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The past five months have been extremely challenging for our community of traveling therapists. What started in September with waves of therapy layoffs due to CMS changes grew into a large decline of jobs and mass layoffs as states went into the shelter in place orders with COVID.
Many travelers took permanent positions to weather the storm back at the end of 2019. Those who stuck around are now dealing with changes from COVID such as low census, teletherapy, contract cancellations, lack of PPE, etc. More travelers will surely go perm and that is fine. There is no failure in travel and going perm is by no means a failure. It’s all part of the journey.
The travelers who are left are scrambling and trying to figure out what is next. For those of you who are devoted to travel, here are my tips on how to be a better traveler moving forward and some lessons that I have learned in the past couple of difficult months.
1. Prepare for the Worst & Have an Emergency Fund
Traveling for work is high-risk high-reward. I can say this until I’m blue in the face and many of you will dismiss me. We get to travel the country, take time off, and sometimes we even get the really big bucks. This all comes with a risk. That risk is job security.
When you are a contract worker, you don’t have a lot of rights and protection when it comes to employment. If you get sick or injured or get cut from a job for a multitude of reasons, you will be without pay.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to have an emergency fund of money to get you through a rough time if needed. For full-time permanent employees, financial analytics recommend having 6-9 months minimum in an emergency fund. I highly recommend that much, if not more, for travelers.
If you want to start traveling and you don’t have a big emergency fund, I recommend making that the first financial priority of your assignment. Many of you rush to pay off loans. In an emergency situation, loans can be deferred. Cash will pay for your rent and food when you need it.
2. Have a Back-Up Plan for Your Back-Up Plan
Seriously though, have a back-up plan for your back-up plan. An emergency fund will keep you afloat, but where are you going to go if you need to wait something out? Aka a quarantine?
If you decide that travel isn’t for you or the travel market tanks, what will you do? More importantly, where will you go?
Will you stay at your temporary location? Can you go home and work? Can you work PRN somewhere? Strategize what will happen if travel does not work and you need to buy time to get a full-time job while you cruise through your emergency fund.
Some of you may have already heard my story of when I started to travel and went broke in a matter of months. I had contracts end early at no fault of my own, and there were no jobs in sight for weeks. My bank account was in the red and everything I owned was in my car while I was sleeping on my friends’ sofa. Luckily, I was making some money doing PRN work.
That scenario wasn’t how I envisioned my first year of travel, but it’s what happened. It also taught me a good lesson, which is that I need to have an emergency fund of money, a back-up plan, and having a PRN position can be a valuable asset.
3. Know Your Goals
I talk about this a lot, and for good reason. I think that everybody who travels needs to be clear about why they travel. It helps to mentally clear your mind of a lot of chatter and help you focus on your goals.
If your goal for travel is to make a lot of money and always be employed, now may not be the best time to travel. You should probably go perm, and that is okay. No need to stick with something that isn’t working for you.
However, if your goal for travel is to be adventurous, and go with the flow, even when it’s a crisis pandemic, then you may be really excited at how crazy things are now.
While I’ve seen a lot of travelers step down over the past few months and say “this market isn’t for me,” I’ve also seen some completely come alive in the pandemic. It’s as if they were waiting to hit the hot zone and do whatever they could for their patients in the scariest of circumstances.
Know your why and if it’s achievable in the current travel market. If it’s not achievable now, then wait until the market changes.
4. Stop Being so Judgemental of Others
You travel for your own reasons; stop being so damn judgemental of others.
Not every facility pays a high rate to have a traveler in it. So stop shaming the people who take those low rates just because you wouldn’t. When it comes to money, we work in an industry highly impacted by supply and demand. Some areas and facilities will pay better than others.
Meanwhile, not every contract is in beautiful Hawaii or the mountains of California, so stop shaming people who work in Iowa or Nebraska, just because you wouldn’t.
In the year prior to PDPM changes, I saw A LOT of shaming in online forums of travelers, and quite frankly I grew really sick of it. I removed a lot of travelers from my personal platforms because their energy just was too negative towards others and not aligning with what I wanted to bring to this community.
Now more than ever, I think it’s time to come together as a community and realize that for whatever reason, we are all in this together.
5. Develop Supportive Relationships with Agencies
I see a lot of agency hate spewed online on a daily basis. While I get it, I also get that having a good agency and recruiter is night and day for your travel experience. I do believe it is important to invest our time with agencies who support us and to not waste time with those who don’t.
Many therapists complain about how their recruiters seem shady or they have to negotiate heavily to get money from them, yet they stick around. If an agency or recruiter mistreats you during good times, leave them. Don’t wait around to see how they will treat you if things sink. Not worth your time, in my opinion. Strive to find the ones out there that care about their travelers.
In emergency situations like we have been experiencing, you see how people treat you when things come crashing down. Agencies are much more willing to go to bat for people who have been loyal to them and working for them, than those who play games and pit recruiters against each other. The way people treat you matters and the way you treat people matters.
The past year has brought a lot of changes to our small corner of the world (travel therapy staffing). I don’t know how the market will look in the future, but I do hope that it picks up for us again and we have the robust job market of 2017-2018 again!
Whether the job market is good or bad, I really hope that you put all of my ideas above into action. It is so important as travelers to be prepared. Have money put aside, and a plan of what you can do and where you can go if traveling doesn’t work out. It may not be as easy as going back to your home if there isn’t ample work there.
Give your time and energy to the recruiters and agencies who show you respect. Don’t give your time to those who don’t.
As a community, I hope we can come together and be more supportive of each other’s goals and less judgemental. There is no right or wrong way to travel. While we are all apt to get into debates and disagreements, the call-out culture of “don’t work for under $1800 a week ever” really needs to end.
Let’s come together in the fact that we all chose this quirky way of life and be supportive of those in our community.
I truly cannot wait until we can gather again and I can see many of your faces in real life. When this is all over, we need to plan the most epic travel therapist meet up yet!
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