What are the Most Common and Highest Paying Settings for Travel Therapists?

If you’re considering jumping into travel therapy, you’ve probably wondered which settings are the most common for travel therapy jobs, and which settings pay the most for travel therapy jobs. These are both important factors to consider before getting started as a travel therapist. If you’re accustomed to working in one type of setting or wanting to take most of your travel therapy jobs in that setting, you’ll want to know how prevalent the setting is and how much it tends to pay for travel therapy jobs. If you’re flexible on the setting but just want to make the most money, knowing which settings tend to pay the highest might sway you toward taking jobs in the highest paying settings.

Why Travel Therapists are Needed

Travel therapy jobs can be in nearly any setting where a PT, OT, SLP, or assistant would usually work. Travel therapists fill in temporarily at an open therapist position. The positions can be open for a variety of reasons, such as a maternity leave, a seasonal increase in caseload, someone recently quit, or lack of candidates to fill the permanent position.

Overall, the most common reason that a facility needs a travel therapist is because they are having trouble filling a longer term position with a permanent therapist. This may be because it’s a more rural area that doesn’t have a big candidate pool, or because someone quit suddenly and they haven’t had time to hire another permanent employee yet.

Because the most common reason to need a traveler is due to lack of candidates for the permanent position, it’s much less common to see travel therapy job openings for specialty settings, such as women’s health (pelvic health) or outpatient neuro. This is in part because specialty settings like this make up a much smaller number of all therapy jobs nationwide. It’s also because those settings are usually more desirable for therapists who have advanced certifications and specialize in those areas, thus why they are “specialty” settings. So, the jobs usually tend to already be filled by candidates who are seeking out those positions for their specialty.

Whereas, there are thousands of therapist jobs that need to be filled nationwide in the more common “general” settings. These are usually the jobs that have trouble filling up with full time/permanent staff. Therefore, these are the jobs that typically will need travel therapists to help them out to fill in temporarily while they are seeking a permanent therapist.

The Most Common Settings for Travel Therapists

Considering the reasons why travel therapists are typically needed, and the settings that most commonly have job openings nationwide, it makes sense why travel therapy job openings are more common in the “general” settings.

These are the most common settings for travel therapy jobs:

  • Skilled Nursing/Long Term Care Facilities
  • Home Health
  • General Outpatient Orthopedics
  • General Acute Care/Hospital
  • School Systems

There are occasionally travel therapy job openings in other settings, but they are going to be much less common. So, if you’re interested in specialty settings or other settings not listed here, it’s not impossible to find travel therapy jobs in those settings, just not as likely.

The best thing to do would be to talk to a few travel therapy recruiters and look at travel therapy job boards such as our Hot Travel Therapy Jobs List to get an idea of the market and see if you’ll be able to find jobs in your preferred setting. If you’re flexible to sometimes take jobs in the most common settings, while keeping an eye out for occasional jobs in your preferred specialty setting, that will help. Or, you may just have to be very flexible on locations in order to find the more rare openings in your preferred setting.

Factors Determining Pay in Travel Therapy Jobs

Now that we have covered the most common settings, let’s take a look at which settings tend to pay the highest. Here are some factors to consider that impact the pay for travel therapy jobs.

Reimbursement Rates

Reimbursement rates for a particular setting have a big impact on how much a facility can pay an employee. While the pay for permanent jobs is usually based mainly on reimbursement rates, that is only part of the story for travel therapy. In a permanent position, the employer is looking at the amount of revenue that a therapist can generate on average based on the units they bill and using that to determine a range of total compensation including salary and benefits. A travel therapy position is different because it’s short term and filling an urgent employment need. That, of course, is why travel therapists are able to earn more money than a permanent therapist in the same position. In some cases, a facility will actually be willing to lose money (i.e. pay the traveler more than they’re reimbursed for services) by employing a travel therapist temporarily at a high rate in order to keep from losing patients or having to shut down the facility. So, reimbursement rates do affect travel therapy jobs, but not as much as supply and demand.

Supply and Demand

Due to the high urgency for travel positions, supply and demand come into play to a much larger extent for travel therapy jobs than with permanent jobs. The favorable supply and demand dynamics are also where travel therapists can have a lot of room to negotiate in the right situation. There’s no doubt that reimbursement rates play a roll for travel jobs as well, but it’s just not the primary factor like with permanent positions. In the travel therapy world, a setting with a lot of open jobs can pay higher even if reimbursement rates are lower because they have to pay more to attract candidates to fill their open position. Pay rates are what travel therapists look at when deciding if they should apply for a position or not over other factors, so higher paying jobs get more travel therapist submissions.

Cost of Living

Another factor that can impact travel therapy jobs is location/cost of living. However, this is a much smaller factor than you would think. Facilities still have to budget to some extent based on how much they’re reimbursed for services. The cost of living in the area doesn’t always coincide with reimbursement rates, so not all jobs in high cost of living areas pay really well. Hawaii is a great example of this. Although the cost of living in Hawaii is extremely high, the reimbursement rates tend to be low and so does the pay (for both perm and travel jobs).

Where high cost of living can help you earn more as a traveler is IF the facility is offering a fairly high bill rate for the job, and the cost of living in the area is high, then usually the GSA allowable stipend for the area will be high. Therefore, the travel therapy company can move more of the bill rate for your pay package into the tax-free stipends, which in the end will mean you’ll come out making more after taxes. However, it’s important to keep in mind here, ONLY being in a high cost of living area doesn’t guarantee the job will pay high. If the facility is offering a low bill rate for the job, then the travel therapy recruiter can’t always max out your stipends even though the GSA rate is high, because there isn’t enough money in the bill rate to fill up that stipend category.

The Highest Paying Settings for Travel Therapists

While pay is going to vary across all travel therapy jobs depending on the factors above, particularly the location, supply/demand, and reimbursement rates, there do tend to be trends with which settings pay the highest for travel therapy positions.

Generally speaking, this is the usual ranking for highest to lowest pay for travel therapy jobs:

  • Home Health
  • Outpatient
  • Acute care
  • Inpatient Rehab
  • Skilled Nursing
  • Schools

Of course there will be random times when jobs in a particular setting may pay lower or higher than expected. The best way to gauge the job market and know which settings and locations are paying the highest, is to work directly with a few different travel therapy recruiters and ask them to send you a list of jobs in a particular area or setting where you’re interested. You can also look at travel therapy job boards, such as our Hot Travel Therapy Jobs list, to get a general idea of settings and pay for travel therapy jobs.

Getting Started with Travel Therapy

If you’re ready to learn more about travel therapy, check out the resources we offer here at Travel Therapy Mentor to help you get started. Our free Travel Therapy 101 Series is a great place to start. If you want to dive even deeper, you may want to sign up for our comprehensive travel therapy course which will teach you everything you need to know from start to finish to be a successful travel therapist and come out ahead financially.

If you’re within three months of starting your travel therapy journey, fill out our Recruiter Recommendations form here to get connected with great travel therapy recruiters. We will take a look at your preferences, including your preferred setting(s), location(s), and priorities, and email you back with our personalized recruiter recommendations specifically for you.

If you have questions about travel therapy, please feel free to send us a message!

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Written by Jared and Whitney Casazza, PT, DPT – Jared and Whitney have been traveling physical therapists since 2015. They have become experts in the field of travel healthcare through experience, research, and networking over nearly a decade.