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A beginner’s comprehensive guide to travel physical therapy

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Are you the outgoing and adventurous type? Do you love going off the beaten path to seek out unique experiences and meet new people? Almost any physical therapy position will give you consistent opportunities to build relationships with new patients. But unlike most professions in medical care, physical therapists can choose short-term travel assignments for a more nomadic lifestyle.

Why are travel physical therapists in demand? Travel PTs are needed when clinical PTs go on maternity or paternity leave or short-term disability. In some rural locations, travel PTs help cover patient loads year-round. And when there’s a sudden influx of new patients, travel PTs can come to the rescue on short notice. 

Whether you travel for one assignment, a couple of years or your entire career, short-term assignments can help you gain a wide range of valuable experience. However, there are some challenges you should be aware of before you start looking for your first travel position. This article provides an introduction to travel physical therapy and highlights some things to consider if you’re interested.

What’s it like to be a travel physical therapist?

There are many reasons to love the travel PT lifestyle, but it’s not for everyone. You can make more money than you would in a steady clinical position, but work opportunities can be unpredictable. And with short-term positions, you can focus on working with patients while avoiding workplace drama. For some, the freedom of working on short assignments and choosing your work locations is worth a bit of risk and uncertainty. For others, negotiating your own contract, finding temporary housing and risking last-minute cancellations is too much to manage.

Your supervisors at your first assignments will likely expect you to have some experience and jump right in. In a typical clinical position, you might have a bit more time to get your bearings. At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, our mentorship program can help you get off to a good start in just 16 weeks. That said, there are some things you can’t fully prepare for ahead of time. You should expect to learn some things as you go and have the flexibility to make adjustments. It’s helpful if you’re good at learning new technology on the fly. 

You take on a lot of responsibility when you decide to take travel physical therapy positions. You may not want to rely on employers for temporary housing and health insurance, and at the same time, finding them on your own can be tricky. Recruiters can be a valuable source of knowledge, but in the end, they are incentivized to promote certain positions. It can take some time to find recruiters you trust and develop a relationship with them.

What are the pros and cons of being a travel physical therapist?

Again, there are some parts of this lifestyle that make it really attractive to some people — that are complete deal breakers to others. The work can be unpredictable, but you can take long breaks between assignments to go on adventures and enjoy some deep relaxation. Real travel buffs love living as a “local” and traveling economically so they can have awesome adventures on their days off. 

Depending on where your permanent address is, it’s possible to make 1.5 to 2 times as much with travel gigs. Pay rates vary in different locations, though, so it can be hard to estimate exactly how much you’ll make in a year. Your housing costs and health insurance are important factors in your pay and benefits package. When you rely on employers to provide housing, you may not get the maximum total compensation. The alternative is to take a housing stipend and find your own housing. Contracts with different employers will have different rules regarding health insurance coverage. If you don’t buy your insurance independently, there may be times when you’re not fully covered.

Working in different locations can take a lot of energy and a positive attitude. However, most travel physical therapists thrive on the constant challenge to get outside their comfort zone and work on personal growth and development. Many find that they don’t get burned out the same way they would with a standard clinical position. Short-term contracts are usually around 13 weeks long, although they can be longer or shorter. That doesn’t give you much time to get involved in workplace politics. 

Regardless of all these nonclinical factors, working as a travel PT will give you a wide variety of experiences that will apply no matter where you decide to work in the future. You’ll get familiar with a lot of different electronic medical record (EMR) software. You’ll also need to build relationships with new co-workers quickly and blend in with different team dynamics. If you want to specialize in a specific area like pediatric, sports rehabilitation or orthopedic physical therapy, this can open up more travel opportunities.

Some people take travel positions for a few years with a plan to settle down when they find a location they really like. Others make an entire career out of it and build a network of people they’ve worked with all over the country. The energy and the attitude you bring to the travel PT lifestyle make all the difference.

What will I need to research before I get started?

While there are plenty of trustworthy recruiters out there, they are often incentivized to offer lower pay rates and promote certain positions that are hard to fill. You’ll need to do some research before you start looking for your first travel gig, and experienced travel physical therapists will be a great source of information. Some things that will be important to understand are taxes and tax homes, sections and language you should have in your contract, and what pay ranges are like in different parts of the country. It’s also a good idea to keep tabs on what’s happening in the travel industry.

There are several physical therapy companies that offer travel positions. Each individual travel PT has their own experiences, so you’re likely to hear a lot of varying opinions on which ones are the best to work with. This is why it’s important to learn about contracts and negotiation outside of your relationships with recruiters. With a little of your own experience, you’ll start to learn what aspects of this partnership are most important to you and what you value most in a company culture. 

Get the experience you need to take travel positions by joining the Alliance PTP team

As a physical therapist, you may be struggling to jump-start your career or make the switch to a new specialty area. But you don’t have to continue struggling alone. At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, we’ve created a nationwide partnership in care that’s constantly evolving to help our PT practice partners and their team members take on their latest challenges. 

Not only does our team have the expertise and resources to help practice owners and sellers meet their challenges, but we also offer a range of professional development and support for our partners’ team members, too. 

That’s why all our new physical therapists and physical therapy assistants participate in a mentoring program. This program allows you to meet regularly with experienced professionals who can help you address your needs as someone who’s new to the Alliance PTP team. They can also help you set specific goals for your professional development. Most importantly, your mentorship will help you provide your patients with best-quality PT care. 
Taking advantage of all the career opportunities Alliance PTP offers starts with one simple step. Look over our Careers page to see all the current career opportunities Alliance PTP is offering.

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