The Winding Road to Becoming a Traveling Speech Therapist

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In the world of traveling therapists, everybody has a story. Deciding to take temporary contracts across the country when you could easily have a stable job in one location seems crazy and it is not for the faint of heart.  It is not just something that you wake up and decide to do. For me, becoming a traveling speech therapist just kind of happened.

For some, it is all about the money. Money to pay off loans, save for a house, and to have financial independence.

Yet for others, it’s all about the adventure. Wanting to see the country, traverse mountains, and work at new places. 

We all have a story and a “why”. 

So, why did I become a traveling speech therapist?

From online forums to casual conversations, healthcare travelers love to share their “why” and “how” they got into this crazy subset of the healthcare world.  When I listen to other people’s stories I am often reminded of  “How I Met Your Mother” because the stories are often long, with a million different avenues and stories within the story.

I rarely tell my own story of how I became a traveling speech therapist because frankly, I think it is a dull story.  I mean come on, after years of globetrotting I have some really good stories that could keep you much more entertained.  However, I will give this a try.

 

a women standing in front of a tour bus
On assignment in Palm Springs, CA

To be brief, if somebody asks me why I went into travel therapy I usually say “For the adventure of it”.

Ultimately reflecting back to that time in my life, I was bored in my current position. I could not afford to do what I really wanted to do (travel), which is how I ended up where I am today. 

The Cliffs Notes version of this story is that I was broke and bored.

Me as a newly graduate speech-language pathologist in 2009

So here’s the story…

As a graduate student in Speech Pathology,f I had no intention of becoming a traveling speech therapist. I knew that I wanted to work in a geriatric setting but other than that I was open to possibilities. My dream job was to work in a high paced, acute medical setting. However, as a new graduate looking for work in the greater Boston area with stiff competition for jobs, I knew my dream would not be a reality anytime soon.

I got my first job as a speech therapist at an SNF. The offer came the day after I graduated with my Master’s Degree from Emerson College. That day sticks in my memory because my parents were in Boston to celebrate my graduation. We were in the middle of a tour at Sam Adams Brewery when I got the call.  I politely excused myself from the tour to answer the phone and jumped up and down while quietly screaming as I gave the verbal agreement to accept my first “real job” offer. I was so excited!

When I accepted my first job offer, I honestly thought that it could be my forever job. I

But what did I do next with my new found career and promise of income?

You would think that with two years worth of graduate student loans from a private college that I would have gotten right to work and started bringing in a paycheck.  However, that did not happen.

I asked the HR representative what was the latest possible date that I could start the new job. When she said the latest date was in six weeks, I said good, that is exactly the date when I will start. I then hung up the phone, took the money that I received as graduation gifts, and the credit card that Bank of America so kindly issued me and booked myself a ticket to Europe. Two weeks later I went alone on my first international flight, toured five countries, and returned home with 48 hours to spare before I started my first real job.

That trip to Europe was the first time that I went abroad in my life and the first time I traveled solo. It was the cliche life-changing travel experience that you hear so many people writing about. I know this sounds very basic to say, but that trip opened my eyes to the world. For the first time in my life, I truly left my comfort zone and got to experience the freedom and joy of travel. I was immediately addicted and needed more.

The First Year Of Work

During my first year of work, all I could think about was travel. That trip to Europe sparked something in me to explore. There were so many places that I wanted to see and I felt that the time was ticking. I didn’t want to wait until I was retired to travel, I wanted to travel when I was young .

In that first year of work, I traveled to Barcelona, Puerto Rico, and multiple road trips down the East Coast. My whole mission in life was to work to travel. When I had days off, I was trying to pick up overtime just to save to travel on my days off. My work/life balance revolved around working enough to travel.

Meanwhile, I must acknowledge that I was working in a very solid job.  Actually, I had a dream job,  the type of job that does not exist anymore since the Medicare cuts in 2010. I was working in a subacute rehab facility where I was salaried and my productivity expectation was 75%. Although, my caseload was always low, so I barely ever met my productivity goals.

To be blunt, I was bored. I spent more time looking for Groupons (the new craze at the time), talking to my coworkers about anything and everything, and thinking about what I was going to order for lunch than treating patients.

My coworkers were all 5-10 years my senior with families of their own.  As I kept on jetting off for trips and sharing stories of my single life, they kept on telling me to get out and travel. They all told me that I was crazy not to become a travel therapist since I was single, in my mid-twenties, had no children, and had a thirst to travel. I could get paid to see the country and make more money than my new grad salary was paying. My boss at the time, Ralph, kept on pushing me to travel.

Then I Needed More Money

My new found love for globetrotting and entry-level salary also meant something more important: I needed to earn more money to do what I wanted to do. The need for money led me to put my resume online in search of PRN opportunities in the greater Boston area.

After putting my resume online, my phone blew up with a million calls from recruiters looking to hire for temporary positions. One such cold call that I received was from a recruiter named Jeremy; who I had an immediate natural rapport with over the phone. He told me I could double my current salary if I took a travel position. This was tempting given my low bank account balances. Yet, I wasn’t sold on the idea.

Fast forward a couple of months and  I was no closer to getting a PRN job.  My department also happened to have a series of young travelers working on the rehab team since we had a lot of medical leaves. Working with these travelers made me feel invigorated. They brought a new vibe and positive energy to the department. They were also extremely confident and excellent clinicians.  I enjoyed working with them and learned new treatment techniques from watching their sessions.  I drew up a “Pro/Con” list of becoming a traveling therapist.  Ultimately the pros won.

Taking The Leap

With the support of my boss, coworkers, and travelers I decided to take the leap into the travel therapy world. I called Jeremy and when he asked me why I wanted to travel now I remember saying, “I want to travel and I need more money”.

My first assignment was in a subacute facility and the rest is history.

I still attribute my coworkers at my first job to being the catalyst to becoming a traveling therapist.  For many years, I used to work PRN for Ralph (my old boss) who still manages buildings in Mass.  Every time I see Ralph he says, “See, aren’t you glad that I told you to become a traveler!” Yes, yes I am, Ralph!

So that is my story.

Becoming a traveling speech therapist is not something that I envisioned or planned. It was a series of events that came together at the right place and time.

The reasons why I continue to travel have changed over time, but that is another story for another time.  🙂

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2 thoughts on “The Winding Road to Becoming a Traveling Speech Therapist”

  1. I absolutely love this article. It shines.. Just like you. I remember meeting you and a couple of other New SLPs. Your integrity and enthusiasm showed through. You have always been a voice for patient advocacy and change in the field. The others sold out and you are having the experience of a life time.

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