The field of travel physical therapy—or travel for any healthcare professional—offers no shortage of boons. Whether you’re a recent graduate looking to pay off those dreaded student loans or a seasoned veteran of the rehab world looking to pick up and see new places the country, there’s a travel contract somewhere in this country for everyone. By mixing your need for exploration with a drive for flexibility and autonomy, traveling physical therapy could be your calling. After all, a career in travel PT:
- Offers journeys to diverse locales,
- Provides scheduling flexibility,
- Fosters incredible earning potential, and
- Invites you to learn new skills and share the ones you have.
But you can’t just pack up your gear and go without knowing what you’re getting into—right? Before dusting off that luggage you’ve been stowing, look at the pros and cons of this trending PT career path to determine if it’s right for you. With any luck, you may be able to venture out sooner than you think!
Pros of Travel PT
You can satiate your wanderlust.
For those who enjoy traveling, this is one of the biggest—and most obvious—perks of a traveling physical therapist job. And, while you may not always make it to Tuscany or Taiwan, plenty of opportunities await stateside. Many traveling PTs have found themselves practicing their craft in smaller, off-the-beaten-path towns as much as in bigger cities.
You can flex your schedule.
As a travel PT, you—and only you—determine your schedule. Traditional vacation and time-off requests simply don’t exist in this niche, so don’t get too partial to paid time off, but—on the flip side—who doesn't love a two-month break? If you want to take that summer-long backpacking trip through Europe, have at it! The tradeoff, however, is that when you are on the job, you’ll be at the mercy of your employers’ schedule and clinical expectations. And often, you’ll have to hit the ground running as soon as you arrive at your destination. But, as most traveling PTs will attest, it’s a small price to pay for the overall flexibility the job provides.
There’s amazing earning potential.
According to a story published by the APTA, traveling physical therapy positions can pay between 15% and 20% more than permanent physical therapy jobs. And ZipRecruiter reports the average traveling physical therapist salary lands at $104,420 per year. Much of this boost in average salary can be attributed to the bonuses travel PTs get through licensure and other travel fees—and they are also often provided with health and dental insurance. Perhaps most important are the perks of better salary and living expense reimbursements through per diems. Qualifying traveling PTs may be eligible for non-taxable per diem budgets for a housing stipend and a meals and incidentals stipend.
You gain access to diverse practice opportunities.
Travel PT experiences run the gamut, given that PTs may practice at a workers’ compensation clinic one month and treat patients with traumatic brain injuries in another location the next. Outpatient clinics, schools, nursing homes, and fitness centers also serve as possible practice settings. Few work days are ever alike, and traveling PTs have the opportunity to improve their skill sets from exposure to different clinical environments and a range of specialties and niches.
Plus, working in different settings also benefits the teams you work with. It provides you with the opportunity to showcase a variety of skills and tap clinical approaches that may be new to them. If you have ever considered yourself a generalist PT, then travel PT is for you.
Cons of Travel PT
Licensure can get tricky.
Perhaps the biggest headache for a travel therapist is licensing. As you know, PTs must have a license for each state they practice in, which means someone—be that you or a staffing agency—has to submit a boatload of paperwork and fees each time you want to travel to a new state. That much admin can be challenging when your travel schedule has you going to multiple states in a short period.
Now, if you plan to travel with a staffing agency, they should cover much of the cost and have a representative help you streamline the process. To help alleviate all of this, the Physical Therapy Licensure Compact has gained traction in the last decade, working to reduce the regulatory barriers that inhibit PTs from practicing in multiple states. Not all states are part of the PT Compact (yet), so start by making sure your home state is in the compact and look for member states moving forward. You will need to apply, submit a fee, and potentially include other collateral (e.g., letters of good standing from your other licenses, NPTE, test scores) to secure a license.
Recruiter relationships require careful consideration.
When starting out, recruiters are your lifeline to physical therapy traveling jobs. You need them—and more importantly, they need you—but unlike traveling PTs, recruiters are typically paid exclusively on commission. So, how do you know which recruiters to trust? Start by partnering with a reliable vetting source and interviewing your recruiter from day one. Nomadicare, for example, is a third-party advocate of traveling workers. Their primary prerogative is to vet recruiters so professional travelers don’t have to.
After doing your homework, try to build solid relationships with at least two to three reliable recruiters to ensure a steady flow of work. And if you find that travel therapy is your calling, you can even begin to source your own contracts with the relationships you have built. Be forewarned, though—this will require some business and tax know-how to stay compliant and employed.
Travel mishaps happen.
As with any form of travel, flights get canceled, weather disrupts driving plans, and other unpredictable events occur. That’s why there are occasions—albeit rare ones—where a travel physical therapy job may get canceled or terminated early. Keep in mind, you are in a short-term contract and filing a need at a premium, so your presence does affect the clinic’s bottom line. But, if you take the right precautions, like ensuring you have a two- or four-week notice built into your contract, you’ll be able to avoid these travel missteps altogether.
Besides those rare instances, embracing a level of flexibility and adaptability will open your horizons to more contract opportunities. It’s not uncommon to have a long commute (sometimes an hour-plus)—especially if you’re in a remote area. But this can also lead to mileage reimbursements and the ability to see rural America.
Loneliness is a real thing.
It’s not uncommon for travel PTs to feel lonely or untethered—even those who bring their families along for the ride. But, some methods help eliminate any feelings of isolation. For example, some traveling PTs have found it helpful to join or create support groups on social media and attend meetups with fellow travelers. While you embark on your travels, you may come across other travel therapists—and in some cases, fellow travelers may be married (like the author of this post). Plus, there’s a considerable chance you’ll be too busy as a traveling PT to feel lonely in the first place!
While travel PT may not be the career direction for everyone, it’s a legitimate alternative to settling down in one location. In an era where many folks are choosing experiences and relationships as life-fulfilling priorities, the life of a traveling physical therapist certainly fits this mold. If you’re a traveling physical therapist—or interested in becoming one—and would love more information, check out this travel PT checklist, or this post on making the most of the travel PT lifestyle..