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Story of an SLP of 30 Years on Her First Travel Assignment

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My name is Judy. I am a new traveling speech therapist. At the age of 55 I decided to try this because of my love for travel, and my growing discontentment with perm jobs in the field. I have been a speech therapist since the age of 28. That is the only thing that hasn’t change since that time in my life. I have always loved therapy, especially working with kids. I have worked in every setting over the years. In the last 10-15 years, things have become harder each year because of the growing dysfunction in the medical and educational environment. The question  for me has been how do I remain healthy and true to myself in such a dysfunctional environment? There have been more demands placed on us as professionals from unrealistic productivities, more redundant paper work, and I have been asked to do more things I didn’t feel were ethical. All of this has led to much personal discontentment, and personal dissatisfaction in my career. It doesn’t matter which setting I have worked in, each had a high degree of dysfunction in its own way. What has kept me in this field is my love of working with people, and seeing people heal and recover.

Over the past 5 years I have changed jobs many times trying to find out where I “fit” in this field, and never found my place. About a year ago, I found Julia’s site for traveling therapists on Facebook: Travel Therapists. I began to read and follow it, and thought with all my job changes this might be the answer. It was either this, or find a new profession. During the last year, I changed jobs again and continued to work PRN in the SNF’s not really being happy with what I am doing. With my job changes, I also traveled to Europe and found that this was something I must do more frequently… travel. The trick was finding how I could travel in a full-time job, and find a full-time job I liked.

In the last year I did manage to find another full-time job that I thought would work out. It was at a rehab/SNF facility near my house. I started this job and liked it. However, I was a little concerned about only have two weeks a year off. I was willing to take time off without pay because I wanted to travel. I also signed up with 3 more weeks off down the line so I could go back to Europe.  Within 30 days my caseload dropped, there was a new DOR and administer and I was laid off due to lack of work. AHHH now I could travel… the first thing I did was arrange a trip to India after my trip to Europe.  I was traveling to Europe for three weeks, coming home and then going to India for a month. I did have money in saving to do all of this, I don’t recommend just traveling and figuring out how to pay it off later. I also decided I would try the travel therapy thing when I got home.

I had been following Julia’s Facebook group (Travel Therapists) for a year reading everything I could read to understand this profession, and talking to recruiters. I also had been following Laura Latimer. Laura just started a company called Nomadicare which is filled with invaluable information for travelers. Nomadicare is a must read for new travelers! I did everything people like Laura and Julia suggested before I took my first assignment.

After returning home from India I began to get serious about getting a job as a traveler. I talked to three recruiters.  I picked one recruiter I really liked trusted, and stuck with him.

My advice to new people who want to travel goes for it. However just don’t dive in…. Talk to different recruiters. Find one or two you really trust. Laura Latimer has a great program and matches up people with honest and trustworthy recruiters. Your recruiter is your lifeline if things aren’t right on the job.  Find one through referrals from Laura or other people who are travelers. Most recruiters don’t really know the laws involved. Find one who can answer all of your questions. Find a location you want to go to and make sure there are jobs in those areas. I got licensed in several states so I had choices. Learn and know the tax laws. There are a lot of laws that are required to get the tax-free stipends. Make sure you are really following them. Also, read your contract and fully understand it. There are so many papers we are required to sign, it is easy to overlook things in the contract, I am definitely guilty of that. Moving is hard.  I did it alone. It was really hard and scary. I have been in Spartanburg SC three months and still get really homesick at times. Also, finding housing is a pain. Use all resources.  Take the company stipend and look for housing on your own. During the footwork will save you lots of money. Decide if you want an apartment, or are willing to just rent a room in someone’s house with a bathroom. Most of the time you won’t want to sign a lease because our contracts could be canceled at any time with 2-4 weeks’ notice. You are less likely to get cancelled if you are in a school setting which is where I am at. Pack light…. You will be surprised how little you really need. I did come to South Carolina with a car full of stuff. I don’t use half of it. Becoming a minimalist is a must. Clean your house or apartment at home before you go. Get rid of that stuff you don’t need. It is a very freeing experience.

Get out and do things and meet people once you move to your new work location. Join activities, use meet up groups, join a class, or church. For me it was a little easier to meet people because I am a recovery alcoholic of 33 years. I looked up AA and started going to meeting when I arrived and met many people in Spartanburg through recovery. It doesn’t matter how you create a network, it just important to do in case you need help, and to create a sense of community. I sprained my ankle after being here two weeks, and called some AA people and they were very willing to help me. Luckily I recovered quickly. Networking will help you feel more at home in your new setting. Networking is also a great way to help you find resources for things you might need like doctors and a good hair stylist.

A review of the important things to do becoming a traveler includes: understand the tax laws and how things work in this industry they are very different from being in a permanent job. Work with a good recruiter. I also recommending find a mentor, this is someone who can help you understand this industry and be a great support to you. Really read and understand your contract. I also recommend short-term disability in case something happens to you and you can’t work. It is worth the extra money for that peace of mind.  I didn’t get it with my first contract but will do it on the next one.

I became a traveler to do more than work. I wanted to explore the country and challenge myself as a person. If you run into problems contact your recruiter, that is what they are there for. Be prepared to stand your ground on ethics. Even in my current setting, I struggle with the requirements and the laws surrounding IEP’s, which is what the paperwork is governed by in the schools. I am not sure how long I will be a traveling therapist for. It maybe something I do for years, and I may decide I am done with this profession and move on to something else in the future. For now, it is what I have chosen and I am grateful.

If you have questions feel free to contact me by email at judystasek@hotmail.com I am always willing to help.

Judy visiting Charleston, SC

Author: Judy Stasek, M.S. CCC-SLP

Featured Photo credit: fra ✔ via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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