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Setting Yourself Up for Success on Your First Assignment as a New Grad

I’ve been hearing more and more about new grads being “let go” early during their first travel assignment due to “needing too much training”. I have heard of this happening to both new grad PTs and OTs in the SNF, outpatient, and acute care settings. As someone who started traveling as a new graduate and had a great experience with mentorship and clinically appropriate settings, this deeply saddens me. As I walked into my 10th facility as a traveler last week, I was reminded of how overwhelming the start of a new assignment can be. I want all new graduates choosing to travel to have the best experience possible.

Depending on how well versed you are in the travel lingo, you may or may not know that each contract comes with a cancellation clause. This is the clause that allows the client to issue notice to the traveler (typically 14 or 30 days) if their census drops or they hire a permanent staff member. If, however, the traveler isn’t performing at the level they should be, they can terminate the traveler immediately. This isn’t meant to scare you, but to fully inform you.

As a new graduate, how do you avoid being terminated early for “needing too much training”???

  1. GET A TRAVEL MENTOR, preferably someone who started as a new graduate and is still traveling. You want someone that started as a new graduate because they have walked in your shoes. What better than to learn from the triumphs and mistakes of someone who has done what you are endeavoring to do? You want someone that is still traveling so they can provide you the most up-to-date and accurate information about what the day-to-day life of a traveling therapist is like. What does a typical first day look like? What does the productivity and ramp-up time normally look like? Having a travel mentor who started as a new graduate and is still traveling will help you to set realistic expectations as you begin your travel journey.

  1. BE HONEST!!! Be honest with yourself about how well you performed as a student clinician. Were you treating a full caseload independently by the middle of your last clinical, or were you struggling up until the final week? What did that caseload look like? Was it a busy clinic or a clinic with a lot of down time? Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. If you have never worked in an acute care hospital because all of your clinical experience was in the SNF setting, an acute care hospital probably isn’t the best idea for your first assignment. Keep it simple and stick with what you know (at least for the first assignment)! Be honest with your recruiter/staffing agency. When you fill out the skills checklists, fill them out honestly. Rating yourself higher than your true abilities doesn’t benefit you or the staffing agency. Be honest during your interview. It’s OK to acknowledge that you aren’t familiar with a certain type of patient population or equipment. Phrases like, “I’m not familiar with “x”, however, I’m a quick learner and with a few days of orientation, I feel confident I could manage it”. Ask specific questions about ramp-up and orientation time. After hearing about the caseload and productivity expectations, what kind of orientation do you feel you’ll need to be successful? You need to establish a clear answer for yourself and then communicate these needs during the interview. If they can’t provide what you’ll need, move on. There will always be another opportunity.

  1. MONEY ISN’T EVERYTHING! – One of the motivating factors for anyone deciding to go into travel therapy is the money, however, there are other things to consider when traveling as a new graduate. Travel assignments are typically 13 weeks. Focus on finding a clinically appropriate assignment for your first contract (even if it pays slightly lower than what you would have hoped for). In one of my contracts, I took a lower paying contract because I was given the opportunity to overlap with the therapist that was going on maternity leave for three weeks in a level one trauma center. It was not only an incredible learning experience, but was a huge resume booster. Thirteen weeks of slightly lower pay, but now I have never had a problem securing an acute care contract. Money is only a piece of the puzzle. Think big picture!

  1. UTILIZE YOUR CLINICAL MENTOR FROM DAY ONE! – Hopefully your agency and/or recruiter will match you with a mentor of the same discipline with experience in the same practice setting. This person should be vetted by the agency as a top therapist so that you can truly trust the advice they give you. Utilize your mentor as you have questions that may be clinical or ethical. They can help you track down resources and create action plans to set you up for success as you navigate your first assignment.

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