Travel PT: Our First Jobs

-By Whitney-

Timeline: June 2015-Sept 2015

As I explained in my last post, my first travel PT job was at a large retirement community in Blacksburg, Virginia and Jared’s first job was at a small hospital (acute care) in Pulaski, Virginia. Our jobs were about 45 mins apart, and we were staying at a furnished garage apartment in Dublin, Virginia.

My job started 2 weeks before Jared’s, so I was the first up to bat, one month after graduating with my Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. I was told at this job that there was going to be another full time PT at this location, which was a top priority for me in choosing my first job right out of school. I had turned down several other jobs because I would have been the only PT. On my first day of work, I was given a half-day orientation and tour by the “interim” manager, a PTA at the facility. It was at this time that I found out that there actually was not going to be another PT. I was the only one. I was shocked. The regular full time PT had gone on medical leave a couple weeks before my start date. I was to later find out that she had gone on medical leave due to blood pressure issues, likely contributed to over-working herself and staying late at this job until Midnight at times. (Great.) So, there I was, brand new, nervous, never having worked as a “real PT” before, and I was going to be the only PT at this large campus which included a skilled nursing unit, a long term care unit, an assisted living unit, an assisted living apartment building, and several apartments, condos, and houses filled with independent living clients. Not only that, but also I was the only supervising PT for 3 (and soon to be 5) full time PTA’s and several PRN PTA’s. I was definitely concerned and felt like I had been lied to. My first day I had a couple of new patient evaluations after my orientation, and by day 2 I had a full schedule.

Since I was the only full time PT (there were a couple PT’s that worked PRN and were there occasionally) and the regular PT had already been gone a couple of weeks, there were piles of evaluations, progress visits, and discharge visits that needed to be done. Looking back, I pretty much feel like these SNFs who hire you has the only PT just need you for your signature. My first month or two there, I would almost never have a regular treatment on my schedule. The first couple weeks of my job were a blur of stress, crying, and considering quitting. There was no way I could keep up with the amount of paperwork involved with all the reports (Evals, PR’s, DC’s), much less meet the “productivity” expectations. I was told that this facility expected 92% productivity for assistants (PTA’s, COTA’s) and 90% for evaluating therapists (PT’s, OT’s, SLP’s). My productivity averaged 30-50% in the first couple weeks. This can quickly turn into a huge rant about the ridiculousness of “productivity standards,” so I’m going to save that for another post.

To say the least, my first job was pretty terrible at first. The only saving grace was most of my co-workers were great. I got a lot of help from the OT and the SLP as far as logistics with evaluations, paperwork, and some general plan of care decision making. Co-treating and co-evaluations saved me at times. The PTA’s were also pretty knowledgeable and helpful for the PT specific things. I pretty much grinned and bore it and counted down the days until my contract ended. Eventually about 6 weeks into my contract, the other full time PT came back, and this definitely helped with the caseload. Over time, I did get somewhat quicker with the documentation and time management, but never to the point of anywhere near “good” productivity in the company’s eyes. Again, more on the “Productivity Issue” later.

Meanwhile, Jared started working about 2 weeks after me. He was at a very, very small hospital in a rural area and was the only PT in the inpatient/acute side of the building, which also had a small skilled nursing unit on one wing. As I said in my last post, Jared had no prior experience in an acute care setting or a SNF, so this was a completely new experience and challenge for him. There was another travel PT in the “outpatient” department, literally right down the hall. There were several PTAs that worked in the outpatient and inpatient. Since both departments were on the same floor of the hospital just down the hallway from one another, all of the PT and OT staff pretty much floated between departments as needed. Jared did well with the acute care/skilled unit, which wasn’t anything too complex as far as the conditions went (i.e. general debility, pneumonia, total knees, etc). Anything more complex would be sent to the bigger hospitals. The toughest part of Jared’s job was that the PT staff did wound care at this facility, which more and more is becoming a nursing duty and very few facilities still have this under PT’s role. Jared had no prior hands-on experience with wound care, only what he had learned in school. In fact, during a shadowing experience in PT school, he had nearly passed out while watching wound care. Luckily the PTA’s were very knowledgeable and helped him learn how to do it. Jared is a fast learner and very good at adapting to new situations. He became a lot more comfortable with wound care and got pretty good at it. His job came with its own frustrations, but for the most part he liked it even though it wasn’t his ideal setting.

As our first 13-week contracts were winding down, we started looking into options for our next contract. We were already thinking about staying in the same area to continue saving money for the camper. Since Jared’s job was going well, and the facility had had a series of travelers for a long time before him without having hired a permanent PT, he was strongly considering extending his contract for another 13 weeks. I clearly was not considering extending mine. We then found out that the traveling PT in the outpatient department at Jared’s hospital was leaving exactly the same time when my contract at the retirement community ended. So, we arranged for me to take her job in the outpatient as my next contract, and for Jared to extend in his current job in acute care. We were excited to be working in the same facility, and I was excited to be taking my first outpatient job at a small hospital-based clinic that was going to be low stress. So we were all set. So we thought.

As the weeks approached for me to switch jobs and join Jared at the hospital, we found out that the hospital had found a PT to hire permanently for Jared’s job in the acute care. We were really nervous and mad about this. But we knew that this was what was best for the facility, as the ultimate goal in hiring travelers is for it to be temporary until they can find someone permanent, so we couldn’t be mad at them. This was just part of the bargain with working as a traveler. So we had to decide what our next move was.

Stay tuned for my next post to find out about our 2nd jobs as travelers and our next move. Thanks for reading, and please let me or Jared know if you have any questions about our experiences!

2 thoughts on “Travel PT: Our First Jobs

  1. Hi there, thanks for sharing your travel experience in VA. Funny story: I will be starting an OP contract in Pulaski tomorrow, and I am pretty sure that Jared worked at the same hospital, given the unlikely fact that there are multiple hospitals there. I would be happy to hear about your experience there, particularly regarding wound care since, like you, I have little experience in this area. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh really? That’s awesome! Tell everyone that we said hey. I was very nervous about both acute care and wound care when I started there and it was pretty difficult to learn at first. You’ll have guidance and help there if you need it from the PRN PT and one of the PTAs that has been doing wound care for a long time. By the time I left, I actually enjoyed wound care and looked forward to doing the treatments. The wound care evals can be pretty sketchy at times and you never know what you’ll see but chances are that if you don’t know what to do, someone will be able to help you. The outpatient department in general is great. 1:1 for an hour with each patient is pretty rare to find these days and I enjoyed having more time with each patient. Pretty much everyone there is laid back and fun to work with. Whitney and I have actually been trying to return to that area but it’s difficult to find another travel job close by for her. I’m sure you’ll enjoy your time there. Let me know if you have any questions!

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