What is a travel therapist?

You might have heard of travel therapy. Maybe you’ve seen dreamy pictures on Instagram with a caption promoting life as a travel speech-language pathologist, travel physical therapist, travel occupational therapist, or travel assistant!

So what is a travel therapist? A travel therapist is a short-term healthcare worker that picks up temporary assignments in different locations and settings. You can even travel locally (within your state) or you could choose to pursue an adventure across the country!

Most therapists end up feeling so grateful that they took the leap into becoming a traveler. I am one of those “crazy travelers” who could not be happier I said yes to this lifestyle! It takes bravery, preparation, and a side of clinical experience. But it isn’t hard to get started. The hardest part is usually just deciding to go for it! But before you do, let me clue you in on the important information you need to know!

How does travel therapy work? (In 6 steps)

1. A healthcare facility needs a short-term/travel therapist.

2. Occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, COTAs, and PTAs can fill that facilities’ temporary need. You will work with a recruiter at a travel therapy staffing agency, that will alert you of facilities needing a therapist (aka open travel therapy jobs).

3. You apply for that facilities’ need (typically a contract will be 13 weeks/3 months). If your experience and credentials match up with the facilities’ needs, you’ll get a phone interview.

4. Once you are chosen for that job, you will temporarily relocate to that location and work at that facility until the end of the contract.

5. The staffing agency will charge the facility an hourly rate for each hour you work. They will take a commission/percentage for their service and you will get paid weekly. Most travelers qualify to get a paycheck that includes both taxed pay and non-taxed stipends that help pay for housing and food (a perk of being a traveler!)

6. Once you finish your travel contract, you can potentially extend that same contract (if the facility asks you). Or you can work with your recruiter to find another open job/travel assignment in a location you love, go back to working a permanent position, or you can choose to take time off! The flexibility is great.

Frequently asked questions about travel therapy

Should I be a travel therapist?

YES if…
1. You are clinically competent and confident in your skills as a therapist
2. You love the idea of short-term contracts and new adventures
3. You want to pursue growth in both your professional career and personal life
4. You’re willing to be flexible in your career and roll with everything and anything that comes your way
5. You’re kind, professional, open-minded, and are excited for the countless opportunities ahead!

Why do facilities need travelers and pay them more?

Facilities and patients need to use travel therapists for a variety of reasons. Permanent staff sometimes can’t cover all the patients. The staff could have babies and need some time off, they could go on strike, they could be learning a new computer program and need time to train, etc. A travel therapist can come in for 13 weeks and help out while the facility is either trying to hire permanent staff or while they’re giving someone temporary leave.

Travelers are expensive, yes (we can get paid the big bucks). But it’s not crazy for a facility to want us! Finding their own staff, interviewing them, dealing with resumĂ©s, onboarding, orienting, offering benefits, liabilities… is difficult and expensive. Travelers are a great solution.
We are meant to be skilled, talented, credentialed, and ready to help out. When we come in with a friendly disposition and in a mindset of service, we are very helpful to facilities around the whole country.

Can I travel as a new grad therapist?

Yes! I did! It was the best decision for me. I was confident in my clinical skills, I knew the benefits of travel, and I was ready to be open-minded with the travel therapy contracts that came my way.

Some feel better having at least a couple of months to one year of work experience, as a permanent therapist, before traveling. This is a great idea! If you are lucky you might get a job with a facility that offers a mentor program which is a great opportunity for new grad therapists! But that is a rare find, so it’s a good idea to find your own mentors to call too. Just take the employment opportunities that you feel comfortable with as a healthcare professional. Your travel therapy career can always wait if you’re not ready – the industry isn’t going anywhere!

Do you get to choose where you travel to?

Remember when I mentioned flexibility earlier? That’ll come into play here. I recommend having a list of at least 5-10 states that are your absolute favorites! Think of it as your “assignment location wishlist”. But remember, you can’t change which job opportunities are available. If you say you want San Diego, that’s great! But if there aren’t jobs there… you’ll need to be flexible and consider other locations. I would recommend choosing states over cities anyways, it’ll open up your options as far as travel therapy assignments. (PS… you can check out where the current jobs are here).

You’ll also need to consider what your dealbreakers are (if you have any). Maybe you’re super flexible on location but are only willing to work in skilled nursing facilities, outpatient clinics, etc. Or maybe you’re super flexible on setting but would prefer being by the coast! It’s perfectly okay to have an idea of a few desirable travel destinations and ideal settings! Just remember, a career of travel is a career of going with the flow! And a lot of flexibility = more unexpected and wonderful life experiences.

Cheers to you and your future travel adventures! It’s an exciting life!

Laura Latimer

Laura Latimer

Travel OT and Founder of Nomadicare

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