During the first half of this year, many practices found themselves making the difficult decision to furlough employees—or lay them off completely. Fortunately, the physical therapy market has bounced back somewhat, but there are still many physical therapists waiting to go back to work—and many practices that have yet to open their doors since March. As a result, a number of PTs are still out of work and on the hunt for alternatives to a permanent position.
That said, not all physical therapy practices have struggled with low patient volume. In fact, some are overwhelmed with the amount of work on their plates and are in desperate need of an extra set of qualified hands. That’s where travel PTs enter the picture. While being a travel physical therapist may sound like a great idea, there are certain precautions any PT considering this career move should take—especially in light of COVID-19. To that end, here are a few things travel PTs should think about during the pandemic:
1. Apply early and often.
If you’re thinking about becoming a travel PT, you’re certainly not alone. Between widespread layoffs, clinic closures, canceled contracts for some existing travel PTs, and new grads who are entering the job market at an uncertain time, the competition is steep—especially in the travel space. On top of that, with many practices looking to save a few dollars wherever they can, you may find fewer jobs available to begin with.
That said, there are still PT practices looking for providers who are willing to travel—and the more experience you have, the better your odds of scoring a contract. But with so much competition, it’s super important that you cast a wide net for job opportunities and apply as quickly as possible.
2. Be flexible with pay expectations.
Another consequence of an oversaturated job market is a reduction in pay for most travel positions. In the past, traveling as a physical therapist was often seen as a lucrative opportunity—and it still is. However, with so many physical therapists applying for a limited number of positions, many practices are offering a lower rate than normal. According to Jared Casazza, PT, DPT, a travel PT expert and the co-founder of Travel PT Mentor, “even though we normally recommend avoiding any pay rates less than $1,500 [per week] after taxes, there are some contracts paying travel PTs in the $1,300/week range right now that are still getting tons of submissions.” In other words, if you have your mind made up about being in the travel market, you should expect the pay to be lower than normal.
3. Be open to different opportunities.
In the aforementioned source, Casazza also suggests remaining flexible with the types of job opportunities you’re willing to consider. In a normal job market, it’s usually not a problem to find a position you want in a city you like, but according to Casazza, “currently, that just isn’t possible. To have a chance of finding a travel contract in the coming weeks (possibly months)...it is important to be lenient on location and setting as much as possible.”
A common question we’ve received from WebPT Members in rural areas is how to attract travel PTs to their locale—especially right now, as many rural physical therapy practices are the only game in town and are taking on additional clients due to other clinics shutting down. Remember: Even if a location isn’t your first choice, you are gaining valuable experience and expertise that will make you more attractive to future employers—especially if you are planning to stay in the travel PT market.
4. Look into individual state requirements.
If you’re already working as a travel physical therapist, then you’re probably familiar with the licensing requirements for travel PTs. If not, here’s what you need to know: in addition to completing the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), you will need to apply for a license in every state in which you want to work. The only exceptions to this rule are states that are part of the national licensure compact. (You can find more information on the physical therapy licensure compact—and check the status of any state you wish to work in—by visiting this website.) But as travel PT Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, explains in this blog, “For those who normally rely on applying for a job then getting a license later, there isn’t time for that right now” because “jobs will likely get taken by another candidate who’s already licensed.”
That said, even if you are licensed in one compact state and practicing in another, you will need to adhere to the rules of whichever state you are currently practicing in.
Also, in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, some states are restricting travel from one state to another—although this often doesn’t apply to travel for employment purposes. However, there may be quarantine mandates you have to observe when crossing state borders—even if you’re traveling for work. So, it’s still a good idea to verify that you’ll be able to work in a given state—and how soon you can get to work—before you apply for a position there.
5. Work with recruiters.
With such a competitive job market, working with a qualified recruiter may be your best bet for finding a decent travel position. Not only can a recruiter find positions that you wouldn’t be able to access on your own, but many staffing agencies are also willing to pay for travel expenses, licensing, and credentialing. When working with recruiters, be sure to:
- work with more than one recruiter,
- be completely upfront about what you’re looking for, and
- research the recruiters you work with to ensure they are reputable.
Additionally, this resource from Covalent Careers explains the ins and outs of working with a travel PT recruiter—as well as some specific qualities to look for in a recruiter.
Times are tough for travel physical therapists—there’s no denying it. But with some flexibility, research, and the right people in your corner, you won’t be left hanging. Have questions about travel PT? Let us know in the comment section below.