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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How to Find Travel Therapy Jobs

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Getting Started as a Travel Therapist

For those who are just getting started and looking into becoming a travel therapist, they often wonder how to find travel therapy jobs. The process can be pretty straightforward and easy sometimes. But, depending on your preferences, the process might look a little different and might be a little more challenging. Here I’ll outline how the process works and some routes you can take to best find the travel jobs that are right for you.

Working with Travel Therapy Agencies

The easiest way to find travel therapy jobs is by working with a travel therapy agency/company. There are hundreds of companies out there, and most of them will have access to many of the same jobs. However, each company may have individual connections with certain facilities or in certain areas of the country, allowing them to have some jobs that are different from other companies. Many jobs are offered through a “Vendor Management System” or VMS, which is a central database that lists jobs in a standardized format. Some larger companies may get “first dibs” to these jobs, then if they are not filled within a certain time frame, the jobs will be opened up to other companies.

It’s generally best to work with two to three different travel therapy companies at a time so that you can keep your options open for the best choices of job listings. You will find a lot of overlap in the jobs available, but sometimes there will be outliers. In addition, each company may be able to offer you a different pay package for the same job, based on the amount of overhead and other costs that the company must incur. You can better understand these pay differences by reading about how pay works as a travel therapist and what a travel therapy contract bill rate is.

By “working with” a few companies, this just means you are in communication with a few recruiters at different companies, and you’re having the recruiters search for jobs for you. They will probably have you fill out some paperwork for them so that they can build a traveler profile for you in order to submit you for jobs. By doing this with a few companies, you have not committed yourself to be an employee of that company. You are only an employee of that company once you have accepted a travel position with them and have signed a contract to work at a facility. Otherwise, you can be in communication with as many companies as you want and have profiles with all of them, but not be committed. While you can work with an endless number of companies, we feel about 2-3 is usually enough since more than 3 can start to become a headache when trying to communicate with each recruiter, and you likely won’t get much additional benefit from working with more than 3.

The Process of Finding Jobs with Travel Agencies

Once you’re in communication with one or a few travel companies, you need to make some decisions regarding your preferences. You have to decide about where you’d like to work, in what setting(s)when you can start, and how much money you’re looking to earn.

Based on your preferences, when working with a travel agency, the recruiter will notify you of jobs they have available. Sometimes they will be able to provide you a lot of details about a job upfront, sometimes not, depending what information is available to them. If they present you with a job, and you like it, they can “submit” your application/profile to that job for consideration.

Here are the things you need to consider when communicating with a recruiter and being considered for job submissions:

Location: Are you most concerned with the state you’re in, the region of the country, or a certain city? You usually need to already be licensed in a particular state before you are submitted for any jobs there, so you need to plan ahead. However, sometimes job listings will be posted far enough in advance to have time to get licensed in a particular state, if it is a short licensing process. Work with your recruiter and the state’s licensing agency to better understand how long licenses usually take for each state. This can be a tricky game of limbo, and in general we recommend being licensed in a state before allowing travel companies to submit your application for jobs there. Often, therapists will choose to be licensed in more than one state to allow them more flexibility with job options. For physical therapists, a “compact licensure” is in the works and has recently been enacted for certain states. If you are a PT and your home state is part of the “PT Compact” then you are in luck regarding your job options. Other disciplines may have the state compact licensure option in the future but not currently.

Setting: You need to let your recruiter know what your preferred setting(s) are, which ones you would consider, and which ones are a definite “no” for you. For example, you’d prefer inpatient acute, would consider SNF, but definitely could not do outpatient. Depending on your other preferences, including location, start date, and desired pay, you may have to be more flexible on setting. But for some therapists, setting is the most important, and the other factors are more flexible.

Start Date: You need to have a start date in mind and let your recruiter(s) know. Usually jobs are posted with “ASAP” start dates, which generally gives you up to about 4 weeks depending if the facility can wait and if another clinician interviews and could start earlier. Sometimes jobs will be posted with a specific start date in mind, usually no more than 2-6 weeks out. Rarely, you’ll see jobs that they know will be available 2-6 months in advance (for example if there is a planned maternity leave). But for the most part, when you’re about 4-6 weeks out from your desired start date is when you’ll start seeing jobs posted for that time frame.

Pay: You need to have an idea of your desired weekly pay. For example, many physical therapists will look for jobs somewhere around $1500-1700/week “take home pay.” This can vary highly across different regions, settings, and disciplines. You also need to take into account the weekly pay amount vs. the cost of living in a certain area. $1500/week is going to mean a lot more money in your pocket in rural Virginia vs. coastal California. Usually letting your recruiter know what a “minimum” pay would be for you will help them narrow down job options and avoid submitting you to jobs that are very low paying. However, some therapists will recommend you don’t give the recruiter a minimum pay number, because hopefully the recruiters will offer you the highest pay available for each position based on the bill rate, and not “low ball” you based on knowing you’ll accept a lower number. Again, this part can be a bit tricky and why it’s vital to have a recruiter that you get along well with and trust to not take advantage of you.

Once you’ve let the recruiter(s) know about your preferences, they will start the job search for you. They will notify you of a potential position, and ask if you would like to be submitted. You should avoid giving permission for the recruiters to “blind submit” you to any jobs. They should ask your approval first, to ensure that it is truly a job you’re interested in, so as not to waste your time, their time, or the facility’s time. In addition, you want to avoid being “double submitted,” or submitted to the same job by two different companies. If two companies present the same job to you, you can decide who you would like to submit you based on the pay package each company presents and the benefits they’re able to offer. If you do end up accidentally getting double submitted, it’s not the end of the world, and normally the facility will give you the choice of which company you’d like to take a contract through if offered the position, but it’s best to avoid if possible.

In addition to the recruiters searching for jobs for you, you may also be able to monitor their websites or search online for jobs, then ask the recruiter about those jobs. But generally speaking, the job listings on the travel company websites are usually not the most up to date, and the recruiter can let you know about the most up to date listings a lot quicker.

Finding Jobs on Your Own as an Independent Contractor

For most therapists, working with a travel company is going to be the easiest for finding travel therapy jobs and setting up contracts and benefits. However, some therapists choose to search for jobs on their own and set up their own contracts.

The perks to this may be that you can make more money by “cutting out the middle man” and you may be able to find some jobs that are not open to the travel therapy agencies. But do keep in mind that you will also lose out on company benefits such as health insurance, which will usually be a lot cheaper since the company gets a group rate. By opting for your own health insurance, you may have higher out of pocket costs, which should be accounted for in your bottom line. You also wouldn’t be able to contribute to a company 401k plan, although you may choose to set up your own solo 401k as an independent contractor, but there will undoubtedly be more work involved.

If you are able to find your own position by searching job listings online or by “cold calling” facilities, you may be able to negotiate a higher rate and negotiate your own contract terms. Sometimes this may be in the form of a 1099 contract employee or as a direct hire employee of the facility, but with a mutual understanding you may only be there a short time. Travis and his fiancee have done this recently for a contract, so if you would like more information on this route, please contact us here.

Conclusion

Generally the easiest way to find travel therapy jobs is by working with one or more (preferably 2-3) travel therapy companies and having them search for jobs for you. Be sure to work with highly regarded recruiters/companies in order to avoid falling prey to being low-balled with pay offers. Determine which aspects of travel jobs are most important to you between pay, location, and setting. You can occasionally get a great job that has your preference for all three, but usually you’ll have to settle on 1-2 of these so it’s important to determine what is most important ahead of time. You may also be able to find jobs on your own by doing online searches and cold calling facilities.

I hope that this information has helped you to better understand the process of finding travel therapy contracts. If you have more questions or would like our recommendations for which travel companies we work with, please reach out to us!