticipate that these changes may have a similar impact on the travel therapy job market. This timing is tough, when we are still feeling the impact from the PDPM changes from the Fall.

To learn more about PDGM, check out this video where we discussed what PDGM is and how this will likely affect travel therapists!

In addition to these Medicare changes affecting the job market, we know that historically January is a very tough time for travel therapists looking for jobs.  This is commonly known as the “January job lull.” There are many reasons for this, including current travel therapists taking off time between contracts for the holidays, and trying to resume work after January 1st. This combined with an increase in new therapists trying to begin travel therapy after the first of the year, including new grads and those looking to change from a permanent position into travel positions, means an over-supply of therapists looking for jobs. In addition to the flood of therapists looking for jobs to start the first week or so of January, sometimes there is a reduction in open positions because facilities already hired someone to cover through the holidays and into January, or because facilities are awaiting their new budget for the year to get approval to advertise for a job opening.

With all of these factors combined, we are seeing a large number of therapists looking for jobs, and a lower number of overall available jobs. What we’re left with is a challenging time to be entering the travel therapy job market in early 2020.

Are All Therapy Disciplines Affected?

Prior to the recent changes affecting the job market, we were already seeing a decline in the travel therapy job market for PTAs, COTAs, and OTs in the summer and fall of 2019. So unfortunately, these changes have continued to impact these disciplines the most.

The job market for PTs and SLPs has remained pretty strong overall, but there is still a reduction in overall jobs. So while the current job market isn’t quite as good as it has been in the past, PTs and SLPs probably won’t find themselves out of a job, but they may have to work a little harder to find the travel therapy contracts they want.

Of course, these trends can change at any time, and we are hopeful things will start looking up for all disciplines after the Medicare changes settle out and we get past the January Job Lull. So hopefully things will be better by Spring-Summer 2020!

Should I Avoid Travel Therapy in 2020?

Not necessarily, but maybe. We are all about travel therapy. It has been an amazing career choice for us as Travel PTs, and we feel it can be a great career choice for others too. But, you do have to be realistic and look at all the factors.

With the current job market, we feel it will be most challenging for OTs and assistants to work as travel therapists in early 2020, since we have seen the biggest impact on job availability for these disciplines, particularly COTAs and PTAs. For assistants, it may be better to stay in a current permanent position or PRN position (or switch from traveling to taking a more permanent position) until the job market improves for travel COTAs and PTAs.

For OTs, this may also be the best move to seek permanent employment for now; however, if you are flexible on where you are willing to go, have a strong resume, and have an emergency fund for any lapses in employment, you can still be successful as a travel therapist.

For PTs and SLPs, we don’t think you need to avoid travel therapy right now despite the changes in the market! Keep reading to learn our recommendations for success as a traveler in 2020.

How to Be a Successful Travel Therapist in 2020

What does all of this mean for you if you’re a current travel therapist or wanting to become a travel therapist in 2020?

It means that you will need to be well-informed, well-prepared, and more flexible as you search for travel therapy contracts this year.

Here are our recommendations for you:

1. Be Flexible

It’s very important in a low job market to be as flexible as possible on the key factors affecting your travel therapy job search, which include: Setting, Location, and Pay. While we would all love to have our top choice on setting, our top choice on the city and state where we want to be, and the highest pay package in the world, the fact is that this is not realistic given the current job market.

If you really want to be a travel therapist and reap all the benefits to being a traveler, then you need to be flexible on at least one, if not two to three, of these factors in order to maintain consistent employment. The fact is, if you’re not flexible, you likely won’t be able to land consistent contracts, which means you’ll be out of work and out of money.

We have many therapists and students contact us stating that they only want to work in one particular city/state. While this is possible to choose sometimes, it’s very unlikely you will be able to line up consistent travel contracts when you’re limiting your search to only one area. Especially with the current job market, we encourage you to be as flexible as possible, or else you’re going to end up being unhappy and unable to find jobs.

2. Have Multiple State Licenses

Part of being flexible means having more than one state license so you can have the option to work in a few different areas. We highly recommend that you get these state licenses in advance. Some travelers (or potential travelers) will only have one license when going into a job search, and they’re disappointed when they can’t find jobs in that state, or can’t get interviews for jobs in other states because they’re not licensed.

There is a lot of strategy that goes into the job search. We recommend talking to a few different recruiters and travel therapists to find out which states tend to have more jobs for your discipline, then get licensed in those states in advance. This way you’ll have a few viable state licenses when it comes time for your job search.

For more on the licensing process, check out this article.

3. Work with Multiple Recruiters

In order to have the most job options, it’s important that you work with multiple recruiters at different travel therapy staffing agencies. Each staffing company will have access to different jobs, so by only working with (communicating with) one recruiter/one company, you are limiting your job options. We think it’s best to have a least 3 recruiters searching for jobs for you. There are definitely some pros and cons to using multiple agencies, which you can learn more about here, but overall we think this is the best method to ensure success and maintain consistent employment as a travel therapist.

For personalized recommendations for travel therapy companies and recruiters, fill out this form and we will email you to get you connected with some of our favorite recruiters!

4. Build Up Your Resume

In a time of excess supply of therapists applying for the same jobs, it’s important to have a strong resume to help you stand out. Some things that can help your resume stand out would be: applying for settings in which you have a strong background, and making sure to highlight those experiences on your resume and during your interview; getting additional experience in a new setting via a PRN position; taking continuing education courses to enhance your knowledge in a particular area; and getting advanced certifications in your field of expertise.

For new grads, trying to stand out among experienced clinicians can be hard, so applying for a setting in which you have strong clinical internship experience will be helpful, and anything you can do on your own to get additional knowledge and experience like weekend courses, certifications, or shadowing/volunteering will help.

5. Be Prepared and Prompt

Timing is everything in the world of travel therapy. Job orders can open and close very quickly. It’s important that you have all of your ducks in a row so to speak when it’s time for your job search. This means, you need to have your resume up to date, have your profile and any necessary information set up with the travel therapy staffing company, have your license already, and be ready to submit right away to new job openings.

This also means you need to already establish a relationship with your recruiters in advance, so they can help you through any necessary steps prior to submitting you to jobs. We recommend having this all set up at least 8 weeks prior to your desired start date. You also need to have a good understanding with your recruiters as to which jobs they can submit you for. We recommend you seek approval before letting your recruiters submit you, to avoid a double submission by two different recruiters. But, you need to be fast with this process so that another therapist doesn’t beat you to the job. When you’re on an active job search with your recruiters, you need to be communicating with them daily, and be very prompt in responding to their texts, calls or emails when they see a job come through.

If you need help finding recruiters you can trust to help you find jobs, feel free to contact us!

6. Be Realistic

Once you’ve taken all of this into account, you have to be realistic with yourself. Travel therapy is a business, and thus it’s subject to supply and demand as we’ve discussed here. Sometimes things are great, the jobs and paychecks are plentiful, and everybody is happy. But sometimes things don’t always go to plan, and there’s only so much that you, and your recruiters, can do about it.

Far too often we see therapists feeling slighted by the job market, their recruiter, the situation. They feel like they’re being taken advantage of, deceived, that somebody else is getting the better end of the deal than them. New grads come in feeling somewhat entitled and having high expectations when looking at their debt to income ratio. We get it, we’ve been there.

But just remember to take a step back and look at things realistically. Travel therapy can be a great option, but it may not always be the best option for one person at one time. It may be that you find yourself not being able to line up the coolest contracts in the coolest cities like all the people you see on Instagram. Maybe you’re not pulling in the highest paycheck ever this go-round.

But, maybe you will next time. Maybe you have to take this one contract that’s not your favorite, that’s not the highest paying, so that you don’t have to take an extended period of time off from work, so that you don’t have to settle down in your hometown at a permanent job, and so that you can get some experience under your belt. Maybe, once you get through this one, you’ll be able to line up a fantastic location in the perfect setting making the most money ever. Maybe, or maybe not.

The point is that there are a ton of variables when pursuing travel therapy, and we don’t always know what we’re going to get. But, in the end, we choose travel therapy because we want something different. We don’t want to settle down in one spot at the same job forever. We want to explore the country, try out different settings, make more money. With all the good that comes along with travel therapy, sometimes we have to take a little bit of the bad too. We have to be realistic.

7. Have a Back-Up Plan

Last, but not least, have a back up plan. This is of course our careers we are talking about here. We have to earn income to maintain our lifestyles, pay our bills, fulfill our responsibilities, take care of our families and ourselves. It’s important that everyone keeps an emergency fund, but even more so as a travel therapist when our employment can be a little more variable. We recommend keeping at least 3-6 months worth of expenses in savings as an emergency fund, in order to cover any time off between contracts. Of course this isn’t possible right away on your first contract as a new grad, but the quicker you get there the better.

In addition to an emergency fund, we also recommend keeping your options open if you needed to return home for a while and line up a PRN or permanent position, in case you were unable to find a travel job. Some therapists choose to remain on staff as a PRN therapist in their hometown for times like this. Others might just need to think ahead of where they would go to apply for work in case traveling just didn’t work out for them.

Conclusion: Should I Pursue Travel Therapy in 2020?

The answer is: Maybe!

Travel therapy may not be the best choice for every therapist, but it’s a great choice for some. You need to take into account your own situation and the job market before making your decision. There are so many amazing reasons to choose travel therapy in 2020: earn higher income, explore the country, take off time when you want to (and can afford to), try out new settings, and meet new people! But there are definitely some reasons to take a step back and evaluate your options given the current job market.

If you need help getting started with travel therapy this year, feel free to contact us, and if you’d like our recommendations for travel therapy companies and recruiters we trust, fill out this form!

Happy Traveling in 2020!

 

Whitney Eakin headshot

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Whitney is a Doctor of Physical Therapy who has been working as a traveling physical therapist since 2015. She travels with her boyfriend and fellow Travel PT, Jared. Together they are the founders of Travel Therapy Mentor. Whitney and Jared are currently working only part of the year as Travel PTs and are spending several months per year traveling internationally for leisure!

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.

International Travel Therapy: Can I Work as a PT/OT/SLP in Australia?

A question we get often is whether it is possible to work as a travel therapist outside of the United States. Since we are only interested in working as travel physical therapists inside the US, taking traditional US-based travel contracts — (with plenty of international travel for leisure mixed in of course) — this is an area that we know very little about. Luckily, we found a therapist who has worked in Australia for the past several years to shed some light on the process of working as a therapist abroad! Take it away, Tori! 


Guest post written by Tori Frost, SLP

“Can I work as a Travel PT/OT/SLP in Australia?”

It might take some time and research, but it’s definitely possible!

I want to share with you a little about my story, and then help you with some ways that you can also pursue working as a PT, OT, or SLP in Australia or elsewhere abroad.

My Story

I’m an American Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) who has been working in Australia since 2016. I worked in acute care for a bit over 4 years in Michigan, USA, before coming over to Australia. I actually thought about doing travel therapy in the United States, but ultimately I decided to move to Australia instead. I initially came over here to work as an au pair, and then once I was here, I decided to see if I could practice as an SLP here, because I didn’t want to leave! The rest is history, and I’m still here over 3.5 years later!

The Process for Working in Australia

Although the considerations below would be more specific to Australia, you’d probably have similar things to consider for another country if you are thinking about working internationally.

Things to Consider:

Visas – You will need a visa in order to work abroad. Look into which visas you would be eligible for and which would best suit your needs.

  • Check out the Department of Home Affairs website [immigration and citizenship] for specifics regarding visas [age requirements, etc.] 
  • PTs, OTs, and SLPs are all currently on the Skilled Occupation List, and may be eligible for the following visas:
    • 186 – Employer Nomination Scheme visa (subclass 186)
    • 189 – Skilled Independent (subclass 189) – Points-Tested
    • 190 – Skilled Nominated (subclass 190)407 – Training visa (subclass 407)
    • 485 – Temporary Graduate (subclass 485) – Graduate Work
    • 489 – Skilled Regional (Provisional) visa (subclass 489) – Family sponsored
    • 489 – Skilled Regional (Provisional) visa (subclass 489) – State or Territory nominated
    • 482 – Temporary Skill Shortage (subclass 482) – Medium Term Stream
    • 187 – Regional Sponsor Migration Scheme (subclass 187)
    • 462 – I also came out initially on a 462 Work and Holiday Visa [although there is an age limit of 30 and generally you can only work up to 6 months with one employer on this visa, which is a one-year visa] 

Certifications – Look into what certifications you need and contact the association directly if you have questions

  • SLPs – Speech Pathology AustraliaMutual Recognition Agreement [MRA] with ASHA – check out the website for specifics regarding applying through the MRA 
  • OTs – Occupation Therapy Council of Australia Limited
  • PTs – Australian Physiotherapy Council Limited 
  • OTs and PTs – you may be required to register with AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency) 
  • For other countries, you would need to research their specific therapy associations

Job Searching 

  • Word of mouth
  • Internet – Google groups, job search websites [e.g. SEEK, Jora], recruitment agencies, job boards on the association’s website, etc. 
  • Government websites [check each country/state’s individual Government website for positions]
  • As with travel therapy in the US, decide if you want to be in a specific area or if you’re open to working anywhere [some rural and remote jobs may be available] 

Housing and Accommodations

  • There are lots of Facebook groups and websites [e.g. Gumtree, flatmates.com.au] to search for accommodations and or/flatmates in Australia
  • Rent is generally listed as a price per week
  • Research similar housing sites for other countries

Other Things to Consider

  • Pay – Check out the pay rates, but remember if you’d end up converting it back to USD from the Australian dollar, it will be less
    • I wasn’t living/working in a large city in the US, but I have found that in general, cost of living seems to be higher here in Australia 
  • Transport – depending on where you are/your job, you’ll have to check public transport options or decide if you’d want to get a car [remember: you’ll be driving on the left side of the road in Australia!

 

Can You Do Short-Term Contracts?

In Australia and abroad, there are not usually your standard 13-week travel therapy gigs as in the US, but there are opportunities to do short-term contracts [although I’m not sure the likelihood of lining them up like you might in the US with the typical 13-week
contracts].

You would want to look for the word “locum” when searching for positions, which is the term they use often for temporary jobs. That being said, some locum positions might be up to a year if they are needing someone for a longer time [e.g. to cover a maternity leave, which is often a lot longer than in the US]. Locum jobs vary in length, and you might be able to find some short-term ones for a shorter number of weeks.

I have done one locum job here which was offered as a 12-week position. I worked 10 weeks at a hospital that needed someone in acute care [I found this job by word
of mouth through a Speech Pathology Australia branch meeting].

Are There Any “International Travel” Staffing Agencies?

There are lots of recruitment agencies out there if you search, which may recruit for
both temporary or permanent positions abroad. One of my jobs was advertised through a recruitment agency [Sugarman International]. At this position, I worked part-time for a private hospital, although I later was hired on/employed directly by the hospital.

Other recruitment agencies [I have not used any of these for my jobs] include:

  • Aussie Locums
  • Healthcare Australia
  • Global Health Source

There are probably a lot more agencies out there than this, but again, I have not found any jobs through these myself. However if you’re interested in trying to travel for work abroad, they might be worth looking into!

I hope this information helps you as you explore your options regarding working internationally as a PT, OT, or SLP.

Happy Traveling! ~Tori


We would like to thank Tori for sharing her insights regarding working in Australia and abroad as a therapist!

For more information on traveling, working, and living in Australia – please check out Tori’s blog – ‘Speech Down Under’ at www.speechdownunder.com.au

Avoiding Bad Job Environments as a Travel Therapist

Combating the Stereotype

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

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

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

Do Your Research

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

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

Avoiding Bad Situations

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

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

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

What if the Job Isn’t What You Expected?

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

Don’t Fear Traveling

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

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

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

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

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

 

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

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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

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Top 5 Things to Avoid During Your First Travel Therapy Contract

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Starting your first travel therapy contract is an exciting time, but there are definitely a lot of factors to consider when choosing your first contract, and mistakes to avoid once you get there! Since we covered choosing your first job recently, now we want to cover things to consider when you’re working at your first travel placement! These things apply both for new grads and experienced clinicians starting travel therapy for the first time. Some of these do have to be negotiated in advance as well, and they will come into play once you start working!

Productivity

Productivity is a dreaded word in healthcare. But, unfortunately, it is a part of our jobs as healthcare professionals. It’s important that you ask about the productivity expectations during your phone interview for the travel therapy job and consider whether the expected productivity is reasonable and realistic.

This will look different based on your discipline and setting. For example, for a SNF placement, the expectation could be anywhere from 75-95% (or potentially even higher with the new Medicare Patient Driven Payment Model changes on the horizon)! We urge you to consider whether the suggested productivity expectation is doable if you remain within ethical and legal guidelines. In general, we feel anything close to 90% or above is not realistic, especially for an evaluating therapist (PT, OT, SLP). In most cases, 85% is probably the max we would accept. For an outpatient physical therapy clinic, you might be looking for how many patients per day or per hour you are expected to see. In our experience, for an 8 hour day, between 10-14 patients is what we feel comfortable with. But, the therapist’s ability to meet these productivity standards in any setting is going to depend heavily on how the clinic is set up and how it operates.

When presented with a productivity standard that sounds high, we would encourage you to have a discussion with the manager or interviewer. Find out how the facility operates on a daily basis to help you decide if the productivity will be achievable. Are there techs or aids to assist with ancillary tasks such as setup/cleanup or patient transport? If it’s an inpatient or home health setting, is the productivity weighted based on what type of patient session is performed (evaluation, treatment, discharge, etc.)? When are the full time therapists able to complete their required documentation throughout the day? These are all important things to consider and ask during your interview.

In general, we don’t recommend you sign a contract that has the productivity standard written into the contract. This happens sometimes with SNFs, and sometimes they try to use this to say that if you drop below the written productivity, they can deduct your pay. If possible, avoid taking contracts like this, and if you see it written in a contract, talk to your recruiter to get it removed.

Once you’re on the job, be aware whether the productivity, and the various factors that affect productivity, are in line with what was discussed (and promised) during your interview. Is the clinic what you were told it would be, or is it totally different? Are you being asked to suddenly meet unrealistic productivity standards? Are things like the documentation system, support staff, and scheduling conducive to you being able to meet the productivity?

As a travel therapist, you are generally expected to be able to “hit the ground running” without much ramp up time. Sometimes facilities are able to provide more or less ramp up time or training than others, it just depends on the contract. But regardless of these expectations, you have to be honest with yourself and your supervisor. If the productivity expectations are not reasonable enough for you to meet them within your regularly scheduled hours, you need to stand up for yourself as a healthcare professional. Don’t let anyone guilt you in to stretching the limits of your ethics and legality, or your personal sanity, to meet unrealistic productivity expectations. Always remember, it’s your professional license and your quality of patient care at stake.

Working Off The Clock

Discussing productivity leads directly into our next topic, working off the clock. All too often, if the productivity standards at a facility are unrealistic and cannot truly be achieved during a standard workday, it leads to employees working off the clock to get their documentation done. For permanent employees who are on salary, there isn’t really such a thing as “working off the clock.” So, often, they will be in the habit of coming in early, staying late, working through lunch, or taking paperwork home with them. If you’re a practicing clinician, you are undoubtedly familiar with this, and as a student having gone through clinicals, you may be as well.

However, as a travel therapist, it’s important to remember that you are an hourly employee. You are paid by the hour that you work. Therefore, you should be able to complete all required work (including documentation) during your scheduled work hours. This can be difficult for employers/supervisors to cope with, because they’re used to their salaried employees. So if necessary, if this becomes an issue, it may require a conversation with your recruiter and/or your supervisor.

We encourage you to get paid for all of your time. So if the schedule and productivity expectations are not conducive to you completing your required work within your regular hours, something needs to change. This could mean a conversation about your schedule to reduce the caseload or allow built in time for paperwork. Otherwise, if you are working beyond your scheduled workday, you should be getting paid overtime.

Overtime

This leads in to the next topic. As stated above, if you’re working overtime hours, you should be getting overtime pay.

Typically as a traveler, facilities do not want to pay overtime. So, we have approached this situation in a couple different ways. Either we would let them know upfront that based on our schedule and our documentation, we would be going into overtime, and see what they say. Or, we would just do the required work, and if this required 30mins to an hour of overtime, we would then write that on our timesheet for the week. If nothing was said, we would just continue to write our hours down as we worked them, even if that meant overtime. But, often if you put down overtime hours, this will spark a conversation from your recruiter or supervisor. This is then the time when you would want to discuss the various factors of your day that make you unable to complete the required patient care and documentation within your normal hours. Then, perhaps the supervisor will work with you to make changes to your schedule, or they will agree to allow you overtime.

As far as overtime pay goes, this works a little bit differently for travel therapists. Typically, overtime pay is a standard “time and a half” on your hourly pay. However, this amount does not make sense for a traveler, because time and a half on our hourly is actually lower than our standard 40 hour pay when you account for the stipends received during our normal working hours. To learn more about overtime pay, check out this article.

The bottom line is that if you are going to be working overtime hours, you need to get compensated appropriately for the overtime hours. Hopefully you were able to negotiate an appropriate overtime rate when you signed your contract (in general for PT/OT/SLP this should be at minimum $45/hour but could be up to $85-100/hour). But, if for some reason you find yourself in a travel contract where you are actually working a lot of overtime hours, and your overtime pay is still only time and a half of your hourly, you need to discuss this with your recruiter and get it increased. Sometimes they can create an addendum to your contract to add a higher overtime rate, or they may be able to pay you a bonus at the end of the contract to compensate you for the difference in what you should have been receiving for overtime. Either way, make sure the overtime pay you are receiving is worth your time. Otherwise, don’t agree to work overtime, and instead make sure your schedule is adjusted accordingly.

Work Drama

Switching gears a bit, our next recommendation for your first contract (and all subsequent contracts!) is to avoid the work drama! As most of us healthcare professionals know, there is usually some type of work drama at any facility, whether it be interpersonal relationships, a bad manager, a bad coworker, staffing issues, or new rules and changes happening at the facility. This should be one of the best parts about working as a travel therapist. You’re only there temporarily, so you shouldn’t have to worry about this drama at work!

Not only is it good for your mental health to avoid work drama, but this recommendation will also help you to be more productive and get out of work on time. I can’t tell you how many times I made the mistake of getting caught up in the work drama and happenings of the clinic, and I ended up sitting there talking to a coworker for an extra 20 minutes, hour, hour and a half, when I should’ve been getting my notes done and getting out of there! Take our advice, and avoid the work drama as a travel therapist, and you’ll come out ahead in all respects!

Planning for Your Next Contract

The last thing we encourage you to consider during your first contract is planning for your next contract! This can be a tricky part of being a travel therapist, and this will be your first time navigating the transition. If you wait until the end of your current contract to start looking for your next contract then you’ll be way behind! We recommend that around mid-contract, you start to consider where your next move will be.

Are things going well at your current contract, and maybe you’re considering extending? Usually you can get a feel for this after the first few weeks. You might also already have an idea whether the facility might need you to extend or not. Have they found someone to cover their staffing needs already, or are they still searching? Is the caseload still high, or has it dropped and they won’t need anyone any longer? By about halfway through your contract, if you want to extend, you should start talking to your supervisor about it. Sometimes they will approach you themselves, but often you have to ask. In the past, we have usually approached the supervisor and said something along the lines of, “It’s about halfway through my contract and this is when I need to decide what my next move will be. I was wondering about your current staffing needs, and if you think you might need me longer than my 13 week contract?” This is usually a good opener to the conversation. If you do want to extend, and they need you to extend, you then go back to your recruiter and proceed with the contract extension negotiations.

If extending your contract is not an option or not something you want to do, then you need to start thinking about where you want to work next, and when you want to start. If you’re interested in going to a different state, you need to already be working on the next license. We always recommend having the license in hand before applying to a job in a certain state. Sometimes while you are already on contract with a company, they will be able to help you start the process of getting your next state license.

If you plan to start work immediately after your current contract, it’s best to start looking for your next job about 6 weeks out from your end date. We usually try to have our next contract locked down within 2 to 4 weeks of our end date. If we get down to 2 weeks from our end date, that’s when we start getting a little nervous, and also when we might consider expanding our search criteria and getting a little less picky.

This is an important factor to consider as a travel therapist on your first contract and on all subsequent contracts. 13 weeks goes by a lot faster than you think! In order to avoid a lot of unwanted (and unpaid) time off, you need to be on top of your job searches. Hopefully you have a team of recruiters that is proactive and will also be reminding you of this and helping you with the process. But we encourage you to be proactive in your job search, because ultimately you’re the only one who is going to go without work and without pay if you don’t lock in a contract.

Conclusion

While there are lots of things to think about during your first contract, these are the main ones we wanted to highlight that we think pertain to all travel therapists. There will undoubtedly be a lot of other factors, especially various clinical nuances, to consider. But, in terms of being successful as a travel therapist, the biggies are: making sure you’re not being taken advantage of in terms of productivity, not working off the clock, and overtime; as well as avoiding work drama; and planning ahead for your next contract!

We hope this information helps to set you up for success during your first travel contract! If you have questions for us, don’t hesitate to send us a message!

If you’re still in the process of getting started with travel therapy and would like recommendations for recruiters we have worked with that will have your back during your journey as a traveler, fill out this form and we will get back to you with recommendations!