Changing jobs can be a very scary situation and is ranked in the top 10 stressful life events. For many people just the thought of changing jobs creates a nervous uneasy feeling in the pit of their stomach. For others that response is positive nervous excitement. One of the reasons we experience those negative feelings is the anticipation of meeting new people and wondering if you will be accepted in an unfamiliar environment.
One of the main questions I encounter from people who are considering becoming a travel therapist is “Will I be treated like an outsider?”
When you take a travel gig there is definitely a “break in period,” just like any new job. Generally, I’ve found that staff are very welcoming and excited to have the help. If you are working at a hospital you might have some of the nurses and docs refer to you as “The Traveler” for your whole rotation. Instead of taking offence to this label, embrace it. After all, you are a travel therapist! You should expect questions about your experiences as a traveler. Some of your co-workers will even be envious of your adventures.
What to Expect
I have found the most conflict with being an “outsider” comes with turning down a permanent position with the company. The two or three times that I encountered this dilemma turned out OK, but I do think the facility was frustrated that I chose not to stick around. I think being articulate and honest with your reasons for not taking the job will see you through it unscathed. Also, I would not recommend stringing the facility along if you have already made up your mind to leave. On the other hand, if you are interested in transitioning into a permanent employee, let them know. As an experienced temp employee, you have the inside track on how things work in the facility. This gives you the opportunity to have some really helpful conversations with your future supervisors while still working as a traveler.
On occasion, you may encounter a negative remark by another employee to the effect of “the traveler is making all that money….” Now, there are two ways to deal with this. The first is to get defensive. The second is to educate. A good sense of humor always goes along way to defuse these types of situations. People who think travel therapists are “just in it for the money,” or are “get paid more than they should,” don’t really know the facts and are generally going on rumors. It is your job to articulate how a travel job works and don’t forget to mention the pros and the cons. Pointing out the benefits of a permanent position, such as stability, opportunities for promotion, and paid vacation, help put things in perspective. These kinds of questions are going to arise. How you handle them will help you bond with your new peers. And think about it, there were difficult conversations at your old job too. Conflicts arise whether you are brand new to a company or have been there for 20 years.
The Benefit Out Weighs the Risk
The benefits of getting out and meeting new people as a travel therapist far outweigh the nervous anxiety you might have when beginning to work with a new group of colleagues. I’ve meet so many inspiring people on my travels I don’t even know where to begin. In fact, one of my mentors, a man that I look up to and ask for advice on everything from my career to relationships, I met while traveling. At my most recent assignment I met a new ski partner who has ski toured Washington State, France and British Columbia. On another assignment I met a therapist who used to race downhill mountain bikes and we have ridden all over Colorado, Washington and British Columbia together. In fact, my decision to start writing about my travel therapy experiences came from a new friend who inspired me to start writing on one of my assignments.
If you are having trouble determining your ability and comfort level to meet new people and fit into a group here is a suggestion. Go to an APTA event (SLP or OT event) such as your state conference or CSM. Sit with a group of people you don’t know and get into a conversation. This is wonderful practice for your first day on the job in any setting. Far too often we stay in our own comfort zones and only speak with people we know from grad school, work or previous continuing education classes. Yes, talking to people we already have established relationships with is comfortable, but the more you learn to develop your ability to network and start conversations, the more you will notice that being in the position of an “outsider” isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s a place where many good things begin.
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.