Travel PT: Moving Deeper into Southwest Virginia

-By Whitney-

Timeline: Dec 2015-March 2016

So, as our second (or third for me) round of contracts were winding down, we again started looking for the next one. Have you gotten the theme yet? Working as a traveler really reminds me of being in school and going from one internship to the next. You think about an area you’d like to go, you research the jobs in that area, you might talk to your recruiter about it or take an interview or two before choosing, you search for housing in the area (or in our case, a campground), and you plan your next move. The turn around can come up really fast (usually 3 months), so you almost feel like you’re always job searching. That’s why whenever possible we’d like to extend our contract at the same location for longer than 3 months to cut down on the hassle, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

Any-who, there I was finishing up my 2nd round at the retirement community in Blacksburg, very ready to move on, while Jared was enjoying his time at the small hospital-based outpatient in Pulaski and was considering extending his contract again. This left me searching once again for jobs nearby, and not coming up with much. We again started looking for 2 jobs in an entirely new area as an option, but weren’t having much luck there either. (Traveling as a pair can make finding jobs tough sometimes!) At this time we were only licensed in Virginia, so that was a limiting factor. We were also in the process of really finalizing our decision on a truck and a camper to buy, so we weren’t sure if it would be such a good idea to plan to move to an entirely new area during our first few months of  living in the camper. Weather was also a factor when planning to first start living in the camper, as it was approaching December at this time.

I ended up finding a job at a SNF/LTC facility about an hour away from Jared’s site in a small town called Chilhowie, even further into Southwest VA from where we were living at the time, close to the Tennessee line. We had identified that if we were going to start living in the camper the same time I changed contracts, there was a campground in between those two jobs in Fort Chiswell, VA which would be about a 20 minute commute for Jared and a 45 minute commute for me. It wasn’t perfect, but it was our best option at the time. I ideally wanted an outpatient job, but I had a great phone interview with the clinic director who was also a PT, and it sounded like a lot better of a place for a Travel PT than my first retirement community job. So I went for it, and Jared extended his contract at the outpatient in Pulaski.

This was a hectic and exciting time. We to this point had not had to take any time off between jobs, and we were trying to keep up that momentum. This meant the process of actually going and buying the truck and camper was done on weekends while still working. After searching at several different RV dealerships and looking online, we found a few top choices in Southern VA and NC, then drove down on a weekend to look at them and make a choice. We picked one at Camping World in Concord, NC while we were there, and put a deposit on it. We planned a date in December to go back and get it. In the meantime, we were on the hunt for a truck. We did the same thing, found some online, went and looked at a few in 1 day to narrow down our choices, and picked one in North Carolina. We thought we would be driving it home that day, but we ended up having to drive home and go back and get it another day due to a delay in the wire transfer to pay for it. We though having cash in the bank to pay for it would make things easier than getting a loan, but apparently it’s not easy to access $17k+ in cash when dealing with an individual seller. (Cue JG Wentworth commercial: “It’s my money & I need it now!”) Next, we had to go back with our truck a different weekend and pick up the camper. Luckily due to the proximity of everything, we were able to drive south to get the camper in NC, drive back north and drop it off at the campground where we would be staying (paying for a couple weeks of time there when it was only being stored on site, we weren’t actually living there yet), and keep on heading back north to where we were living in the apartment.

So, among all this craziness, we were still working. I finished my job in Blacksburg on a Friday; we picked up the camper on Saturday; stayed in the camper for the first time in NC on Saturday night; drove it back and dropped it off on Sunday; and I started my new job in Chilhowie on Monday. I only worked for 2 or 3 days that week, because I had planned my contract around taking a vacation with my family to California for Christmas. I wouldn’t have started until after the trip, but the manager asked if I could come in for a couple days and get oriented before I left. This way I would be prepared to cover evaluations on my own when I got back on New Year’s Eve because the manager (PT) would be out of town. Meanwhile, Jared stayed at the apartment in Dublin and worked right up until Christmas Eve. He then got to go home for the long weekend and see his family, and returned right back to work. I chose to take a week or so off to spend with my extended family out of town, and I was right back at my new job on New Years Eve to cover a few evaluations. So, needless to say we had a really fun New Year’s Eve – we spent the evening at the apartment packing up our belongings and preparing to move into the camper, and January 1st was our first official day of camper living.

Over the next three months from January to March, we lived in the camper in rural Southwest VA – which included fun times dealing with below freezing temps, and snow, and freezing water hoses, and breakers kicking off, and frozen water tank valves, and getting to know the on site bath house pretty well. It was definitely a learning experience, and if we had it to do over, we would probably not have lived in a cold climate as our first time living in the camper – ha.

As far as my new job went, working in Chilhowie was like taking a step back in time. Chilhowie is a one-stoplight, small town deep in Southwest VA. It was a unique small-town feel that I enjoyed. The facility was one building with SNF, LTC & Assisted Living units, instead of a large campus with several different buildings like where I was before (I liked this better because it made getting around to the patients & overall scheduling a lot easier). The crazy thing was that the rehab department used paper documentation (think, carbon copies on carbon copies on carbon copies). I remember telling my coworkers I had never written a paper evaluation before, and the older therapists had a good laugh! This was a big challenge for me, and really made me still hate the documentation-productivity part of working at SNF’s. My  manager was a lot better than the ones I had at the last SNF experience, and I wasn’t hounded about my productivity, but I did end up working quite a bit off the clock to finish my paperwork like the rest of the staff. I really hate those standards. Some pros to this location were that I could set my own hours (I’m not a morning person, so this was wonderful, plus I had a 45+ minute commute which was rough), my boss was a PT which was very helpful, my co-workers were great, and most of the patients were very sweet (but they did have a large psych & dementia population which kept things interesting). Overall I liked it there and enjoyed the experience, but I was ready to get out of nursing homes & ridiculous documentation standards for a while.

Meanwhile, Jared was pretty much a permanent employee at Pulaski at this point. He ended up working there for 9 months, which is just about the limit of how long you can stay in one place as a traveler before you would be considered permanent and stop getting travel benefits. During that time, I had worked in Blacksburg, Pulaski, Blacksburg again, and Chilhowie. We enjoyed our time seeing different parts of our region of Southwest Virginia (future posts to come about the fun things we did outside of working while in Southwest VA), but after 9 months we were ready to head out of the state and see a completely new part of the country. Stay tuned for my update on our next move!

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