No question about it, working as a travel therapist takes the right perspective and an ability to adapt. Working long term for the same company, hospital, home health agency, or school has its pros and cons. Steady pay, benefits, and seeing your coworkers daily are all pros. However, I would also argue these factors may be cons as well. Steady pay is good, but sometimes you need a change of pace from your usual work setting and office politics.
For those of you who wonder about keeping busy as a travel therapist and maintaining that steady paycheck, I’d like to address four questions that therapists often wonder about when considering working as a contractor or becoming a travel therapist.
Common Concern 1-
Will I be able to keep busy?
In my experience, you can stay as busy as you would like working as a travel therapist! Of course, the more flexible you can be in location and setting, the more options you’ll have for work. However, I’ve learned that writing into your contract a guarantee of 30- 40 hours is essential. Knowing how many hours are written into your contract enables you to plan your budget. I like to write in a guarantee of 35 hours per week but I have done as few as 32 because I really enjoyed the area and facility and I wanted them to have some flexibility with me. Along those same lines, I recommend that you write into your contract an advanced notice of contract termination, including at least two weeks, but I prefer four weeks. This way, if the facility decides to terminate the contract because they hire a perm therapist, you will have guaranteed work and time to plan your next move.
Common Concern 2-
Will I be looking for a new job every 3 months?
Not necessarily! I have a friend who has been traveling for over 5 years. She generally does three-month rotations but did do an 18-month contract at the same facility. The longest contract I have had was 9 months, and it could have gone longer but I was a little burned out at that particular facility.
The ability to extend your contract can be discussed during the interview process, at the beginning of the assignment, or anytime during the assignment. I prefer to ask questions about extensions right from the beginning, during the interview process. You never know, sometimes you get to an assignment and love it, they love you and you end up extending.
Common Concern 3-
What if I can’t find another job in that short of time, what will I do?
This depends on how picky you are. Generally speaking, if you are looking for a travel job in an area that needs a lot of therapists such as California, Texas, Florida or the North East, you should have no problem. If you are very specific about your location, settings and perks, then yes, you may need to be patient. I generally turn down 5 offers before I take one. Productivity standards, location, and setting are my usual deal breakers.
And don’t forget about picking up PRN work. I have actually worked PRN multiple times for multi-year stints (including April 2015-current) so that I could take extra time off and be flexible with scheduling. If you are planning to work as a traveler within a couple hundred mile radius, it makes sense to sign on as a PRN therapist with area facilities.
if you are worried about your next paycheck, it is ok to keep sending out feelers to make sure you have something else lined up. Although most travel therapists start looking for their next assignment when they have a month left, you can start looking for something new the minute you start your first a travel gig.
Common Concern 4-
Will I be able to learn a new documentation system every three months?
Along with variable length of contracts, comes learning new documentation systems. Yes, you will have to learn new computer systems when you change jobs. Fortunately, computer systems are getting easier and easier to use and your learning definitely transfers from one location to the next. In today’s environment, EMR proficiency is not an optional skill. Working as a travel therapist will help you gain proficiency with multiple systems.
As consolidation continues in the health care world and interoperability becomes a key component of health systems and settings, I predict the number of Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems will shrink until there are just a few interfaces that all facilities use. The big players including EPIC, Cerner, Rehab Optima and WebPT have done a nice job of bringing user friendly systems to the forefront. If you are a tech geek and like learning the new systems, then traveling will be easy for you. If you shy away from learning new computer systems and documentation, then choose your assignments wisely and always ask during the interview what type of EMR you will be using
Understanding what you might encounter before you begin working as a travel therapist helps bring down the “fear factor” of working in short contracted stints. Although working as a contractor is not for everyone, there are multitudes of experienced travel therapists who can testify that these concerns can certainly be overcome. If you have experience or helpful advice in these areas, please share in the comment section below. Addressing these concerns head on helps future travel therapists look at the risks from a new perspective. Thanks!
Justin Johnson is currently living and working in Bellingham, WA. Justin graduated from Central Michigan University with his DPT in 2008 and earned his GCS designation in 2011. Justin has worked for large trauma 1 and teaching hospitals along with diverse settings as a travel PT for many years. During the winters Justin can be found sliding up and down mountains on his skis or at Mt. Baker where he is a volunteer ski patroller. During the months where there is no snow he can be found on two wheels. You can reach him at JMJohnsonDPT@gmail.com.