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Author: Kaleigh Cole PT, DPT, CKTP
The idea of a traveling right after graduating and becoming a newly licensed therapist can be very exciting, but daunting at the same time. You’ve been working incredibly hard over the last several years to pursue a profession you are passionate about and are ready to start your career out with a bang. You may have heard tidbits here and there about travel therapy, but don’t know much about it. It sounds exciting, but you don’t even know where to begin in this whole new world. Here are five tips to get you started in your pursuit of travel therapy as a newly minted therapist.
1. Learn the Lingo
In school, you spend ample time learning medical terminology and other jargon that will be used on a daily basis in your profession. Before plunging into a travel career, it’s important to learn the travel lingo. What is a tax home? How do I ensure that I have a qualifying tax home so I can receive the per diem and housing allowances? What is the difference between the taxable hourly wage and the non-taxed stipends? How do I know how much I can receive in stipends? What is a bill rate? How does the job submission process work? How does the pay differ from permanent pay? By understanding this new lingo, you’ll be more prepared when it comes time to accept that amazing first travel assignment!
2. Know Yourself
Before deciding to jump into travel therapy as a new graduate, it is important to take some time to self-reflect. While travel therapy is a viable career option, it is not for everybody. How would you rate your performance in your clinical rotations? Were you treating a full case load independently by the beginning to middle of your last clinical? Do you feel independent and confident in your skill set? Are you open-minded, flexible, and a quick learner? If you answered “YES” to all of these questions, then travel could be a great option for you!
Every traveling therapist has a unique personal journey they are creating. What is it that’s motivating you to travel? It could be money to knock down those student loan payments, pay for that trip you’ve always wanted to take, or to save up for your dream wedding? Perhaps you are undecided as to what area you want to specialize in and want to gain experience in a multitude of settings. Maybe you’re location driven and have always wanted to go to places like Hawaii and Alaska. Knowing what motivates you to travel will help make your traveling experience meaningful and personally fulfilling.
3. Set Realistic Expectations
Traveling is a fantastic opportunity, but it’s not an amazing job in Hawaii with fancy corporate housing while you’re raking in the dough. It’s important to set your priorities. You’re unlikely to land a high-paying travel job in a highly desirable area in your preferred setting. While this can happen on occasion, you’re more likely to land one or two of the three, so prioritizing is key.
Travel therapy can be a competitive industry, particularly in highly-desirable or high-paying positions. As a new graduate, it is important to understand that some positions will not consider new graduates or will pay less for a new graduate due to the training they will have to provide. On this note, it’s important to note that negotiating could be risky. If you are going to negotiate, be prepared for the client to go with another candidate who can start sooner, will work for less, or has more experience. As you gain experience, you will have more leverage for negotiation.
Additionally, don’t expect a client to pay a premium for little to no work on your behalf. As a traveler, you are typically expected to hit a high level of productivity. This holds even truer for jobs in larger cities. If you are looking for a lower patient volume, a rural location may be your best option.
4. Mentorship Is Important
By this point, you’ve probably been told by professors and clinical instructors time and time again, “Make sure you have mentorship in your first position”. You may have also heard, “Don’t travel because you’ll have no mentorship”. Even new graduates who are confident in their skill sets need mentorship. Mentorship opportunities are available to new graduates pursuing travel assignments. Many facilities will provide on-site mentorship. Asking the right questions and being honest about your skill set during the interview is key! This could also mean working for a company who will match you with a mentor of your same discipline and experience in the setting of your assignment. Regardless of which route you choose, mentorship is critical!
5. Prepare Yourself Clinically
Many current students and recent graduates wonder what they can do to ensure a successful transition into a career as a traveling therapist. If you are a current student, challenge yourself in your clinical affiliations. Do your best to treat full caseload independently as quickly as possible. If your clinical instructor has a productivity requirement, hold yourself accountable to the same and see how you do. Take continuing education courses as a student and maintain your professional organization membership for access to free CEUs as you begin your journey as a traveling therapist. Take the time to learn as much about Medicare billing and coding as you can through your clinical instructors. Consider completing one of your final clinical affiliations in the SNF setting as many of the travel assignments are in this setting.
If you have recently graduated, make sure your clinical skills are strong in the setting of your first assignment. Pursue live and online continuing education to address deficiencies. Ensure that you will have a mentor, whether it is onsite or provided through the staffing agency. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, never accept a first assignment in a setting in which you have zero clinical experience.
The five tips outlined above are basic tips to get you started. For any current students or recent graduates who are pursuing a career in travel therapy, please feel free to join the New Grad Travel Therapy Group
Kaleigh Cole PT, DPT, CKTP is a traveling Physical Therapist who began traveling as her first position after graduating from PT school in May 2015. Kaleigh is licensed in five states and has practiced in the acute care and outpatient settings. Since beginning her career in travel therapy, Kaleigh has become passionate about mentoring and providing resources for new graduates who are interested in traveling.
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