Travel Therapy During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Information as of April 1, 2020Unfortunately not an April Fools joke

This is a difficult time for the entire world amid the COVID-19 Pandemic. Unfortunately, the world of travel therapy is also affected as a result of this global pandemic. This hits at an unfortunate time for PT’s, OT’s, SLP’s, PTA’s and COTA’s, because our job market has already been reduced the last 6 months or so due to recent Medicare changes (PDPM & PDGM).

Many of you who are current US travel therapists or who are considering starting travel therapy may be wondering what’s going on with travel therapy and what you should do in response. Here we will provide some information and insight on what we’ve been seeing in the travel therapy job market, as well as some recommendations on how to proceed during these tenuous times.

The Big Picture

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re undoubtedly aware of the increasing numbers of cases of the COVID-19 virus in the US, as well as the nationwide response resulting in many “shelter in place” or “stay at home” orders. This has had a big impact on our economy and overall job market, with millions of Americans applying for unemployment in the last couple of weeks. While the need for certain healthcare providers (such as ICU and ER nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists, lab techs, etc) during this pandemic is soaring, other healthcare providers are dealing with layoffs and facing unemployment themselves.

Why is this? We have to consider the big picture of what a “stay at home” order does to our other healthcare settings. For example, many “non-life saving” medical offices have had to close or stop seeing patients, including primary care physicians, dentists, and even outpatient therapy offices. In addition, elective surgeries have been put on hold to help clear out hospitals, which has “downstream” effects on therapy with less post-op patients being seen in the hospitals, SNFs, and outpatient therapy departments. For those offices that are still open, there are less clients due to the public staying at home, which leads to a reduction in caseload, and reduction in staffing needs. Also, with schools closing, there is a decrease in job openings for school therapists. All of this has led to less overall job availability for both permanent and traveling PT’s, OT’s, SLP’s, PTA’s, and COTA’s.

Who’s Been Most Affected?

As alluded to above, outpatient therapy and school therapy jobs have been most affected, for both perm and travel positions. Some school positions have been saved by the ability to do teletherapy, and some outpatient positions are trying to utilize teletherapy as well where able. Overall this has meant a lot of cancelled contracts for traveling therapists in outpatient and schools, and layoffs for perm therapists in these settings. It also means we’re not seeing hardly any new job openings in those settings, which is a big hit for those therapists who primarily take jobs in these settings.

Of the therapy disciplines, PT, OT and assistants have been the most affected, with the SLP job market still staying fairly strong.

So far, SNF, home health, and hospital jobs have been the least affected. In some cases, we’ve seen that hospital-based outpatient has been spared, because the hospitals are able to keep this staff and float them to other departments where they can still assist and stay employed. However, for travelers, this can actually backfire where the hospitals are trying to keep their perm staff employed, so they cancel travelers in both the outpatient and the inpatient side to be able to use their outpatient perm staff in other departments.

Cancellation Clauses & Honoring Contracts

Unfortunately during this difficult time, we have seen that many travel therapy contracts are not being fully honored. Many facilities are terminating travelers on the spot or with less than a week’s notice. Many are not honoring their 14 or 30 day cancellation clauses, meaning they are not allowing them to work out the notice period or providing additional pay after the termination date. In addition, many facilities are not honoring minimum guaranteed hours that are written into contracts, and they are cutting therapists’ hours without providing compensation. This is putting both travel therapy staffing agencies and travelers in terrible positions financially. The travel agencies are trying to assist the travelers however they can, and in some cases are able to provide compensation to make up for the guaranteed hours or early contract cancellation. But, some of them are not able to provide any compensation due to massive lost revenue from so many cancelled contracts.

Why not? Don’t we have any protection? The reason for this is that the facilities themselves are not paying for the hours, so the staffing agency isn’t receiving money to pay the traveler, and therefore they would have to pay for this out of funds that they just don’t have. This is cause for significant frustration among travelers, but unfortunately the facilities and staffing agencies could go out of business if they have to pay out every employee when there is no money coming in from clients. This can be very difficult for travelers to swallow, and we understand the frustration. Unfortunately there is generally an “Act of God” rule written or understood in the industry, and a global pandemic does fall under this category where the contract is basically void. To understand this further, we recommend you read this article about bill rates to learn how the travel agency gets paid in order for the therapist to get paid.

Travel Therapy Job Outlook

Because of how the overall therapy job market has been hit as outlined above, we now have an over-saturation of therapists looking for jobs, including: perm therapists who’ve been laid off, travel therapists who’ve had contracts cancelled, not to mention travel therapists coming off of a normal contract looking for their next one, therapists who were planning to jump into travel therapy this Spring/Summer, and recently graduated therapists. This all leads to a problem with supply and demand. There’s a low supply of jobs as we discussed, and a high demand for those jobs due to all the therapists currently out of work and searching!

To give you some further insight about how badly the therapy job availability has been hit, here are some stats/rough estimates for total travel therapy jobs open now.

  • Currently, we are hearing from staffing companies that there are between 20-40 Travel PT jobs; 15-25 Travel OT jobs; 200-250 Travel SLP jobs; and less than 10 Travel PTA/COTA jobs open at any given time in the entire country.
  • To compare, this time last year we would’ve been seeing 300-500 open travel jobs across the country for PT’s, OT’s and SLP’s (each!) and a little lower for assistants but much higher than the single digits! This means there’s been a massive reduction in available jobs.

In regards to pay, we have seen pay rates remaining relatively stagnant, but in some cases pay rates going down for therapy jobs. This is a natural occurrence due to supply and demand in any market. Many therapists were hoping we would see “crisis” job rates, such as those we have seen for nursing and respiratory therapy. However, we unfortunately are not seeing these crisis rates for PT/OT/SLP because our disciplines are not in demand as much as nursing and respiratory therapy right now due to the nature of the virus.

Are States Waiving Licensure Requirements?

There has been a lot of talk of states putting out emergency statements that they will waive licensure requirements for “healthcare workers” who are crossing state lines to “respond to the COVID-19 crisis.” Therapists have been hoping that these rules will apply to them, in order to make it easier for therapists to quickly pounce on travel jobs as they tend to come and go very quickly, and they could be in states where the therapists don’t currently hold a license. However, at this time, it’s very unclear whether these waivers apply to PT/OT/SLP or assistants. The statements put out by the states are generally vague and don’t specify which healthcare professionals qualify, and what positions qualify as “responding to the crisis.”

We have seen at least one state, Connecticut, with a specific statement issued to include PT, but not OT or SLP, among their list of healthcare professionals who qualify like nurses, physicians, etc. We’ve also seen at least one job posting for a position in Maryland which stated that Maryland state license was not needed, however we have not seen an official statement from Maryland to state that the licensure requirement was waived.

Overall, what we are hearing from recruiters is that most jobs are still requesting active state licensure for PT/OT/SLP jobs. This may be due to the fact the state hasn’t put out a clear guideline, or also that the hospital/facility has its own specific rules and compliance guidelines.

In general, at this time it seems working without an active state license is not really an option for travel therapists. While there are some vague statements out there, in practice it seems that the job listings are asking for licenses, and even if there was an opportunity where they would consider waiving licenses, it’s more likely that there will be a candidate who is already licensed who they would choose for the job rather than the unlicensed candidate, due to the high competition for jobs right now. So the bottom line is that we would not bank on being able to work across state lines without proper licensure at this time.

Our Recommendations

So, what now? The job market is terrible, the world is ending, and we should all just give up? No – it’s not that bleak. There are options, we just need to be patient right now and do the best with what we’ve got.

These are our recommendations for travel therapists and those looking into travel therapy during this time:

  • Work with multiple recruiters: This cannot be overstated at a time like this! It’s vital that travel therapists are working with 3-4 different recruiters at different companies so they can have the most the job options available to them. To learn more about how this works, check out this article. If you’d like help getting in contact with reputable recruiters to add to your team, please contact us and we’ll help you.
  • Have your profiles ready to go: Along with working with multiple recruiters, we recommend having your profile fully set up and ready to go with your recruiters, so when a job pops up, they can present it to you right away, you can say yes, and they can submit you right away. Otherwise you will miss out on jobs because other applicants beat you to the punch. While job boards such as our hot jobs list are a great way to find out about open positions, the challenge in a market like this is that if the job is listed with another company you’re not set up with, it may take too long to get your profile ready to even have a shot at the job once you express your interest.
  • Don’t be picky: Unfortunately now is not a time to be picky about job options. In order to line up a travel therapy job, you need to be as flexible as possible on setting, location, pay, hours, reimbursements, start date, and all the other nuances that go into a contract. This is not a time to play hardball on negotiating for pay and extra incentives. If you’re presented with a job offer, you need to accept or decline right away, no waiting around a few days to weigh your options, because the facility will move on to another qualified candidate very quickly. Some of these jobs are getting 50+ submissions right now which means a lot of competition!
  • Apply for another license: It’s important to be licensed in a few states to have the most job options. For those who normally rely on applying for a job then getting a license later, there isn’t time for that right now. As we discussed above, the jobs will likely get taken by another candidate who’s already licensed. The few jobs that are open are getting a ton of submissions, so it’s unlikely that these jobs are going to wait on you to get licensed. Go ahead and start working on a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th license so you’ll have it in hand to be able to submit to other jobs in other states.
    • However do keep in mind that licensing times could take longer than usual in some cases due to decreased staff available at the licensing agency, the school for transcripts, the government department for background checks, and if there’s a test required- well the testing sites could be closed completely!
  • Advice for travel pairs: Sadly this time is even more challenging for pairs. It’s very difficult to find jobs right now, period, much less two jobs together. We feel your struggle, as we’ve traveled together as a pair for many years and know how hard it is sometimes to find two jobs together. We normally don’t recommend submitting for only one job, but in times like these, that’s all you can do unfortunately. So right now we do recommend you just go for one good position, then if you can get one, try to look for something else in the area (including travel jobs or PRN jobs). Even if you can’t find a second job, at least one of you will be working, which is better than neither of you working. If you are a friend pair, or a couple that would be willing to do so, consider splitting up locations if two different jobs present themselves in different locations, although this would mean you would have to live apart for a contract.
  • Extend your contract: If you’re currently on a travel contract, have not been cancelled, and have the opportunity to extend your contract, we would highly recommend it right now. The job market is very uncertain, and trying to line up a new contract could result in frustration and possibly cancellation. So if you are in a decent contract, we’d try to stay longer if possible until things improve.
  • Consider local/perm/PRN options: With times being uncertain, it may be better to consider more local job options. There is a big gamble right now with applying for a job on the other side of the country. There is a higher risk for cancellation, which would be made even worse if you’ve moved all the way across the country, paid for housing, etc. Consider travel jobs in your home state (or where ever you currently are) or nearby states so there would be less distance at least if you got cancelled, and you’d be closer to family/friends during tough times. If travel jobs just don’t seem viable for you right now, look into who’s hiring for perm or PRN positions in your area. There’s no shame in taking a more local job for a while and returning to travel when the job market improves.
  • Look into teletherapy options: Teletherapy is a great option for therapists and patients, allowing for social distancing while still being able to provide services. While teletherapy may not be the most readily available option or the most intuitive career move, if you have the ability to do teletherapy through an employer or look into options for learning to do it on your own, we highly encourage it.
  • Apply for unemployment: As a last resort, applying for unemployment is an option. We’ve been getting a lot of questions on this, and while we have not done it ourselves, lots of other travelers have. You should still qualify even if you’ve been working as a traveler. You can apply in the state where you’ve worked the most in the past year. It doesn’t hurt to apply and try to receive some money rather than no money while you’re unable to find work.
  • If you haven’t started traveling yet: This is not the best time to jump into travel therapy if you’re thinking about leaving a perm position. We would recommend staying put if possible until things improve. If you’re finishing school soon, it’s too soon to tell for those getting licensed in May-July. It’s possible things could improve by then. When the time comes, you can consider applying for travel positions and permanent positions and see what seems like the best move at the time. You don’t have to decide right now.

The Future of Travel Therapy

As you can see, it is definitely a very trying time for travel and permanent therapists right now. The travel therapy industry has taken a huge hit, and it’s not an easy time to find travel therapy jobs. On the bright side, we all anticipate that the job market will pick back up in the future when everything calms down from the pandemic and facilities are able to resume normal operations. There may even be an increased need for therapists for patients who have become debilitated from COVID-19 and other illnesses that have gone untreated by therapy during this time. Now we just have to wait and see how long it will take for the dust to settle, whether it’s weeks or months.

So, if you have to go on unemployment right now, or consider local job options, at least you know it doesn’t have to be permanent. Hopefully once everything picks back up, there will be a surge in the travel therapy market, and we can all go out and have all the travel therapy jobs!

Until then, hang in there everybody. It’s a tough time not only for therapists but for the whole world. We’re all in this together!

Stay safe and healthy, and reach out to us if you have questions.

 

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT

Whitney Eakin headshot

Whitney is a Doctor of Physical Therapy who has been a traveling therapist since 2015. She travels with her boyfriend and fellow DPT, Jared. Together, they mentor current and aspiring travel therapists via this website, Travel Therapy Mentor.

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!