It is new grad hiring season and my inbox is filled with recent speech grads asking me about traveling as a clinical fellow. Maybe it is because there are not any available CF positions in their area or because of a strong desire to travel. Whatever the reason, my best advice to new graduates is to wait. Wait until you are licensed and confident in your clinical skills before taking travel contracts and I recommend not to work a travel SLP CF.
The explanation to waiting stems from the whole reason why travelers are needed to begin with. In the healthcare industry, traveling therapists fill short, term staffing needs. These needs may be present because of staffing shortages due to difficulty staffing therapists in a building because it has an undesirable location or poor reputation/management, medical leave or a seasonal increase in census that requires extra therapists. The bottom line is that travelers fill a need for a building. As a CF, you have needs to find good mentorship and training that will help you develop into an independent and successful clinician. Unlike our sister disciplines, physical and occupational therapy, we do not have a level 2 fieldwork placement, which is intended to focus on clinical independence. When a PT or OT student enters their level 2 placement prior to graduation, they have already accumulated 400 hours of fieldwork experience, which is what we have once we graduate. Our clinical fellowships are meant to be a continuation of our learning and a time to gain mentorship and 1:1 training.
Travel Therapists are Expected to Be Independent
The reason that a building needs a traveler is because they need help and they need it quickly. Buildings that take travelers often do not have the time or staff to properly orient and train travelers. In most of my SNF assignments, I have been expected to treat an entire caseload and meet productivity from week one.
To be a good traveler you must first and foremost be an independent clinician. In travel things move quickly. Within a 1-3 week notice you will pack up your stuff, find housing, move, unpack your stuff, learn a new town and start a new job. Repeat that cycle every 3-9 months. Sounds stressful, huh? Imagine doing all of that plus not being comfortable treating a caseload independently. As clinicians, we are always learning, but you should have the basics under your command when you start to travel and throw in the unknown factors.
Traveling SLP Brittany Bohach worked for a year and a half in a SNF before she started to travel. The experience in a SNF prior to travel helped her to be independent in the setting and have realistic expectations of what to expect on the job. Here is Brittany’s advice to SLP’s thinking about travel:
“I would definitely advise SLPs to have strong clinical experience as a permanent employee before traveling…It’s generally expected that you are independent while on assignment, as often you are the only SLP at that site. My CF supervisor was off-site and supervised me PRN. I struggled at times when I had questions that only an SLP would understand and one would only be able to answer if he knew the scenario regarding the patient. It was hard to explain the whole thing via email or by phone, and he wasn’t always available when I needed him to make an informed decision in a timely manner. I wish I would have had better support during my CF, but it forced me to learn a lot of things on my own and figure things out via other means. It ultimately comes down to your confidence level in that setting and the type of supervision offered, but I would definitely take advantage of on-site supervision if possible.”
There is no Work Guarantee:
Traveling therapists cost a lot of money to staff. Thus, buildings try to limit the numbers of travelers that they hire and try to replace them with perm staff as quickly as possible. As a traveler, you are a free agent and only get paid when you are on an assignment. As a seasoned traveler, I have been given notice several times because I was replaced by a permanent employee (mostly by permanent hire CF’s). Even if you find a single assignment that will hire you as CF, there is no guarantee that assignment will last the entire three months, or that you will be able to extend it for the length of your CF or find another assignment willing to take a CF when it is over.
Find a CF With Maximum Supervision and Support
If a building is willing to hire a CF for a travel position, it means that position has not been filled by any permanent CF’s in the area or any travel SLP’s. What does that mean about the position? From my experience, there are only a handful of facilities in the country that will hire a travel CF and most of them are extremely rural SNFs where you would be the only clinician on staff in the building. This is truly not an ideal situation for a CF.
My suggestion is to use your CF to get the best possible clinical experience and mentorship that you can. If you have wanderlust and want to travel or you need to relocate to find a job, you can use the WHOLE COUNTRY as your search market to find a job. I have worked at wonderful acute and inpatient rehab centers with incredible teams of SLP’s who hired and trained CF’s but would never take a CF traveler. If you know you want to travel why not seek out a great opportunity with wonderful mentorship and experience.
SLP Brynn Rhodes has worked across medical and pediatric settings for the past 10 years and has supervised students for clinical placements. Reflecting on her own journey, she found that it took months of work and training alongside experienced SLP’s 1:1 working to develop the skills and confidence to be comfortable clinically. Brynn offers some great advice for CF’s considering travel:
“I would caution a new grad about trying to get a CF through traveling in a medical setting, unless they can get a full year contract. The clinical fellowship is still a time of learning with a bit of a safety net through your supervising SLP…. A little information can be a dangerous thing. My fear is that a brand-new grad might not know what they don’t know. I think a new grad might be tempted into putting their license on the line by making recommendations that could be unsafe for the patient when it comes to a patient who may be silently aspirating. I think having a perm job in a reputable company to learn the ins and outs of dysphagia evaluation and treatment would be important.”
As a new graduate CF-SLP, you may think that this is the perfect time to seek out a travel therapy position. I highly urge you to consider what a travel position would look like as a clinical fellow and to consider other options. Use your time as a fellow to find the best mentorship and training for you. Be selfish about finding good mentorship and training that will help you for the rest of your career. When you are comfortable and feel clinically independent in a setting, then look at options to travel.