When I started traveling as a Speech Therapist, I had a hard time finding information about the industry and felt like I jumped into travel therapy very blindly. Most of the information that I knew about the travel therapy industry was either coming from recruiters over the phone or my fellow coworkers. Frustrated with the lack of available information and driven by an urge to connect with other travelers I started a Facebook group for collaboration between travelers and called it, Travel Therapy Therapists. Since I started it in 2014, the group has now grown to over 5,000 members. As Admin of the group, I have become a mentor to many perspectives, new and even veteran travelers. I started my blog as a response to many of the questions that I was receiving on a consistent basis and as a way to give advice to new travel therapists.
A common question I hear is, “What advice would you give to a new traveling therapist” and I have to admit that is a hard one to answer. I definitely made a lot of mistakes as a new traveler. I was able to learn from those mistakes and they have made me a stronger and better traveler. While everybody is going to have ups and downs on their journey here is the advice that I would give to wannabe or new traveling therapists:
1.Connect with a mentor
One of the best things that new travel therapists can do is to get out there and talk to somebody who is doing it or has done it. They can give you a view of what life is really like on the road. If you are sitting here thinking “But I don’t know any travelers,” then think outside the box. When I started to travel I was working in a department that had many travelers coming in and out, but I realize that not every department utilizes travelers. If you do not have any travelers in your building, start to network with your coworkers. Maybe some of the therapists that you work with have been travelers in the past or have friends who travel. I have had many peers reach out to me because they knew I was a traveler and have referred people to me for mentorship.
Members of the Travel Therapists group on Facebook also have access to a list of experienced PT/OT/SLPs who have volunteered to be mentors to the group community as well as daily posts that showcase the ups and downs of travel.
2. Find a recruiter that works for you
Your recruiter is basically your personal agent. They are the ones who submit you to jobs and deal with any issues that you have on the job. They will be your primary contact point for a company and will likely impact your experience with the company more than anything else. There are several hundred agencies and thousands of recruiters that staff traveling therapists. So in a sea of thousands how do you find the hand full that work for you?
Suggestions for finding a recruiter:
Get a referral from somebody that you know. If a traveler has worked with a recruiter for more than one assignment, that recruiter is likely doing something right. If you are a member of Facebook groups, there are constantly recruiter recommendations coming from people who travel. Although do beware that what works for one person may not work for you.
If a traveler refers a recruiter to you, make sure to ask that traveler what are the recruiter’s strengths and weaknesses. Every recruiter has weaknesses, even the best.
If you do not know of any travelers to seek recommendations from, you can always target a company and go from there. If you find a company that works for you, call their operator and ask to speak to an Allied Division Team Leader or supervisor. You can introduce yourself, state your needs, and ask to be connected with a recruiter. If you do not feel a connection with that recruiter you can always call the manager and ask for another match.
Laura Latimer, a veteran occupational therapy traveler, realized the importance of finding a good recruiter and how challenging it can be as a newbie or even experienced traveler. She began Nomadicare, a company that connects travelers with recruiters. Laura personally vets recruiters and has a list of “Nomadically Approved Recruiters”. At Nomadicare, Laura will act as your “Recruiter Matchmaker” and match you with several of her recruiters based on your personal needs.
3. Do your research into the industry
The wealth of information regarding the travel therapy industry is constantly growing and becoming easier to access. The travel therapy industry is becoming more and more transparent and many people have written and blogged about being a traveling healthcare professional. There are many great Facebook groups dedicated to the healthcare industry, many good websites and even an annual conference for traveling healthcare professionals.
Attend TravCon “The Travelers Conference”
The Travelers Conference is an incredible resource for both new and experienced travelers. It occurs every September in Las Vegas and is basically three days of courses about the traveling healthcare industry. It has an exhibition hall where you can meet-and-greet with companies, and throughout the conference, there are ample opportunities to meet other travelers.
Taken directly from their website:
“The Traveler’s Conference is an annual event that provides Traveling Healthcare Professionals an opportunity to network with other travelers and top industry insiders. You will earn CEU’s for classes specific to the industry, and meet agency representatives in a relaxed, low-pressure setting. This event has grown into the largest gathering of healthcare travelers in the United States. The Traveler’s Conference is organized by volunteers who are themselves current or former travelers, and hosted in conjunction with PanTravelers – the Traveler’s Association.” –TravCon
For more on TravCon:
4. Determine your WHY and is it realistic
I have written a blog post about Why Become a Traveling Therapist? and I keep on saying this because I think it is extremely important. I consistently see travelers who are disappointed and stop traveling because they set unrealistic expectations or goals for themselves. This is temp work; it is not necessarily glamorous and there can be a lot of bumps on the road. In your research that you do in #3, determine if it is really something that you want to do.
5. Understand how pay packages work and that nothing is free
As a travel therapist, you work as a subcontractor through an agency and will receive financial compensation weekly or bi-weekly from your agency. Essentially the facility that you work for pays your agency and then the agency pays you. The agency keeps a percentage of the rate to staff and runs the agency, and the rest of the money is given to you in the form of a weekly paycheck and/or bonuses, housing, relocation fees, etc.
Many agencies recruit clinicians by advertising “free” stuff, e.g. housing, relocation reimbursement, CEU’s, paid time off, vacations, completion bonus. It is important to know that this is all money that comes out of the bill rate that the agency is receiving for the clinician and that nothing is truly ever “free”.
For example, if an agency makes $50 an hour from a facility to employ you, then the agency is taking in $2,000 in a 40-hour week and $26,000 over the course of a 13-week assignment. This number is purely for example but imagine that $26,000 is the sum of the money that everybody has to work with for this 13-week assignment. A portion of that money is going to go to running the agency and then the rest goes to you. If you take company housing, travel reimbursement, licensure reimbursements, etc., then that money is going to be deducted from the total and less going is going to go to you on a weekly basis.
For instance, if you ask for $1,000 to be reimbursed at the beginning of your contract for moving expenses, expect that you will likely be making $75/week less than if you did not ask for any moving expenses to be covered.
On top of understanding how reimbursements work, as a travel therapist, you may meet the requirements to receive tax-free living and housing stipends. If you do, your pay package is going to look completely different than your pay as a permanent employee. Part of your pay package will be a tax-free stipend for living and housing expenses and then part of it will be a fully taxed hourly rate. The fully taxed hourly rate is likely going to look like less than what you would make as a permanent employee.
Travel Tax is a good resource to learn how and if you can qualify for tax-free stipends.
6. Keep an open mind, a good attitude and have fun!
Traveling for a profession is not easy although it can be extremely rewarding and fulfilling. You could have contracts canceled, family emergencies, housing upsets, and crazy coworkers just to name a few. I cannot say enough that how you choose to respond and react to those things is what determines your future. You have the opportunity to create your path. Keep an open mind to new places and experiences.
Attitude is everything. HAVE FUN! Enjoy your surrounding and immerse yourself in your new locations. Go out and explore, take lots of pictures and make the most of every day. Try new things, foods, activities, sports and find your passions.