Some therapists wonder what impact their travel therapist work experience will have on their future promotion options.

They may fear that as a travel therapist, they will be overlooked when it comes to promotions or disqualified from applying for a director of rehabilitation role.

In my experience, I have not found these fears to be true. In fact, I recently had the opportunity to interview for a Director of Rehab (DOR) at a large Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) where I had formerly worked as a travel PT. In the end, I turned down a very lucrative offer after about a month of negotiations.  Although I did not accept the offer, I remain in contact with this facility and we are on great terms.  And, although I have not personally worked for private outpatient clinics, colleagues and close friends of mine report that travel therapists would be welcome to apply for management positions at their clinics as well.  My point is that as a travel therapist, you will find promotion opportunities, if you want them.

Of course, if you are looking to find a DOR position at a large medical institution, such as a teaching hospital, you have to be realistic. Don’t expect to be offered a director role after only working there three months. Large organizations are generally looking to hire Rehab Directors who have been with them (or a competitor) for a number of years. On the other hand, if you are interested in gaining management experience, smaller and less vertically integrated facilities; such as outpatient orthopedic groups, skilled nursing facilities, and even some home health companies, could be a great starting point.

Here are a few reasons that companies like therapists who have travel experience to become managers or Directors of Rehabilitation (DOR).

Adaptability: 
Travelers are experienced when it comes to dealing with change: settings, caseloads, living environments, and geographical locations. We’ve seen it all!

Flexibility: 
Travelers can flex when circumstances throw in a curve ball. We keep our cool when someone calls in sick, the electric goes out, or patients don’t show.

A Broad Spectrum of Experience: 
As a travel therapist, we’ve seen how healthcare differs in various parts of the country. We’ve seen healthcare in different settings and are knowledgeable about the continuum of care.  Therapists who have only worked for one facility or one organization are somewhat insulated from the grander healthcare system. We are knowledgeable about payment models: RUG levels anyone? How about units? Maybe visits per week? Experience with these distinct reimbursement models creates a great knowledge base for a manager or DOR.

Things to consider before applying for a management position:

I also have a word of warning for therapists who are offered director roles. If something sounds too good to be true, proceed with caution. If you find yourself traveling at a facility that wants you to stay and take the DOR, find out what you are getting yourself into.  Therapists are in high demand, especially ones who are willing to put in the extra hours needed for DOR positions. Consult with friends, family, colleagues, and other individuals you trust. I would highly recommend talking with other therapists in your department, in competitor facilities, and even other administrators in the facility about the job.  Do not be afraid to ask questions no matter how sensitive they might be. Negotiate the best you can, but don’t let money be the lone factor in taking the job.

In 2012, before I moved to Washington, I had a company ask me if I would take the DOR position at a small SNF where I was working at as a contract PT.  The problem was that the staff were quitting, the director of nursing was inexperienced and somewhat immature, management was obviously stressed out, and the facility had a tough patient population (patients went on smoke breaks with staff every two hours).  I found these things to be red flags.  They were just looking for a warm body. I didn’t want to be taken advantage of, so I turned down the offer, and moved on.

As a travel therapist, settling down is inevitable. Most therapists only travel for around two years.  When you are done traveling, you may want to increase your responsibility and take a managerial or director role. As a traveler, you’ll most likely acquire an extraordinary ability to adapt, knowledge of different payment models, and a broad understanding of the continuum of care.  These well rounded- experiences will serve you well in interviews, negotiations, and ultimately in management or a director role. I believe that your experience as a traveler will give you an upper hand in whatever setting you find yourself settling down.


Justin Johnson

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.

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