Beginning to read and learn about travel physical therapy can be very scary, especially for a new grad. I am by no means an expert at this point but I have been traveling for almost a year now. When I first started, I was nervous to say the least. The allure of increased pay and traveling all over the country was enticing, but I had so many questions. Where will I live? How will I get there? I hate packing and moving, how can I possibly do it every three months? How do I know which recruiter and company to choose? What if I hate the clinic that I am placed at? What if I don’t know enough, as a new grad, to be effective at treating the patients?
Those are only a few of the questions that I had. I was lucky enough to have met a travel PT in my first clinical and was able to talk to him for a couple of hours and get answers to most of my questions. I want to write this post for current PT students or recently graduated physical therapists that are considering traveling and answer some of those tough questions.
- Better pay
- Experience in different settings
- Meeting new friends and acquaintances
- Learning new skills
- Seeing different parts of the country
- Moving often
- Setting up housing each time
- Adapting to new job environments
- No paid time off
- Possible tax law issues (the topic of a future post)
Even considering the cons list above, I would highly recommend travel PT. The experience has been very rewarding for Whitney and me. The pay is amazing, seeing new areas is thrilling, and interacting with people from backgrounds all over the spectrum is enlightening.
Another consideration when beginning to think about travel PT is if you are confident in your physical therapy skill set as a new grad. If not, it may not be a complete deal breaker for travel, but it could make your first couple of assignments more difficult. Some locations that you may go to will be very accommodating and helpful. This may include an orientation, several days of shadowing, and a light caseload in order to get accustomed to the new documentation system and environment. Other clinics will be the complete opposite and expect you to handle a full caseload your first day and learn everything on the fly. Unfortunately, this was Whitney’s experience with her first contract. She called me crying at the conclusion her first day because she was thrown into a full caseload after only a brief introduction to the manager and some of the staff. In the event that you have to jump right in, being confident in your evaluation and treatment skills is essential. If you feel that you may need more time and would like to have someone to rely on if needed, then let your recruiter know that being placed at a facility with a new grad program is non-negotiable.
This leads to the next step, finding a travel company and a recruiter that will help you and be in your corner. The companies/recruiters that I have taken contracts with have been very helpful, but I believe that you should talk to several and find the ones who you feel the most comfortable with and that you feel like you can trust. For my recommendations, feel free to contact me and I will give you their contact information. Side note, you do not have to have just one company that you work with. When looking for jobs, we are always talking to at least two recruiters from different companies in order to have a better shot at getting a job in the area and setting that we want. Recruiters will act like they are your best friends because they want you to take a job with them, but this can lead you into a false sense of security. Remember that their ultimate goal is for you to take a job with their company, so you still need to be vigilant and not accept any job that isn’t a good fit for you.
- Do they offer referral bonuses?
- Do they offer license reimbursement?
- Do they offer travel expense reimbursement?
- Do they offer 401k enrollment and when are you eligible?
- What does the benefits package include and when does it start?
- Do they offer a finder’s fee if you bring the job to them?
- Are there any opportunities for paid time off?
- Do they offer any continuing education support?
Now that you have a recruiter, or two, that you can count on, pick a few states where you would be interested in working, and ask your recruiter for a list of jobs in those states. You’ll likely find that some states seem to have a plethora of jobs while some states seem to only have a few. Keep in mind, you have to get licensed in each state where you want to work, and each state has different procedures, fees, and lengths of time to get licensed. Your travel company should be able to assist you with the licensing process. Next, consider in which settings you’d be willing to work and which ones you are not willing to take (i.e. SNF vs. outpatient vs. acute). You can’t always have your cake and eat it too, so you may have to settle on either the location or the setting. For example, you may be set on only working in acute care to start with, so you may not get the exact geographical location that you desire. Or, if you are set on working in Charlotte, you may have to take a job in a setting that isn’t your first choice. Determine what is most important to you. Is it the location or the setting that is the real deal breaker for you? You may get lucky and get exactly the setting you want in your ideal location, but don’t count on it. Remember that the amount of jobs available is finite. However, it is a lot easier to find jobs you want when you’re traveling as an individual. It’s much more difficult traveling as a pair and trying to find 2 jobs in the same geographical area, and also trying to choose your ideal setting. Whitney and I have had to make some sacrifices on jobs because of that.
- Will there be other PTs in the clinic or are you going to be the only one?
- How many PTAs?
- What hours/days of the week will you be working?
- What is their documentation system?
- How many patients will you being seeing in a day and how many of those will be evaluations on average? How much time is allotted to each patient?
- When are they looking for an applicant to start working?
- What is the primary population, if applicable?
- Is there a guaranteed 40 hour work week?
- Is overtime an option or requirement?
- What is the productivity expectation? (This can be an issue. I will cover this in a future post)
These questions are crucial. Both Whitney and I were adamant on not accepting a job unless there was at least one other PT so that we could ask questions if we needed.
This is just an intro on how to get started with your travel PT journey. I will write more about accepting an offer and the next steps in the process in my next post. Thank you for reading and feel free to ask questions below.
Check out the 2nd part to this post: