New Grads' Intro to Travel Physical Therapy

Jan 18, 2016
15 min read
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Hi everyone, my name is Ademola Giwa, but you can call me "Demo" :) I've written this article for new grad PTs, based off my own personal experience, to serve as a reference when transitioning from a new graduate to travel therapist.

If you are reading this, you probably have some interest in becoming a travel physical therapist right after graduation. Travel physical therapy is definitely one of the more unique career paths you can choose after graduation. You have the opportunity to explore different parts of America, expose yourself to different cultures, learn various techniques and approaches from different facilities and therapists, and receive a very good pay compensation to get rid of those nasty student loans from graduate school. However, if becoming a travel therapist is something you want to do right after school, there are some very important considerations, as the selecting and hiring process can be a bit trickier than a regular permanent job.

Why I chose travel physical therapy:

Professional Development:

I only have one major overarching goal for essentially everything I do. Be the best I can be, both personally and professionally.

Professionally, I want to be able to learn and acquire as much information as possible. However, I do not want the information I gathered to be from one source but from a variety of sources, so I can be as well-rounded as possible. I decided the best way to achieve this goal was to somehow find a way where I can just go to different place so I could absorb information and learn different approaches, techniques, and ways of thinking. This was one of the biggest appeals for travel PT, because I have the opportunity to do just that. Not to mention, by traveling I can also vastly increase my networking range. Depending how big you like to dream (whether you wish to begin a residency, open a clinic, or just create a great resume), I believe travel can provide the opportunity to make connections and get ideas on way to best approach future goals.

Personal Development:

I am passionate about making the most out of every day. I love new experiences, getting out my comfort zone, and just learning more about others. Although this is very possible by just staying at home, I thought that would playing it too safe, and I like danger. So I decided that traveling to places I haven’t been to before would be adventurous and an opportunity to learn about other people that I may not otherwise had the opportunity to meet.

Secondly, as of late I have been falling in love with international travel. However, I knew if I was take a permanent job, the best I could do was probably only travel for a week or two with paid vacation, and probably only at certain times of the year. [box type="note" align="" class="" width=""]However, being a traveler, I have a lot more flexibility in my vacation time. After finishing any contract, I have the opportunity to extend my contract for extra time, take a another contract within a week or two, or if I can afford it financially, take a week to two months off and go somewhere else and get a contract when I get back.[/box] Like I said before, I want to make every day count, and I want to have the ability to go on adventures when I please without having to be held down by job or other commitments.

Should YOU travel as a new grad physical therapist?

That is an excellent question! You should definitely ask yourself some key questions before you take the plunge.

What is your nature?

Being a traveler can be a great opportunity right after graduation; however, due to the nature of the traveling industry, being a traveler is not meant for everybody. Before starting, I would recommend some self-reflection. Depending on the type of contract you take, you will need to be prepared for a lot of changes on a regular basis.

You will need to frequently adapt to new surroundings, various documentation methods, cultures, and patient demographics, and you will need to do so quickly, with a smile on your face.

If you feel that constant change is hard on you, or adapting to new environments isn’t exactly your strong suit, you may need to reconsider being a traveler immediately after PT school.

Are you confident?

Being a traveler also demands that you have ample confidence in your own skills as a therapist. However, if you are anything like me, you may be lacking in confidence right after graduation. If that is the case, be prepared to learn fast. Educate yourself, review, and ask questions of your co-workers. Don't forget the facilities that are hiring you are hiring you to fulfill to fill a need and they will most certainly want their money's worth.

Are you independent?

For the most part, being a traveler means traveling away from home. If you are the type to get homesick easily, this could easily ruin the travel experience. However, there are some ways around this (to be discussed later in the series).

Are you a good communicator?

Being a good communicator is one of the most essential skills of not only being a traveler but therapist as well. You need to be able to keep up with your recruiter, your co-workers, and other individuals in the mix. This is even more important when finding your first contract! If you don't have your communication skills down pat, I would suggest taking time to improve them before starting. (Expressing your values, concerns, asking co-workers questions, etc.)

So you want to be a travel physical therapist

All right! You've decided you want to do this. Let's talk about some steps you'll need to take when you're getting started.

Recruiting your Recruiter

So you have done some self-reflection and you discover that it is either travel or die...now what to do next? The next step and probably the most important step of all for travel physical therapy is finding which company/recruiter to work with. Choosing your recruiter is kind of like choosing a date for the prom, depending on who you choose, you can have either make the most beautiful, romantic night in the world or a total nightmare. Recruiters are the people who will be personally working with you the most suitable contract based on your preferences and desired locations. They are your link between the facility and you and will hopefully work in your best interest! So where do you start looking for such your destined partner? The best way and most preferably choice is through a recommendation from another travel therapist. Other travelers will have the inside scoop on their experiences with companies and recruiters which can provide some valuable insight on how they treat their therapist. However, if you don't have anybody who is currently a travel therapist then never fear, Google is just a click away. Feel free, to click, search, and explore various travel companies. Before you call a company, it is essential you understand what you are looking for in a recruiter.

Typically you want someone who can pay attention and really put your needs first. If you are calling and it seems the recruiter is already pushing you in one direction or promising you contracts in Hawaii or any of your dream locations if you sign up with them, it probably going to end up being a match made in hell. Beware recruiters who promise you your dream location right off the bat.

Your ultimate goal is to find a recruiter who can keep it real with you and give you the real low-down on the market. If you feel pressured, because choosing your prom date is never easy, do not worry. In the case of choosing a recruiter, you can always choose up to three to four recruiters. It makes for good competition and exposes you to a lot more opportunities as some recruiters have exclusive contracts with facilities.

BEWARE of any recruiter that tells you that you can only work with them. You should probably drop them as fast as possible, because that is blatant lie and no one likes liars. In terms of when to actually call them, I would suggest the last month or two before graduation so you have ample amount of time for the remaining steps.

It may help to make a chart on a word doc or excel sheet and write down your questions so you can compare the companies’ responses to other companies and see how they line up. Just be careful because some bad recruiters may say whatever to get you in, but not follow up on their promises when working with them, which is why it's helpful to talk to other therapist that have worked with companies before or have a general ideas of the way the travel market runs.

Location, location, location.

If you are traveling straight out of school and have the boards and licensing coming up, the first thing you may need to consider is where do you want to travel? It is important to be realistic with your choice of location. Understand that even though Hawaii sounds great, it's generally harder to get, due to its popularity. The same goes for other big name cities, such as Las Vegas, San Francisco, Philadelphia, etc. This is especially true for new grads, since you have no experience. Nonetheless, it's fully possible to get a contract for a facility in a nearby city an hour or two away from the big name cities, which can make for a nice weekend getaway.

I would personally suggest getting the location you want set before you take your boards as this will ensure you can start working as soon as you get your license, versus having to wait to obtain your license than having it transferred to another state.If you do not, you risk delaying your general start time as well as it being it very annoying process.

Another thing to keep in mind is that most companies reimburse you for all or at least most of the state licensing fee, so don't let the fee scare you away from applying. Now, as I mentioned before, if you want to experience traveling, but don't really want to leave your home state, that is a discussion to have your recruiter. It is definitely possible to find contracts within the state you in which you reside, and maybe even somewhere a few hours from home.

“However, there there is a huge tradeoff for staying local. If you choose to stay within your home state, the availability of available facilities and settings will decrease. Usually specificity of your setting and location is inversely proportional to contract opportunities.”

Also if you take a job too close to your home, it may affect your paycheck and tax reimbursement which is something your recruiter can give you more details about.

Tip: It may also be beneficial to talk to your recruiters to see which places may have the highest chance of working out based on timing and where the market is.

Outpatient, inpatient, SNF, or home care?      

Congratulations! You passed your boards and got approved for your state license, and you can finally breathe and relax. But now comes the fun part, choosing and selecting a contract. If your recruiter hasn't started working with you on some possible contracts, he/she probably will as soon as you pass your boards. In general, SNF are the most prolific settings out there, with inpatient and home health following suit, and outpatient coming in last place. Before you begin, it's time some more soul searching. You really need to ask yourself what kind of setting do you feel comfortable working in. Do not take a position in inpatient if you feel drastically unprepared! That would be the same as setting yourself up for failure as well as decreasing productivity of the facility, which are both a bad idea! That being said do not, under any circumstances, let your recruiter push you into contract you do not feel you will be comfortable in. If you feel that's what happening you need to remember to communicate that you are uncomfortable, and if they still aren't getting the picture then you should drop them.

Mentorship

If anyone said it's not possible to get some mentorship while doing travel physical therapy, they either misspoke or just do not know what they are talking about. It is definitely something that is possible, I have a lot of mentorship on the contract I am currently on. However, in order to make sure you get that mentorship, you have to communicate with your recruiter that you are looking for facility that has mentorship opportunities. It is also important to mention this during the interview with the actual company, which will be discussed later.

Tip: The basic tradeoff is if you feel you can work in any setting with confidence or don't have a preference at all, then you will have a lot more contract opportunities and a greater likelihood of getting into one of those big name cities.

Get that job

If your recruiter sends you a potential offer that you are interested in, your recruiter will probably submit you for the contract. From there, if the facility is interested in you, you will most likely have a phone interview with them! Of course during the interview they will ask you all sorts of questions about your experience, what you are comfortable in, what have you seen, what you are open to see. During these interviews, it is important to be honest about yourself. If you feel that you would be uncomfortable in a setting say so! You don’t want to end up somewhere that you wouldn’t be successful. Take this opportunity to ask questions that you are concerned about, such as hours, mentorship, patient load, patient demographics, and any other responsibilities. Usually the facility should get back to you within a day, if they want to hire you.

Don’t be afraid to ask your recruiter to set you up with a multiple potential contracts because you always have the choice to refuse them if you aren't interested in it after the interview.

But be prepared to make a decision quickly; you cannot drag your feet with travel physical therapy in deciding whether to go or not, as there may be other potential travelers interviewing for the same spot and they can choose them over you if you take too long.

Paperwork

Congratulations, you landed your first job! As you do your victory lap and celebrate with the family, brace yourself for the most annoying part of the process. Forms, paperwork, and more forms. Obviously, getting a new job you have to fill out a lot of paperwork. Be ready to do some online orientation, orientation tests, and other little errands you may need to get done before you start date. However, the forms and paperwork aren't necessarily difficult; what may make it difficult is if your start date is within a week or so and you still have to do all that paperwork, plus find out how you are moving down there. Trust me, it is not a very fun time! 

Do yourself a favor and ask your recruiter what kinds of general forms and tests will be needed after you select a contract, and have them ready and prepared before you select a contract, so you can save yourself the stress during move time!

Set Sail

Travel physical therapy can be a very unique experience. If you are a new grad, be prepared to learn a lot, try your best to stay on top of your work and learn, and as help from other around you! Most of all, have fun. You are in a new place! It doesn’t have to be all work and work. Go out, explore, meet new people, and embrace the World of a Traveler!