How to Start Your Career in Travel Therapy
The pandemic has made staffing shortages the new normal in healthcare, an industry that was already facing staffing issues due to an aging population. Many healthcare workers have taken travel assignments, filling in the holes left by retiring and burned-out staff.
Have you thought about travel therapy? You might be surprised to find out that even new graduates can step into temporary positions all over the country.
Travel therapy can be an exciting and rewarding career, whether you’re a seasoned pro or fresh from passing your boards.
If you think travel might be right for you, but you’re not quite sure where to start, we’ve got some ideas for you.
Start by Looking at Your Goals
Traveling jobs can be exciting, lucrative, educational, and let’s not forget, stressful. Before you start job hunting, it helps to think about your goals and the “why” behind your interest in traveling. Whether you’re driven by finances, professional growth, an adventurous streak, or other personal reasons, your ultimate goal might affect how you choose your next step.
Keep in mind that travel therapy is a fluctuating market. The pay rates and job market may be fantastic now, during a pandemic, but the job forecast could look completely different next year.
If making money for a measurable goal is what’s driving you, like paying off student loans, you might take assignments close to home, so you don’t have to get licensed in other states, move family members and pets with you, or find temporary housing.
If you’re looking for professional growth and experience, you might focus your job search on a specific facility or area where you’ve found opportunities for growth and education.
If the sheer joy of travel is calling you, you’ve got the whole country to explore! You might plan based on cultural attractions, recreational opportunities, or by choosing a different geographical area than your home state. Or you might just throw a dart at a map and create your own adventure!
You could have many other reasons, but the important thing is to use them to narrow down the details of your future travel therapy career.
Update Your License
Unfortunately, passing your boards and becoming licensed in your home state doesn’t mean you can work in other states unless you’re eligible for a PT Compact license. A compact license is an agreement between states that a therapist with an active license in one state can work in the others. Compact agreements for OT/COTA and SLP are in the works but not yet active.
You will need to be licensed in each state in which you work. If you already have one license (your home state), you can typically apply for a license in another state in a process called Licensure by Endorsement. The approval process can take weeks to months, so you will want to apply as soon as you’ve narrowed down your states of choice.
It’s good planning to assess the number of jobs available in a particular state before you apply for a license. Some states just don’t have as much need as others. It’s also a good idea to maintain two to three licenses to ensure you have plenty of options.
To apply for a license, go to the state’s licensing board website for your profession. And don’t forget the CEUs – many of your credits will be accepted by multiple state licensing boards.
Connect With the Right Recruiter
The current healthcare crisis means therapists are receiving emails or texts about jobs from different facilities and recruiters they’ve never met, even if they’re not actively looking for a job. If you’re thinking about travel therapy, it may be tempting to reply to the first recruiter you hear from, but you don’t know who’s on the other end of that message.
And that’s important because recruiters aren’t all the same.
An assignment to an unfamiliar place is filled with unknowns. Your recruiter is your connection to everything you need to make your assignment a great experience.
Finding and connecting with the right recruiter is your best bet for finding the type of assignments you’re looking for and for making your transition into your temporary role successful. They know the ins and outs of travel therapy and are prepared to walk a good candidate through the steps. They also may work with clients in many locations in a variety of clinical and non-clinical settings.
The right recruiter does much more than find you a placement, including:
- Maintain long-term relationships with clients who hire travelers.
- Share a variety of opportunities.
- Help you with your resume, career advice, tips for traveling, interviewing, and more.
- Handle the paperwork for your contract.
- Walk you through pre-employment credentialing.
- Help you find housing.
- Answer questions about your pay cycle and benefits.
- Have your back if you have questions or concerns before, during, and after your assignment.
The right recruiter is your partner for the long-term. At Marvel Medical Staffing, we think all our recruiters are fantastic and we’ll make sure you and your recruiter are the best fit.
Learn The Financial Basics of Travel Therapy
When you work with an agency, it’s important to remember you are a freelancer, not an employee. Additionally, the agency will keep a percentage of your wages to cover their expenses and profit for the contract.
Instead of a full-time paycheck with a salary or hourly rate, you’ll have different categories of pay on your paycheck.
- An hourly rate, which is taxed.
- A stipend amount, which is not taxed. The stipend is for travel expenses and incidentals.
- Reimbursements for licensing or travel to and from the assignment.
Whether or not you owe taxes on your stipend depends on if you have a tax home or are an itinerant worker.
What is a Tax Home?
If you’ve ever prepared your own taxes, you know that tax preparation can be confusing in any circumstances. Travel assignments can complicate things even more. You may have deductible travel expenses, depending on whether you have a tax home or are considered an itinerant worker.
Loosely defined, a tax home is your principal place of work or your primary home. You might have a principal place of work if you do seasonal work, like in a school district during the school year, and then travel during the summer. In a case like that, your main place of business is the school district.
If you don’t have a main place of business but do have a home where you live when you’re not traveling, that may also be considered a tax home. For more information about how the government determines your tax home, see Publication 463 on the IRS website.
It boils down to your housing and per diem stipends being tax-free if you have a tax home. And that increases your take-home pay.
Plan to Find Housing
Some agencies offer housing with your contract, but the cost of that housing generally comes out of your pay. You may save money and have more options by finding your own temporary housing.
Some popular options are:
- Stay with a friend or family member
- Travel by RV
- Rent a furnished or unfurnished short-term apartment
- Extended stay hotels
- Furnished Finder
Unless you’re taking an assignment close to home, chances are you’ll be assessing your housing options online instead of in person. You can check out potential locations online using Google maps and Google earth to get an idea of what’s nearby.
To learn how safe and bike/walk friendly a location is, type the address in AreaVibes and WalkScore.
Is Travel Therapy Right for You?
Still interested? If the licensing, job hunting, and housing requirements haven’t slowed you down, you might be on the right track!
Travel therapy might be right for you if you are (or want to be):
- Adaptable – You hit the ground running and learn from change.
- Adventurous – There are so many things you want to see and do at work and outside of work.
- Dedicated – You love what you do and you want to get more out of your work.
- Forward-thinking – The benefits of travel therapy, like education, experience, flexibility, higher pay, and other incentives can make it a lucrative career choice.
- Motivated – You want to do more at work and at play.
- Well-rounded – You don’t like to do the same thing every day. You want to learn and grow.
Choose Your Own Adventure
The best thing about travel therapy might be the control you have over your location and schedule. You can choose where to go based on whatever criteria you choose – follow the warm weather or your favorite professional sports team; it’s all up to you. If you don’t like a location, you can move on. You can work a thirteen-week contract then take the next month off if you’d like. Travel therapy truly is a choose-your-own-adventure career!
Be sure to check out our frequently posted jobs on Marvel Match as well!