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  • Writer's pictureJalin Coblentz

Is Travel Physical Therapy Worth It?

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

Getting your Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree is one of the toughest things you'll ever do. By the time you follow up four years of undergraduate work with three grueling years of graduate school, most people are ready for a break. However, while getting your doctorate is difficult, it can be just as tough to figure out where you want to work with your degree.


Most physical therapists settle into full-time staff positions at hospitals or outpatient clinics. A select few, however, decide to take their talents on the road and become travel therapists. This article will look at why some PTs choose to become travel therapists, the pros and cons of doing so, and what it takes to become a travel therapist.


Travel Therapy Vs. Permanent Position: The Pros and Cons


If you're reading this article, it's likely because you're a professional physical therapist considering your career options. When it comes to those options, you can choose to take a permanent job at a hospital or outpatient clinic, or you can go into travel therapy. Speaking from the perspective of a current traveling physical therapist, let's dive right into the pros and cons of travel physical therapy.


Pros of Being a Traveling Physical Therapist


Show Me the Money


One of the biggest advantages of becoming a travel PT is having a higher earning potential. This is especially true for young therapists and recent graduates. While the pay disparity between travel PTs and non-travelers isn't as extreme as in the nursing industry, there's still a decent difference.


Feed Your Sense of Adventure


The second biggest advantage of becoming a travel pt is seeing new places and having new experiences. Travel therapy jobs are usually available in all 50 states, which means you can go places you've always wanted to and make money while you're at it!


Flexibility With Scheduling


Travel PT gives you the option of only working when you want to. For example, you can stagger your jobs so that you have a full month off over Christmas or in the middle of summer. This will allow you to go on vacations, visit family, and do other important things besides working and making money.


Exciting New Work Opportunities


As with any job, it's easy to become complacent when you take a full-time PT position. You also won't have as many chances to learn new skills in a full-time position because you're likely specializing in one thing. As a traveler, however, you can work in an outpatient setting for one contract and a skilled nursing facility or inpatient rehab facility for the next.


In addition to being great for professional development, working in different specialties is also a great way to find out what you enjoy doing the most. While some PTs and Physical Therapy Assistants know exactly what they want to do from the moment they graduate, the rest of us aren't always as certain. Travel PT will give you a chance to explore different options so that you can discover what you enjoy the most.


Helps You Get Out of Your Comfort Zone


One of the first things you'll realize if you go into travel therapy is that there's no such thing as a comfort zone. You'll constantly get thrown into new scenarios and situations and be expected to hit the ground running. In addition to uncertainty in the workplace, finding short-term living accommodations can also be tricky. As long as you don't crack under the stress and pressure, it will turn you into a stronger, better person.


A Great Change of Pace


Most travel physical therapists are new or recent graduates looking for adventure or to strike it rich. However, travel therapy is also a good option for experienced PTs looking for a change of pace. Experienced therapists are also in higher demand for travel jobs, so you might make more money than younger travel PTs!


Fewer Office Politics


If you're an introvert or don't enjoy typical office politics, that's another reason to become a travel PT. Even if you do walk into a bad situation where there's strife amongst coworkers or you have a bad boss, you won't be stuck there for more than three months. You also have the option to exit your contract early if things get too toxic.


Cons of Travel Therapy


While there's a lot to like about being a travel therapist, things aren't always fun and games. After all, if it was, everyone would choose to travel for their profession. So, to give you a fair shakedown, here are some cons of travel therapy.


You Can't Always Have Everything


Travel physical therapy is a high-reward but high-risk endeavor. For instance, there are times when it's possible to get everything you want - the perfect job with maximum pay in your dream location. At other times, however, you may only be able to get one out of the three and settle for something that isn't your dream job.


Scrambling For Work


Another potential con of the travel lifestyle is that travel PT jobs can sometimes be difficult to find. This is especially true if you're only licensed in one or two states and there aren't enough job openings to go around. As a result, you end up scrambling for work or hurriedly applying for licenses in new states to give yourself more opportunities. Either way, it isn't an enjoyable experience, especially when you remember you'll need to find a temporary home once you find work.


Health Insurance Issues


One of the more boring cons of travel therapy is that it can be tough to find health insurance. Traditionally, PTs get insurance through their place of work. Unfortunately, this isn't an option if you aren't a full-time employee at any one facility. While certain recruitment and travel agencies offer insurance, it's quite limited, and you're often better off finding your own insurance policy.


Should you choose this route, we recommend looking up Parita Patel. She's extremely knowledgeable, professional, and experienced in finding the perfect health insurance policy for traveling healthcare workers. She made the enrollment process easy and helped us choose the plan that best fit our needs. Email or message us for her contact information!


Potential of Early Cancellation


Another downside of traveling physical therapy is that hospitals and clinics can cancel your contract at any time. Just because you signed a contract with them doesn't mean they must honor it. After all, most travel PT jobs are available because the company in question hasn't been able to find a full-time employee. However, if they find one after you sign your contract, they're fully entitled to cut you loose and hire permanent staff.


Constantly Learning New Clinical Systems


Anyone with any experience in the medical field knows that no two health systems are exactly alike. Whether it's the documentation system, treating patients, or how things are done, every clinical system has its own style. Unfortunately, it's entirely up to every new employer how helpful they are in teaching and training you. In most cases, they expect you to hit the ground running and offer support only as needed, even if it's a completely new system.


A Potential For Loneliness


Finally, on a more personal level, travel physical therapy can be a lonely profession, especially when you practice out of state. Unless you're extremely extroverted and outgoing, three months often isn't enough time to develop personal relationships with complete strangers. As a result, travelers often go for months, or even years on end, without being around close friends or family.


The Keys to Being a Successful Travel Physical Therapist


If you weren't scared away by the cons of travel therapy and are still considering it as a career option, here's what it takes to be a successful traveling PT.


Flexibility


If there's one quality that is absolutely necessary to be a successful travel PT, it's flexibility. While there's a certain level of stability and certainty when working with a staffing agency, nothing is set in stone. Whether you find yourself scrambling for a last-second job, last-minute housing, or there are changes to your travel contract, it's essential to be an adaptable person.


Having a Reliable Recruiter


When you first enter the travel profession, it's very tempting to try to find travel assignments on your own. While this is certainly an option, it's like trying to sell your house without a realtor. It might all work out, and you might make extra money, but it's also a ton of extra work and might backfire on you.


Your recruiter will take care of a lot of the paperwork and little details that go into traveling. They will also have access to more jobs and know about them before the general public does.


Motivation


As a traveler who rarely works in the same place for more than three months at a time, it's important to be self-motivated. You aren't going to have a consistent support system or team of close friends around you to get you going. Instead, it will be up to you to motivate yourself.


Learning to Hit the Ground Running


The last thing it takes to be an awesome traveler is the ability to hit the ground running. To do that, you need to be a quick learner who doesn't have to be told things twice. While some hospitals and clinics will be more patient than others, most of your bosses will expect you to do your job with little to no training. It all depends on who you're working for and their expectations for you coming in.


Is Travel Therapy For Me?


While travel therapy is a great way to have awesome adventures and make decent money, it certainly isn't for everyone. It takes a special kind of person to want to work in a new city, setting, and system every three months. So, if you're an adventurous, self-motivated, fast learner who is flexible and doesn't let the little things get to you, travel therapy is perfect.


However, even if you don't check each of these boxes, you can still make a good travel PT. This is because the main thing that hospital systems are looking for is someone who's clinically competent, hard-working, and a team player. If you check these three boxes, any facility will be happy to employ you.


Frequently Asked Questions About Travel Therapy


Should I become a travel therapist right after I graduate?


While some recommend getting a few years of experience before becoming a traveler, it isn't mandatory. You can become a traveler at any point in your career, and there's no time like the present!


Is travel therapy always worth the money?


While travel PTs make more money than permanent staff on average, this isn't always the case, especially when jobs aren't in high demand.


Are travel therapy jobs hard to find?


While there are occasional lulls, travel PT jobs usually aren't difficult to find. This is especially true when you hold multiple licenses, find work through a travel company or staffing agency, and work with a recruiter.

Final Thoughts

A lot of people told Kate that she was crazy to become a traveling physical therapist immediately after graduating. She was warned that hospitals wouldn't care that she was a new grad and expect her to have the same abilities as a seasoned therapist.


However, whether it was because of dumb luck or choosing the right hospital, she got to work with experienced therapists who were more than willing to train her in and show her the ropes on her first assignment.


I say this to make the point that everyone's traveling experience will be different. If you aren't as lucky as she was and you get stuck with a terrible first assignment, it's important that you power through, learn everything you can, and do your best. Great jobs are out there; it might just take a few assignments to find your groove and learn how things operate.

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