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Goodbye To Fair-Weather Travelers & Tips To Survive A Low Market

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Travel therapy assignments are going for 2000k+ weekly and there are a plethora of jobs available across the country. Recruiters call you daily about work and there are multiple job opportunities in your desired location. When the travel therapy job market is hot, it is fire!

However, the job market is very much just that, a market. It goes up and down with a variety of factors. Changes to reimbursements and government legislation affecting insurance and Medicare tend to be the biggest changes that affect the travel therapy job market.

As you can imagine, when the market is hot, people are talking about it and are excited! With good markets come the fair-weather travelers. These are the travelers who travel when conditions in the market are good. Jobs are paying well, and the jobs are relatively easy to get. With a couple of state licenses and a decent resume, you can get back to back jobs with ease. Travelers bank money and don’t have a large amount of anxiety when their contract is ending because they are confident that new work will come in.

As that good market declines, so does the number of fair-weather travelers. As it becomes harder and harder to get work and bill rates decline, fair-weather travelers accept permanent job offers. They weather the storm from afar and may or may not be back to travel when the market picks up again.

In come the die-hard travelers.

The die-hard travelers are the ones who will be traveling no matter what. It’s the only lifestyle they know and the only life they are adjusted to. They come out of the woodwork to take the jobs that aren’t that desirable, but hey, at least it is work.

As the market has been good for several years now, many travelers have high expectations for pay and jobs in the travel market. Many therapists proclaim they won’t work for under $1600 or more weekly take-home. What if I told you that I have been one of those die-hard travelers who dropped my expectations during the last job shortage and was HAPPY to work for $1425 take-home and cover two SNF buildings?

Many of you may gasp at the idea of covering two buildings for $1425 a week, but imagine that this was the ONLY SNF job that opened in over five months in the whole state of MA during the last job recession. I got the job among a crowd of 10+ applicants and was more than happy to take it.

This is what die-hard traveling looks like. You could go weeks or months without hearing about a job opening in the state you want to work in. Getting jobs means being flexible and being licensed in big traveler states, like California. It also means accepting that competition for jobs is higher, rates may be lower, and wait times in between jobs could be greater.

Now, due to changes in Medicare reimbursement to the skilled nursing facility and home health setting, we may be saying goodbye to a lot of the fair-weather travelers out there, and the die-hards are going to be skimming to survive in travel.

Here are my tips for the die-hard travelers who will travel through the good and bad.

There Will Be Fewer Jobs – Be Flexible & Extend

It goes without saying that in a lull in the job market, there are fewer available jobs. This is what drives most fair-weather travelers out of travel. In a market with fewer jobs, how can you make yourself stand out to get work?

We will discuss that as this piece goes on.

To begin, acknowledging that it’s a low market is the first start. Be willing to be very flexible with the locations and settings in which you work. Also, if you get an assignment, consider extending it once or twice. If you aren’t typically an “extend a contract” type of traveler, know that there are a lot of people searching for contracts and you may not be able to find one easily.

Have an Emergency Fund or Backup Plan

Have an emergency fund of money to help you get through the times when you don’t have a job. During the last job recession, I went as long as five weeks without a job opportunity. During that time, I pulled together some PRN work to make ends meet, and wish that I would have prepared better with some money in the bank.

If you can, prepare for the bad times by banking some extra money in the good times. Also, having a backup plan, such as a PRN job, can help you make money when travel jobs aren’t available.

Relationships Matter

In a time when there are many more travelers than job opportunities, the relationships with your recruiters and company matter more than ever. I have seen a disturbing trend where travelers are bouncing around from agency to agency with no stress and using recruiters like pawns against each other to bid on job rates. Loyalty does not matter to these travelers and they treat recruiters like they are disposable.

In a good job market, this may work out for a couple of contracts or years. In a bad market, relationships matter. When a job opens up, recruiters are going to be calling their top travelers to apply to the job. Top travelers are the pros who get good reviews, are easy to place, and don’t come with a lot of drama. To this day, my #1 recruiter calls me the second a job opens that he knows I’ll be interested in. I’m the first person on his list to call and usually the first to get submitted. Are you that person to your top recruiters? Do they want to place you? Or, are you a pain they would rather not deal with? Think about this and think about what you can do to make yourself the person your recruiter calls the second a hot job comes in.

Timing Matters

As I mentioned above, I was SO excited to get that job paying $1425 a week a couple of years ago. I submitted for it THE SECOND it opened and lucky I did because it closed quickly due to a heavy number of job applicants. In a low market, timing matters a lot. When jobs get 10, 20+ applicants, they close their doors and stop accepting new applicants. Sometimes this is only after a couple of hours. Make sure your top recruiters know what you are looking for and get you submitted to jobs quickly.

Along with the timing of submitting, the timing of having an interview matters. I once got accepted for a job literally because I was the first person who picked up their phone for an interview. There was nothing special about me or my resume compared to the 15 other applicants, but I was the first to pick up my phone when the regional VP called applicants.

If you are submitted to a job, answer your phone when a call from that area code comes in. If it is an interview, you want to take it. Even if you have to interview from the closet at work, get it done and get yourself the job.

Client Relationships Matter to Your Agency

As your recruiter relationships can be very important to be the first to get submitted to a job, your recruiter and agency are probably working to improve their relationships with their clients with whom they contract. In a time where job applicants are high and employment options are low, your agency will want to secure as many job opportunities as possible with clients and work to send their best clinicians to jobs. This is yet another reason why your relationship with your agency can matter so much.

Your agency is even more apt to tell their best travelers about jobs and try to get their best travelers to work before others. They want clients to remember them as sending the best people and keeping those good relationships.

Pay Rates May Drop

This is a hard one to accept. Last year, I worked a job with take-home pay of $1800 a week after taxes. This year, it dropped to $1600/week after taxes. Nothing changed about the job. The requirements are still the same and it is still in an expensive city to work. My skills as a clinician are the same, if not better than last year. So why less pay? Supply and demand mixed with changes to reimbursement can lead to industry-wide pay cuts in temporary pay rates.

In Conclusion

I wish I could have offered better news in this piece. I wish the job market was always good. However, the market fluctuates, and we need to be prepared for that. Remember, there is absolutely no shame in stopping travel for a more stable job option. You can always come back to travel when the market rebounds and jobs are more plentiful!

4 thoughts on “Goodbye To Fair-Weather Travelers & Tips To Survive A Low Market”

  1. Julia – this piece is written extremely well. Bravo to you, your perspective and experience you bring to those that follow you. I’ve been “helping therapists connect their career dots since 2012,” and the market does indeed fluctuate. I think there is a major misconception as to what goes on in the “background” of what we do as recruiters/companies and what is perceived by the travelers. Now, more than ever, the travel market is in a strange place. Not just with job openings but with what information is being presented… to everyone involved! It’s people like you (myself… I like to think) and I’m sure a handful of other excellent travelers/recruiters that can help make a difference! Keep up the good work! Cheers, E (#YourTherapyRecruiter)

    1. Thank you Erik! I agree with everything you said here. I follow you and like the quality and message of your content! Keep it up. 🙂

  2. When you say fluctuation, I think short term waves of change, but I feel like this change and the current state of the market, in large part because of how slowly our political system works, is going to be the standard for at least a decade, likely more. Is that the way you see it?

    1. I think there are both short-term fluctuations and then long-term changes. In the past, when CMS made significant changes to reimbursement, the job market was low for about 2 years until it rebounded. However, because of Medicare changes, long-term changes are happening that are making the overall job quality of life as a therapist harder, such as increasing productivity demands with cuts to pay and benefits.

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