3 Reasons You Should Consider Travel Therapy as a New Grad

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Whether or not you should pursue travel therapy as a new grad physical therapist, occupational therapist, or speech-language pathologist can be a bit of a contentious topic.

The vast majority of professors and clinical instructors advise students against traveling as new grads, but that’s mostly because it’s the safe suggestion to make to students as a whole. However, it’s not the right suggestion for everyone. Most of these clinicians have never actually traveled themselves and are making their judgment based on horror stories they’ve heard about terrible travel therapy contracts. While there are certainly less than ideal travel therapy jobs out there, these are easily avoidable with proper research and planning. I started traveling as a recent graduate physical therapist eight years ago, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made as a therapist.

Here are three reasons why you should consider pursuing travel therapy as a new grad physical therapist, occupational therapist, or speech-language pathologist.

Becoming a More Well-Rounded Clinician

In my physical therapy school program, I had only three clinical internships. While this certainly gave me a good feel for the profession as a whole, it didn’t allow me to try out all of the various clinical settings. It also didn’t allow me to learn what to look for—or what to avoid—in facilities where I would be considering working long term. I thought I knew that I wanted to work as an outpatient physical therapist, but that’s mostly because I had two of my three clinicals in outpatient, and it was, unsurprisingly, the setting where I was most comfortable.

In my first two years of traveling as a new physical therapist, I ended up working in nearly every setting. Through these experiences, I found that while I do enjoy outpatient physical therapy, there are other settings that I really like and could be a better fit for me long term. I also learned that all outpatient clinics aren’t created equally, and that some offer a much better clinical environment and work/life balance.

I also got the opportunity to work with and learn from dozens of different therapists over those first two years, which would have been impossible if I’d taken a full-time permanent position right out of school. Learning from so many different clinicians taught me a lot about the profession and gave me valuable insight into the type of therapist I wanted to be and behaviors I wanted to avoid. Getting so much experience in different settings and learning from so many different therapists undoubtedly made me a much more well-rounded clinician.

Finding the Best Fitting Area to Live Long Term

New grad therapists are usually faced with three choices for where to work:

  1. Take a job in the area around their grad school where they’ve lived for the last few years.
  2. Take a job back in their hometown.
  3. Risk taking a permanent job in a brand new location they aren’t sure they’ll actually like.

For me, the idea of committing to a permanent position in an area I was unfamiliar with or settling down where I went to school or back in my hometown were all unappealing. I wanted to venture out and explore other areas that I might like more, but I didn’t want to be stuck there if it wasn’t a good fit. Travel therapy was the perfect solution.

While traveling, I’ve been able to try out different areas all over the country to get a feel for whether that area would be somewhere I’d want to stay long term but without the commitment that comes with a permanent position.

What I found is that some places I thought I’d love I ended up not liking once I was there, and some places where I was hesitant to go, I ended up loving. It’s very difficult to get a feel for a location on a trip for a week or two, but after 13 weeks of working in an area, you get a very good idea of whether or not it would be somewhere that you could see yourself staying long term. Getting to try out a variety of locations around the country to determine where you want to settle down is an invaluable benefit that comes with being a recent graduate travel therapist.

Gaining Financial Flexibility

Over the past 20 years, tuition prices have skyrocketed for grad school programs while reimbursement rates for therapists have remained largely stagnant. This means that most new therapists are facing six figures of student loan debt, with most permanent positions paying the same as they did in prior decades. That is a recipe for discontent and the most often cited reason I’ve heard from new grads over the years for being disillusioned by the prospects of the various therapy disciplines.

Travel therapy offers recent graduates the ability to take high-paying contracts and get ahead financially compared to their peers who are settling into permanent positions. In my first year traveling as a new grad, I earned double what many of my classmates did who settled down into full-time positions. This gave me much-needed financial flexibility. I was able to choose whether I wanted to pay down my student loans more quickly, save for a house, or make valuable investments early in my career—or a combination of all of these.

After mentoring thousands of new travel therapists over the years, the options that come along with earning a much higher income as a travel therapist is usually the advantage that they value most. It has certainly been life-changing for me over the past eight years.

Is Traveling as a New Grad Right for Everyone?

While these three points make a strong case for considering travel therapy as a new grad, it certainly isn’t the right choice for everyone.

While the vast majority of recent graduate travelers I’ve mentored over the years don’t regret the decision, there are certainly some who aren’t well-suited to travel as new grads. The junior-professional therapist must be confident in their evaluation and treatment skills, a fast learner, and good communicator. Adapting to new clinics, locations, documentation systems, patients, and coworkers can be daunting for those who are not adequately prepared.

It’s also vital to do your research on the travel therapy process before starting. There’s a lot to learn and understand to avoid pitfalls. Almost every travel horror story I’ve heard over the years was due to lack of preparation and understanding, which could have been avoided with proper research.

While travel therapy as a new grad isn’t for everyone, it’s certainly worth considering. Gaining financial flexibility and trying out different settings and locations—all while learning from dozens of different experienced clinicians all over the country—is incredibly valuable.