1. Learn the basics – What does it mean to be a travel therapist and what are the requirements?
In school, you spend ample time learning medical terminology and other jargon that will be used on a daily basis in your profession. Before taking the plunge into a travel therapy career, it’s important to learn the travel lingo. What is a tax home? How do I ensure that I have a qualifying tax home so I can receive the per diem and housing allowances? What is the difference between the taxable hourly wage and the non-taxed stipends? How do I know how much I can receive in stipends? What is a bill rate? How does the job submission process work? How does the pay differ from permanent pay? By understanding this new lingo, you’ll be more prepared when it comes time to accept that amazing first travel assignment!
To obtain answers to these questions, check out www.traveltax.com, www.gsa.gov, and other travel therapy websites/blogs. Join travel therapy groups on social media and connect with other travelers.
2. Spend some time on self-reflection
It is important to take some time to self-reflect before making any career decisions, whether permanent or travel. While travel therapy is a feasible career option, it is not for everybody. How would you rate your performance in your clinical rotations? Were you treating a full case load independently by the beginning to middle of your last clinical? Do you feel independent and confident in your skill set? Are you open-minded, flexible, and a quick learner? If you answered “YES” to all of these questions, then travel might be a great option for you!
You are the author of your own story. What is it that’s motivating you to travel? It could be money to knock down those student loan payments, pay for that trip you’ve always wanted to take, or to save up for your dream wedding. Perhaps you are undecided as to what area you want to specialize in and want to gain experience in a multitude of settings. Maybe you’re location driven and have always wanted to go to places like Hawaii and Alaska. Understanding what motivates you to travel will help make your traveling experience meaningful and personally fulfilling.
3. Set reasonable goals.
Traveling is an incredible opportunity, but it’s not always an amazing job in Hawaii with fancy corporate housing while you’re raking in the dough. It’s important to set your priorities. You’re unlikely to land a high-paying travel job in a highly desirable area in your preferred setting. While this can happen on occasion, you’re more likely to land one or two of the three, so prioritizing is crucial.
Travel therapy can be a competitive industry, particularly in highly-desirable or high-paying positions. As a new graduate, it is important to understand that some positions will not consider new graduates or will pay less for a new graduate due to the training they will require. On this note, it’s important to know that negotiating could be risky. If you are going to negotiate, be prepared for the client to go with another candidate who can start sooner, will work for less, or has more experience. As you gain experience, you will have more leverage for negotiation.
Furthermore, don’t expect a client to pay a premium for little to no work on your behalf. As a traveler, you are typically expected to hit a high level of productivity. This holds most true for jobs in larger cities. If you are looking for a lower patient volume, a rural location might be your best option.
4. Mentorship is vital to your success as a new clinician
To this point, you’ve probably been told by professors and clinical instructors over and over again, “You need mentorship in your first position”. You may have also heard, “Don’t travel because you’ll have no mentorship”. Even new graduates who are confident in their skill sets need mentorship. Mentorship opportunities are absolutely available to new graduates pursuing careers as travel therapists. Many facilities will provide on-site mentorship. Asking the right questions and being honest about your skill set during the interview is critical! However, no third party (meaning staffing agency) can control what a facility does. Therefore, working with a company who places a strong emphasis on in-house mentorship programs is key. It’s important to work with a company who will match you with a mentor of your same discipline with experience in the setting of your assignment. This will serve as an added layer of both clinical and travel support in the event of unforeseen staffing changes at the facility.
5. There is no stress when you’re prepared (or at least less stress!)
How do you ensure a smooth transition into your first assignment as
a newly minted therapist? If you are a current student, challenge yourself in your clinical affiliations. Do your best to treat full caseload independently as quickly as possible. If your clinical instructor has a productivity requirement, hold yourself accountable to the same and see how you do. Take continuing education courses as a student and maintain your professional organization membership for access to free CEUs as you begin your journey as a traveling therapist. Take the time to learn as much about Medicare billing and coding as you can through your clinical instructors. Consider completing one of your final clinical affiliations in the SNF setting as many of the travel assignments are in this setting.
If you have recently graduated, make sure your clinical skills are strong in the setting of your first assignment. Pursue live and online continuing education to address deficiencies. Ensure that you will have a mentor, whether it is onsite or provided through the staffing agency. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, never accept a first assignment in a setting in which you have zero clinical experience.
This blog is an adaptation from an original guest blog written for the Traveling Traveler, a lifestyle blog written by SLP Traveler Julia Kuhn. You can find the original version in addition to further resources at https://www.thetravelingtraveler.com/.