A good mentor can be a major catalyst when it comes to achieving career happiness, developing skills, and gaining confidence as a new physical therapist. A recent survey conducted by CovalentCareers showed that 35.1% of new graduate physical therapists (0-5 years out of school, n=795) value mentorship as the top consideration in regards to jobs.
Figure 1: 2019 Physical Therapist Report conducted by CovalentCareers, 2019.
Companies like Fusion Medical Staffing have made it a primary focus to offer mentorship programs to help physical therapists navigate the initial challenges of practicing on their own. One of the things that sets Fusion apart is their mentorship program created specifically for new travelers.
We spoke to Holly Weimer, PT, DPT, Samantha Brownell, OT, and Caitlin Lemire, PT, DPT—all Fusion travelers who completed the new grad mentorship program to understand what makes this program unique, and how it helped them get started with travel physical therapy.
Caitlin Lemire, PT, DPT shared her specific experience with Fusion and the new grad mentorship program, and how it helped her navigate and prepare for her first assignments.
How Fusion’s mentorship program helped me find my calling
When I graduated, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure what setting I wanted to practice in or even what city I wanted to live in. And that’s when I rediscovered Fusion.
Fusion came to my university during my freshman year of school. Being able to see the company face-to-face and hear from them directly piqued my interest. I had always found the idea of travel therapy intriguing, but I never thought it was something I would do.
Travel therapy always seemed exciting. I loved the idea of flexibility, the ability to change settings as I wanted, travel around the country, and earn extra money! The idea of seeing different places and working in different settings, and not being tied down for long periods of time while learning my trade seemed like the best of both worlds. However, I knew that I’d need help because I had some reservations and fears about traveling alone. I really wanted someone I could lean on, or call out to when I needed help. I knew that I would have more questions than answers and having someone who truly understood me and what I might be going through was really important. That’s when I knew that traveling with a company that offered a mentorship program was going to be critical.
Getting connected with Fusion
I reached out to Fusion, and what really stood out to me was how quickly the company responded. This was a good sign: if I was going to be receiving a mentor, it was important to me that the company valued quick response times.
I decided to choose Fusion over other companies because of how comfortable I felt from my very first touchpoint. The connection that I made with my recruiter during my initial conversations with them regarding joining Fusion as a traveler felt so genuine and everything about this initial relationship felt right. My recruiter answered all of my questions and alleviated a lot of the reservations I had about being a new grad and a lone female traveler. She told me all about the opportunities that were available for a new grad including the mentorship program and that is when I knew this was going to be the right fit for me.
When I decided to proceed, I was matched with my mentor right away through an email introduction. I connected with my mentor and we exchanged phone numbers more or less right away. It was really comforting knowing my mentor was a phone call or text away, that I didn’t have to always correspond through email. I found it much easier to communicate through text and I appreciated that direct line of communication.
Throughout the program, you can expect to receive support from both your recruiter and your mentor. My recruiter would keep in touch and check in on me from time to time. I knew that if I needed something they were always a quick text or phone call away as well. It’s great having a recruiter to reach out to in addition to a mentor, with your mentor giving you someone in your specialty who you can reach out to for specific questions about patients and the profession itself.
How the mentorship program works
Early on in my first assignment when I was feeling overwhelmed, my mentor would text me every couple days to make sure everything was going okay. After the first week or two, I’d get a text every couple of weeks to check in. Occasionally, I would reach out to her with questions and we would have phone conversations regarding other settings she had experience in that I also had an interest in. She was always willing to answer questions and offer advice.
What was nice is that I never felt pressured to communicate. Fusion requires that you respond to all messages within 48 hours, but the conversations flowed pretty naturally so this rule was never something I noticed. My mentor was very flexible and understanding throughout the process. It was nice knowing that I could have someone to turn to, even after my program ended.
My mentorship program lasted 13 weeks, although some can last an entire year. Mentorship is what you make of it. You can spend as much or as little time as you want with it, and that simply depends on what you’re looking to get out of it. There wasn’t a set amount of hours per week we needed to talk. I asked a lot of questions as I transitioned through my first assignment, and into my second like how to navigate the facility and documentation systems, or how to handle a difficult case.
I still remember the first time I called my mentor asking for assistance on treatment advice for a specific patient with advanced dementia. It can be scary as a new grad out there practicing in the real world, especially when you are the only therapist at a location.
You can’t underestimate the importance of having someone to talk to who understands what you are going through. Your mentor understands what it's like as a new grad and how to handle the stress and excitement of the experience.
How Fusion helps new grads
As a new grad, it is so helpful to have someone to turn to at any step along the way. When I started my first placement, I had a lot of questions. My mentor had over 11 placements under their belt, and their expertise and willingness to help were great resources for me. I was surprised at how much I needed help with documentation. Documentation was one thing that I ended up having many more questions about than I initially thought.
It is also comforting to know that you had someone there to ask the scary, “stupid,” and uneasy questions like how to adjust to the pace of clinical care. They reassured me that it would become much easier once I had a routine and got used to the facility (they were right).
The beauty of this program is that my mentor helped me with more than just clinical questions. We even talked about finances and student loans, and how scary those are!
I also turned to them with general questions about life as a traveling therapist. It was great knowing that I could turn to them for everything—from loan repayment to finding an apartment, they were there to help. I also managed to meet someone through the Fusion network who helped me find housing. It was great to know at least someone when getting set up in a new city. My mentor was very understanding, and their own experience validated my feelings.
Life as a travel physical therapist
I had never done anything like this before getting started with Fusion. Despite being somewhat nervous before starting, being a travel therapist has provided me with so many amazing opportunities for growth.
Since getting started, I have completed 4 assignments with Fusion. My first was in Topeka, Kansas. On my first day, I was taken through orientation including a review of the documentation and shadowing of an existing PT to see treatments. On the second day, I reported to the site where I would be treating and shadowed another PT. By day three I was treating on a reduced schedule to allow for documentation with a treating PTA available for additional questions.
My second assignment was in Meriden, Connecticut at a SNF. This particular assignment was different in that the company I was contracted with was starting in the facility and the entire staff was hired to begin at the same time. Day 1 consisted of performing re-assessments of existing patients and familiarizing myself with the documentation system as well as the facility. There was a slow progression of re-assessing existing patients and evaluating new ones. This assignment ended early as the company decided to fill the position with a permanent employee.
My third placement was in St. Johnsbury, Vermont at another SNF. The first day was an orientation for the facility and documentation system as well as shadowing with one of the PTAs. Day 2 consisted of a reduced schedule to allow for a more practical use of the documentation system and to perform eval/progress notes for existing patients.
My fourth and current assignment is in Myrtle Beach, SC at an Inpatient Rehab Center. The first day consisted of orientation with human resources followed by shadowing with an existing PT for 2-3 days. After shadowing and practicing with the documentation system I started adding patients onto my schedule until it was full.
I feel lucky to have had the unique opportunity to live in so many different cities and practice in so many settings. If you are considering a travel position, I really recommend that you take the chance. When you have a company like Fusion by your side, you’re never alone.
My experience working with Fusion
With Fusion, I feel truly valued as an employee. I’ve only ever heard amazing things about the company, and I have nothing but praise for them. When I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a new graduate, Fusion’s mentorship program gave me the chance to be taken under the wing of someone with countless bits of advice to give.
On top of all of the other perks of working with Fusion, they also offer a New Grad Bonus. Working with a company that caters to new graduates in so many ways is invaluable. My mentor understood exactly what I was going through and made me feel like my questions were important, no matter what. Financially, personally, and clinically, this mentorship program has helped me in every aspect.
I absolutely wouldn’t recommend a traveler pursue a program without a mentorship program simply for the fact that travel is a unique experience where you are put into situations that put you out of your comfort zone more frequently than a permanent job. It’s so reassuring to know that there’s someone you can talk to who has been through those exact same experiences and has some encouraging and thoughtful advice to share.
My mentor helped me by answering questions on difficult cases, ethical concerns, and “first-time” uncertainties. Throughout my clinical experience, they often gave advice but understood that we had different styles of practice. My mentor was never judgemental, and they understood that I needed to adapt their advice for my own personality and way of clinical practice.
Working in travel early on in my career has helped me learn how to adapt and learn quickly. I have also learned to develop effective communication skills with my superiors, therapy colleagues, and nursing staff. Ultimately, Fusion provided me with opportunities that I never otherwise would have had. Having an amazing mentor along the way meant that I was never alone. If you are interested in travel therapy, Fusion is the way to go.