When travel therapists first begin negotiations they often find themselves getting nervous. Heart rates increase and you may suddenly discover that you have a “pit in your stomach”.  Negotiations can be nerve racking because there can be a lot at stake. Compensation, practice setting, location, housing, and benefits are all open to negotiation in the travel therapy world.  However, I’ve found that with a little practice, a little patience, and some well thought out explanations of why you should get the things you are asking for, negotiations can actually be fun.

Step #1 – Work with a company you trust.

Since you rarely ever meet the person you are negotiating with (in person), it is important that they have your interest as top priority because YOU are the one in the field taking on the job of traveling therapist. For more tips on deciding who you can trust, check out my previous article on The Importance of Finding a Trusted Travel Therapy Recruiter.

Step #2 – “Know what you want in the negotiation session, and what you can live without.”- Richard Bayer.

This quote pretty much summarizes the most important things about negotiating a travel placement contract.  But how do you figure out what you want in your next travel therapy assignment? And even more importantly, how do you go about creating realistic expectations for a place that you’ve never been to? Every setting and location has unique qualifiers that effect pay rates and work expectations. Before you start negotiating, invest some time in researching your areas of interest.

Network with other travel therapists.

The best way to research and get a better understanding of the travel therapy market is by networking. Personally, I like LinkedIn or just using good old fashioned networking at conferences and continuing education events.  Talking to someone about how pay works, picking assignments, and how to negotiate, works best in person. Conversations with someone who has “been in the game” helps demystify the experience. The more information you have the better, and there is no substitute for talking to other therapist who have worked in the area.

Research salaries and demand.

With experience, I have found that knowledge about local therapy markets (for example, finding out how many therapy schools are within the state) helps me determine my value and negotiation power.  In addition, using a calculator like PT Solutions’ Salary Wizard enables me to find out the local physical therapist salary for the area. Researching housing prices and job setting demands are also beneficial for negotiations.

Once you’ve done your market research and found a trusted recruiter, the rest is simple.

  1. Make a list of the things that you want.
    I find it helpful to write down my desired price range, setting preferences, location area, and time-off needs for quick reference.
  2. List the things you can live without.
    Do you need benefits? Do you want to find your own housing or live in agency housing? If you can live with out some expensive perks, you may be able to earn more in salary.
  3. Prepare to explain why you deserve what you are asking for
    Be sure to include anything that sets you apart.  For example, when negotiating my travel pay I always state that I have my Geriatric Certified Specialist designation from the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties.  Here are a few things that almost all therapists should point to in negotiations. 

    • Past experience. It is useful to use unique experience if it fits the setting. For example, if you have experience with pediatrics and you are looking at a travel pediatric job, feel free to emphasize your experience.  On the other hand, if you are a generalist and do not specialize that is okay.  It is a wonderful thing to be a “jack of all trades;” you can emphasize this as well.
    • Skills you have that make you a well-rounded traveler.  Make sure you talk about any leadership positions or instances where you work well in a team. Remember, travel companies have to market you and the better you can fit into a new setting the better.
    • Past pay. It is helpful to share your past compensation.  If you were paid well by a travel company and a new one is offering you a job with substandard pay, do not be afraid to tell them.  Be tactful.  I like to lead by expressing my experience and that I was well compensated in the past, and that I expect to be well compensated currently and in the future.  It is detrimental to demand things like unrealistically high pay.  Be pleasant, but confident, and back your expectations up with facts and examples of why you deserve what you are asking for.
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Most importantly, exercise patience!

When I started out traveling I was terrible at negotiations and I was always inpatient to get an offer. Wait and take a deep breath.  You will receive offers that you think are too low and sometimes too good to be true.  Whether you find yourself feeling angry at a low ball offer or ecstatic about a lucrative offer make sure you wait, take a deep breath and do not respond immediately.  I like to respond by indicating that I have received the offer and would like time to consider or to make a counter offer.  Patience is a virtue, especially in negotiations.

In conclusion, remember that you can learn something from every negotiation. Even with all your research, you may still come up with unrealistic expectations for the particular company where you would like to be placed.  Ask your recruiter to explain any surprises and gain an education that will help you further understand the complexities of working as a travel therapist. Becoming a master at negotiation involves listening and making sure that everyone’s needs are met, not just your own. Using the things that you learn as you negotiate each placement, you’ll soon become a pro at communicating what you want, and what you can live without!


Justin JohnsonJustin 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.

  1. Devin DeBoer
    May 31, 2016

    Very helpful advice

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