First and fore most to clear the air on this, I had a difficult time writing a fitting title for this piece: “Why Travel Therapists Fail”. Fail is not a word I like to use and I surely do not think that things in life are pass or fail. If you ask me if a patient failed a video swallow study, my response would be to explain that there is no pass or fail to swallowing. So why am I writing this piece about why travel therapists fail?
The intention of this piece is to talk about why some travelers find themselves not successful at a job as a traveling therapist. Maybe that means that they had to end a contract early, experienced extreme unhappiness, stress, frustration or they were terminated by an employer. The aim of this piece is to sort out some of the reasons why things just do not seem to work for certain traveling therapists when it does work for others. This article is focused on the actual job/contract itself and not other factors such as moving, traveling, leaving family at home etc.
I cannot stress enough how much your personal attitude plays into your future. There are so many unknowns and ups and downs in the world of traveling therapy that staying positive and keeping an open attitude will absolutely help you to success and help you to avoid failure and distress.
Personally, I remember a couple of years ago walking onto a SNF job with the worst attitude ever from the start. I was familiar with the building from word of mouth of colleagues and had a negative view of the building before I ever walked into it. I was mad at myself for accepting the contract and told myself that I did not want to be there. Nothing in that building stood a chance of a positive outcome. The building was not perfect, but looking back I can see those around me who went in with a positive attitude had a more rewarding and fulfilling experience in that building, while my experience was filled with angst and discontentment
2. Lack of Prior Experience in the Job Setting
Before I go down this road remember: this does not apply to everybody. I have many great friends who started traveling as new grads or transitioned settings and are excellent clinicians who have had long careers as travelers. I am a perfect example of somebody who switched settings as I traveled. When I began traveling I could only get assignments in SNFs, which is where my experienced was. Tired of working in SNFs, I took time to work full time and trained in the acute setting. My first experience in inpatient rehab was during a travel assignment and my acute skills have grown tremendously through travel.
On the opposite side, I have worked with many travelers who either had to give notice or were terminated because they were not proficient in the setting that they were in; primarily SNF setting. These therapists were in no means bad therapists and many of them had wonderful skills and backgrounds; however, they just could not adapt to a totally new setting with little to no orientation or training.
To determine if you are somebody who could work and thrive in a new setting during a travel assignment think about these questions:
- Do I have any prior experience (from school, PRN work) in that setting?
- Can I learn technology quickly? (You will learn new systems of electronic documentation in new settings)
- If I have not worked in the setting am I still familiar with the patient population and diagnosis from other work?
- Do I have somebody on site or via phone who would provide mentorship or answer questions as needed?
- Will the job require me to be highly productive from the start? (i.e. SNFs)
- Will the job provide any orientation/training or expect me to begin and work at full speed from day 1?
If you can answer YES to many those questions, you may be a good fit to explore new settings during a travel assignment. If you are answering NO, you may want to consider sticking to the settings and work that you feel most comfortable in for a travel placement.
3. Unrealistic Expectations
If you look at the portrait that many travel therapy staffing agencies paint about travel therapy it looks like a dream. Free this, paid for that, tons of money, everything is so easy. You may look at a traveler that you know think that they live the dream life. I find myself guilty of portraying the “good” side of everything to social media and putting aside the bad and the struggle. The truth of the matter is that being a traveler is not easy. There is a lot of work and sacrifice involved in being a traveler and it is not for everybody. It takes a flexible, independent, problem solver of a person to move from place to place and job to job every couple of months.
If you are thinking about becoming a traveling therapist think about why. What it is that you want from being a traveler? Everybody has different goals and needs to travel. Research to see if what you want is achievable and attainable or not. Ask recruiters, ask people in the industry. What it is that you want and can you obtain that through being a traveling therapist?
If you want your company to provide housing then do not expect a giant paycheck every week – instead you may be making something similar to what you would make in a permanent position. If you want to work in a hospital or outpatient clinic than you may not be able to get the dream location that you have been thinking about. Many jobs will want you to be highly productive and hold high caseloads – is that something that you an do? These are things to think about when determining if travel is a good option for you.
Along with unrealistic expectations comes miscommunication. Miscommunication may come between a clinician and a recruiter regarding a job, an interviewer and a clinician, etc. The idea is that when things are not clearly communicated it leads to unknowns and expectations that may not be possible. Be honest and upfront when communicating your expectations, needs and wants as well. Nobody is going to know what you are thinking unless you communicate it.
I once walked onto a job that told me day 1 that they wanted me to be 95% productive. Had I known that before I walked on the job I would not have taken it. I never knew this productivity expectation because I never asked before I took the job. I was miserable at that job and was constantly struggling with productivity and falling below my expectations.
To avoid miscommunication, ASK QUESTIONS!! Ask questions of your recruiter(s), other travelers, interviewers, etc. Do not expect that somebody will be able to meet your needs, or even know what your needs are unless you communicate them. Invest the time in having phone conversations with your recruiter (s) and utilize the time during your phone interviews with facilities to ask questions. On phone interviews ask about the schedule, productivity, patient caseload, etc up front so that you are prepared for an assignment.
For a list of suggested phone interview questions:
5. Poor Adaptation
When you walk into a new job you are walking into a new environment and things there are going to be different than the last place that you worked. Policies, scheduling and procedures may be different than your last job. As a contractor it is your job to adapt to the new setting and bring your skills in a positive way versus trying to change or oppose things around you. Different facilities have different ways of doing things and it is your job as a contractor to learn the procedures to complete your job. I have been told that the worst thing that a traveler can say to perm staff is, “Well this is how I do things, so it is how I am going to do it.”
Yes, as travelers we can leave positive impacts on buildings and may be able to provide education or help establish something new; however the ability to adapt and work with in the structure of the building that you are in is key. Embrace and learn how different buildings do different things.
While being a travel therapist can be extremely rewarding, travel therapy is not a fit for everybody. For those who has positive experiences it can be very rewarding, educational and life changing experience. Those who succeed tend to share the qualities of having a positive attitude, ability to adapt to their new settings, strong clinical skills in their setting, realistic expectations and a good awareness of what is expected of them from work and traveling.