Travel PT: Playing Musical Jobs

-By Whitney-

Timeline: Sept 2015-Dec 2015

As I said in my last post about our first jobs, I was preparing to finish up with my first 13-week contract (a retirement community in Blacksburg, VA) and join Jared at his facility (a rural hospital in Pulaski, VA) working in the outpatient department. Jared was planning to extend his contract working in the acute care unit of the hospital. However, just before I was going to start, we found out they hired a permanent PT to take Jared’s place. This put us in a predicament. The main reason I was going to take this job was to be at the same facility with Jared. It wouldn’t make sense for me to take the job in the outpatient and Jared to have to find a new job at a new facility. So instead, we decided that Jared would move into the outpatient position and I would find an entirely new job. Jared had already worked some in the outpatient department at the hospital because it was a small hospital and the therapists floated between units as needed. So it just made sense for Jared to take my would-be job since he already had experience there. So this left me needing to find a new job in the same area. Luckily, due to a clause in my contract, the facility allowed me to start and work 30 days before ending my contract since I had already signed the contract. This meant I had a little extra time to look for a new job. At this time, we also started looking into the option of leaving Southwest VA altogether and both getting new jobs, meaning Jared would’ve had to put in his 30 days notice. But this wasn’t our first choice because we had a good housing situation and wanted to stay a little longer to continue to save for our truck and camper.

I went ahead and finished my first contract and started working in the outpatient department at Jared’s hospital, with my 30 day timeclock ticking.  I was really excited to have my first outpatient experience as a “real” PT. I had had plenty of experience in my undergraduate internships for athletic training as well as my outpatient PT internships, but it’s definitely different working on your own. I was the only full time PT working in outpatient at the time, with two full time PTA’s working under me, and a few PRN or float PTA’s from the hospital who worked sometimes. There was also a part time PT who worked there 3 days per week and had been working there for more than a decade, but she mostly saw all of her own patients, so I was the main supervising PT for the PTA’s. Overall, I had a really great experience working at this outpatient clinic. It was pretty much the best clinic to get my feet wet in outpatient, because I had 1 hour, 1-on-1 treatments with every patient, seeing about 8 patients per day. This is pretty much unheard of in the outpatient community. It still got hectic at times since I was learning the new-to-me documentation system and was only there 30 days, but overall it was very good. This facility also allowed you to get overtime if need be in order to finish documentation. This was crucial at times because, being the only full time PT, I had almost all of the evaluations, progress reports, and discharges. So there was definitely a lot of paperwork still. I really appreciate a facility that respects your time and pays you for all of the time you are there working, instead of expecting you to work off the clock to get your documentation done (which is very common from what I hear from other therapists). In addition to my job in the outpatient, I worked two weekends in acute care in exchange for a day off during the week in outpatient.

Meanwhile, the new permanent PT started a week or two after me, and Jared trained him to take his place in the acute dept, just as the PT before Jared had trained him. I didn’t really get a training period because the travel PT whose spot I took had left the same time I left my other job. I ended my first contract on a Friday and started the new job on a Monday. Because Jared had worked some in the outpatient he helped me get acquainted; and, I was only going to be there 30 days, so it wasn’t that important for me to learn everything about the new system. Plus, most places don’t even give you a training period as a traveler. Since I was only there short term, I never really became that proficient with the wound care part of my job. Luckily the lead PTA for wound care was by my side during all of the wound evaluations I had to do, which was a huge life saver since I didn’t have any experience with wound care.

During the time I was working my 30 days in the outpatient, I was still on the hunt for a new job. We weren’t having much luck, so we were getting nervous. A couple weeks in, I came up with an idea outside the box. The facility where I had my first contract (the “terrible” retirement community) had undergone a change in management/therapy company during the month that I was gone. From what I heard from the therapists who were still there, this company was supposed to be much better. So I went out on a limb, and asked for a job. I called the new regional manager for the therapy company and asked if he would be interested in having me back there for a short term contract so that my end date would line up with Jared’s end date. He went for it. Because this was a new therapy company coming in to the facility, they were trying to make a lot of changes. They had offered contract renewals to many of the therapists, but not all of them. They were still short staffed on PT’s and were actively looking for a permanent PT to hire. I figured in the meantime, it would be beneficial for them to have me fill the gap (especially since I already had experience there), and they agreed. Also, according to the manager, when he pitched it to the staff about me returning, they were very excited. So that was our next move, I was headed back to my first job, and hoping for the best.

So at my 30 day mark, I ended my contract at the outpatient department on a Wednesday, and started back at my old job on a Monday. (As you can see here, we were trying to minimize our down-time between jobs, because there’s no PTO as a traveler). Jared switched over into the outpatient department, and the new permanent PT at the hospital took over in the acute care. Jared was very excited to be out of acute care and back in outpatient, which is way more of his forte. From what I hear, he had a lot of fun working in outpatient with the two main PTA’s, who were both guys and were always joking around, tossing the football, and laughing with each other and the patients. His job had its ups and downs as with any job, but again this outpatient was pretty laid back compared to many outpatient departments.

I headed back to my old job in Blacksburg which was undergoing a lot of changes. One of the changes included giving each of us an individual, mini laptop that we would carry with us at all times. This helped a lot with the documentation and productivity issues, especially running around to all the different buildings on campus. Another great change was that the regional manager was a lot better than the previous regional manager. I’d come to find out that management can really make or break your experience at a facility. But, at the time I started back, we still didn’t have an on site manager, which was always a really big issue there. But this was soon to change. They hired a new on site manager, which we all thought was going to be great. At first, it was. But things started to go downhill again after just a short time. I didn’t have a lot of direct issues with the manager, but he didn’t get along with certain employees and treated some differently than others. He also kept trying to make too many big changes too soon, which the staff was not responsive to. There were many long-time staff members that considered quitting because of him, one of which (an occupational therapist) did leave a few weeks before my contract ended and decided to start working as a traveler! As time wore on, things started to get really shady, and everyone became skeptical of the manager’s ethics. Without giving too much detail, he ended up being accused of Medicare fraud and was let go shortly after my contract ended there.  Besides the new manager that didn’t really fit the bill, the company had also hired a new male PTA who was very abrasive and not a good fit for this facility or the staff. I personally had a run-in with this employee during his very first week at the facility, where a simple PT-PTA conversation turned into the PTA standing up out of his chair, yelling in my face, and cussing at me. This was the first time I had ever had confrontation like that in the workplace, and it was not a good experience. Not to anyone’s surprise, this employee was fired shortly after I left as well, for various reasons – one of which was coming to work drunk/hungover and falsifying his billing and whereabouts on campus that day.

As you may have gathered, there are always going to be issues at any facility, and probably more likely at the ones where travelers tend to be placed. You have to imagine that’s probably part of the reason those facilities don’t have adequate coverage from permanent staff in the first place. However, besides the issues stated above, overall I was a lot happier at that facility the 2nd go-round. They were more lax on productivity in the beginning since it was a new company with new changes (after about a month they started to tighten up on that too), the laptops made life easier, I still loved the staff and my patients, and I had become more proficient at my job and not to mention stopped taking as much slack and standing up for myself more when it came to my capabilities and the work expectations. But by the time the end of my contract rolled around, I was definitely ready to move on (icing on the cake was certainly the two bad-egg employees). This location will definitely hold a lot of strong memories for me as my first and – third? (ha) jobs starting out just out of school. I learned a lot while I was there, good and bad, and I made a lot of lasting relationships with the staff there.

So like I said, I was ready to move on and try something new. But was Jared? Tune in to my next post to find out about our next Travel PT adventure!

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