If you’re reading this blog, you’re one step closer to becoming a traveling physical therapist. Perhaps the idea of adventuring to new places or expanding your clinical skills has prompted you to take action. Or, maybe you read our recent write-up, “Is Becoming a Traveling Physical Therapist For You?” and answered, “heck yeah!” Regardless of what encouraged you to move forward in your traveling enterprise, we’re just as excited as you are. To help you on your way, we put together this information-packed, five-part checklist. Now, let’s get you even closer to your traveling PT career goal.
5 Essentials to Scratch Off Your Traveling PT To-Do List
We know this looks like more than five steps, but don’t panic. It’s good to have lists inside lists! The more organized you are, the easier your journey toward your dream job will be. Just think of this as an extended pre-travel checklist, but instead of marking off your shampoo, toothbrush, and toothpaste—you’ll mark off resume tips, credentialing guidelines, and steps to finding a recruiter.
Without further ado, here is step number one.
1. Set goals and priorities.
One of the first—and most important—to-do items on your travel PT checklist is to establish your personal goals and priorities. One of the best ways to do this is to ask yourself a few questions:
- Are you prepared for travel life? It sounds like a no-brainer, but nonetheless, ask yourself: Are you sure you like to travel enough to put up with long flights, long drives, delays, and last-minute changes?
- Are you flexible enough to relocate from place to place every three to four months?
- Are you okay with roommates?
- Can you handle working on weekends?
- Are you open to working in diverse settings (including more rural areas)?
- Have you considered how being a traveling PT will impact your spouse, family, and/or pets (if you have them)?
- Can you quickly navigate major logistic changes (e.g., finding new housing, gyms, eateries, support systems)?
Assessing (or re-assessing) the questions on this list will help you identify any loose ends to tie up (e.g., scheduling pet sitters, making sure your mode of transportation is reliable, pausing your local gym membership).
Another tip: Having a spiral notebook, planner, or journal to keep track of what’s been done and what still needs to be completed will help you maintain organization. You can also use it to jot down any additional goals or priorities that come about as you continue on to steps two through five on this list.
2. Check and re-check your resume.
If you can’t remember the last time you updated your resume, check it. Then check it again! Whether you apply to individual travel PT positions or acquire a recruiter (which we’ll explore later), it’s important to stand out with a compelling—and competitive—resume. In addition to updating your most recent work experience, include often overlooked, but attention-grabbing intel. For example, share unique and valuable job duties you performed, including specific diagnoses and treatments.
Consider this resume example.
Let’s say you have your sights set on an outpatient pediatric traveling PT job. First, see if there are ways you can cater your work experience to the position you’re applying for. For example, if the position calls for extensive Medicaid reimbursement and compliance experience as well as flexibility to attend meetings and trainings, think about what you can highlight from your previous professional experiences. Maybe you were the resident billing expert at your last job, and not only attended all mandatory meetings, but also spearheaded in-service meetings and trainings.
Here are a few other items to include on your resume so it’s ready to go:
- Your area of rehab therapy expertise (SLP, PT, OT, PTA, or COTA);
- Your educational background (including any honors or special recognition);
- Any and all state licensures;
- Any and all certifications for advanced training courses;
- A highlight reel of your greatest strengths listed at the top of your resume (think two to three sentences describing attractive attributes to employers—such as your excellent communication and adaptability skills);
- A list of your experience with EMRs and other software applications; and
- A list of references with contact information (your employer/recruiter will thank you for proactively providing these).
To save time, make more than one resume, tailoring each to the different specialties/focuses you’re applying for.
Watch out for resume no-nos.
Just as there are elements of a resume that increase your chances of standing out in a good way, there are some aspects of resumes that can catch the eye of an employer/recruiter for not-so-good reasons. For this exact reason, scan and sweep for:
- Grammar and spelling problems. It happens to the best of us, but one of the best ways to avoid grammar and spelling mishaps is to either use a tool like Grammarly or ask a trusted friend to proofread your resume before sending it out.
- Missing information. It’s not uncommon for people to leave out—or skimp on—employment experience, qualifications, and certifications to keep their resume to one page. While it’s good to be concise, you don’t need to restrict your resume to one page.
- Extraneous information. Just as you don’t want to limit yourself from including experience and skills on a resume, you should also avoid unnecessary filler. For example, if you had a part-time job or intermittent employment in a field other than rehab therapy, you don’t need to list it. Doing so could detract from the stellar experience you do have in PT, OT, or SLP.
- Informality. Keep your language professional and clean. Even if a job you apply for uses informal language, pop culture idioms, or even slang, it’s best to keep your resume professional.
- Excessive formatting. Similar to how being too lax with language can shift attention away from your expertise, so can an abundance of bolded words, italics, font variations, and underlining. Keep formatting simple and easy for a potential employer to scan.
3. Review licensing and credentialing requirements.
All traveling PTs must take the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE). But, you also need to have a license for each state you practice in. And, as you might already know, not all states have the same licensure and travel PT guidelines. Some states, for example, may require you to take a jurisprudence exam—a test that consists of state-specific practice requirement questions. Additionally, you may need to acquire fingerprint clearance and/or special hours of training as part of the credentialing process. Set aside ample time to complete the steps you need to ensure you obtain the proper licensure and credentials, which can include:
- Carefully reviewing the individual state guidelines of the place you hope to—or are going to—practice in;
- Finding out how and where to schedule your NPTE and jurisprudence exam (assuming you need to retake it);
- Acquiring your NPTE scores (there is a nominal fee for this) from the Federation of States Board of Physical Therapy (FSBPT); and
- Completing any other requirements necessitated by the state you will—or plan to—practice in (e.g., fingerprint clearance, notarization, urine testing).
On a positive note, several states banded together to support the Physical Therapy Licensure Compact, reducing regulatory barriers and allowing PTs to use one license to practice in multiple states. But, you must purchase PT compact privileges to do this—and not all states participate in this coalition at the time of this article’s publication.
Note that if you go the recruiter route, most agencies will assist you in the licensing and credentialing process.
4. Review tax guidelines.
The good news for traveling PTs is they receive tax-free stipends. But, along with enjoying these perks comes the responsibility of keeping meticulous records. Will you be taxed by all the different states you visit? It’s possible—though it’s also possible to avoid that! Some states have what are referred to as “reciprocity agreements” that allow travel PTs to pay income tax to only one state. To help avoid major tax liability and circumvent confusion, it’s a good idea for traveling PTs to establish what’s called a tax home.
The IRS defines a tax home as “…the general area of your main place of business, employment, or post of duty, regardless of where you maintain your family home. Your tax home is the place where you are permanently or indefinitely engaged to work as an employee or self-employed individual.”
To be considered a tax home, you must work in a specific area for 30 days each year and pay rent at “fair market value.” Because this can be a confusing, multifaceted area—and one you don’t want to get wrong–—consider consulting with an accountant or utilizing a service specializing in travel tax.
5. Check out different recruiter options.
Working with a recruiter who specializes in travel PT job placements can help increase your likelihood of securing a position. Here are a few ways to help ensure you find the right recruiter match for your specific career goals:
- Ask a veteran travel PT to recommend a recruiter. A PT newer to the travel game may be able to share their recent experiences with a recruiter, but a veteran traveling PT has typically worked with one or more recruiters over a longer period of time. They can tell you the pros and cons of working with a specific recruiter, and also provide tips on what to look for in your search.
- Do your own research. While it’s often nice to have input from those who have walked the travel path before you, you can glean quite a bit about travel PT recruiters on your own—starting with their website. A reputable recruiter often has an easily accessible site that’s transparent about what they do and whether or not they charge for placement (either on the front end or off commission once you solidify a position). They should also provide testimonials and demonstrate that they are advocates for professionals in the rehab therapy space. An example of this often shines through in their content.
- Attend PT conferences. If time and finances allow, take the opportunity to talk with traveling PT recruiters face-to-face at conferences tailored to the rehab therapy industry.
Before you lock in a recruiter, make sure you understand any and all of their associated fees and contract terms. Most reputable recruiters are transparent when it comes to costs associated with travel PT candidacy. Many traveling PT recruiting agencies receive a finder’s fee from the client or the employers you will eventually work with. Other recruiters, however, may work primarily (or exclusively) on commission.
Check. Check. Done! Once you’ve completed the five main items on your checklist, chances are you’re well on your way to securing a traveling PT career. Research demonstrates that travel PT continues to be a lucrative and growing niche, making it the perfect time for you to get started.
If you have any questions about becoming a traveling PT that you didn’t see addressed above, feel free to list them below.