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New Grad R&R: Reasonable & Realistic Expectations for the New Grad Traveler Part 1

As many new graduates find themselves considering a position as a traveling therapist, they don’t quite know what to expect. You may or may not have spoken with recruiters who promise the moon and the stars. Traveling is a very viable career option for many new grads, however, it is important to realize that travel positions exist for a reason. As an advocate for new graduates embarking on careers in travel therapy, it is my mission for all new graduates to feel empowered by having reasonable and realistic expectations. In this three part blog series, I outline “new grad approved” recruiters responses to some of the most common questions asked by new graduates.

1. What can new graduates expect for weekly take-home pay?

Every new graduate wants to know what they can expect in terms of pay. Unlike a permanent job where the hospital sets a starting salary for all entry-level therapists (which can usually be looked up online), travel therapy pay is a little bit more ambiguous and complicated. Before we get into any ballpark ranges, it is important to understand that travel pay is dependent upon several factors. These include setting, location, urgency of the need, competition for the position, and clients’ standard rate. Pay can also vary from company to company based on each company’s burden and overhead costs, hence why certain staffing agencies can pay more than others. How an individual files taxes can also make a world of difference. There could be two therapists working the same job that make substantially different money based on how they file their taxes. If you claim single and 0, but the other therapist claims married plus 10 other deductions, your weekly pay will look drastically different. It is important for new graduates to understand that some (not all) clients will request a drop in bill rate for taking on a new grad. In certain instances, this can be as much as $5/hour which would drop the weekly pay by approximately $200 for a contract with 40 guaranteed hours. There are also instances where the facility may offer to bring in per diem staff to allow for a longer orientation/ramp-up time for the new graduate. However, this typically comes with a cost. In these scenarios, the clients will often ask for a reduced bill rate during the introductory time period which will decrease the therapist’s average weekly take-home over the 13 week contract.

So, let’s talk numbers! New graduate PTs and OTs can expect to make anywhere from $1200-$1600 per week after taxes for contracts that guarantee 40 hours. Based on the current market, new graduate PTAs & COTAs can expect to make $900-$1100 per week after taxes for contracts that guarantee 40 hours. For CFs working in medical settings, expect to take home $950-$1050 after taxes and for CFs working in schools, expect to take home $1100-$1350 after taxes. For SLPs having just completed their CF, expect to take home $1400-$1500 per week after taxes for contracts that guarantee 40 hours.

2. Are certain areas of the country more amenable to new graduates?

While everyone wants to go to Denver, Honolulu, Austin, Salt Lake City, and other highly desirable locations, these can be rare destinations for traveling therapists. While assignments in these top locations do arise, they typically will not look at a new graduate unless they think they will be able to get away with paying substantially less for a new graduate. Getting experience under your belt will help you compete for these “Plan A” locations.

So what is reasonable? While there are no defined regions that are more amenable to new graduates, recruiters were consistent in pointing out that the farther west you go, the more new grad friendly facilities tend to be. Many facilities on the east coast tend to look for 1-2 years of experience before considering an interview. If you aren’t super location-specific, one way to focus your job search may be to submit to jobs in states with quick license timeframes. This allows new graduates to apply for the license after the interview. For many of these jobs, there are fewer submissions, meaning less competition. State licensure timeframes will vary by discipline. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with licensure timeframes by state for your discipline!

3. Are certain settings more realistic than others?

For PTs and OTs, the most common setting for new graduates to start in is the SNF setting. There are the most jobs in this setting and the least competition. This is not to say that you won’t be able to secure your first assignment in an outpatient, acute care, home health, or school setting. If you are picky about setting, flexibility in regards to pay and location will help you secure that first position in your setting of choice. For the new graduate PTA and COTA, you will more than likely need to work in the SNF setting to guarantee placement as a traveling new grad assistant.

For CFs and new SLPs, there are significantly less travel jobs available in the medical setting with abundantly more availability in the school setting. If you are looking for a medical setting as your first travel placement, you may find yourself waiting longer to secure a position, and will need to embrace flexibility in terms of pay and location.

Many recruiters advise that you have a couple of settings that you are willing to explore. This will not only increase the probability of finding a position that you are comfortable with, but will allow you to experience professional growth to reach your goals as a newly minted clinician.

4. Will it take multiple interviews before an offer is extended?

Typically new graduates will be submitted to 3-4 positions before receiving an interview offer. For positions that have several submissions with experienced therapists, the new grad can be passed up. On the other end of the spectrum, a new grad may be interviewed before an experienced therapist if the facility feels that they will be able to lower the bill rate, thus saving thousands of dollars over the course of a 13 week assignment.

Chances of an offer after an interview vary based on several factors. For new graduates, it will take multiple interviews before you receive an offer. For other new graduates, they will receive an offer after the first interview. Being well prepared for the phone interview will drastically improve your chances of receiving an offer. If the recruiter does a good job by submitting new graduates to clinically appropriate positions and the interview confirms a good fit for both parties, an offer is typically extended.

5. Some tips to think about from trusted recruiters….

If you know you want to travel, great! Go into the process thinking BIG PICTURE. At the end of the day, you want to have a great experience both personally and professionally, so have some sort of plan. Know that just because there is a job available, it does not mean that you will necessarily be guaranteed the job. It is important to be transparent and open with your recruiter. Getting placed as a new graduate takes collaboration between you and the recruiters you choose to work with. If possible, be flexible and open-minded for your first assignment. It’s important to get your foot in the door and get some experience under your belt to build your resume. Collect references from people that will say you are competent, confident, and awesome during your first assignment. This will help open more opportunities for assignments to follow!

To be continued….. In Part 2, we’ll explore reasonable & realistic expectations for new graduates traveling in teams!

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