Travel physical therapist
Allied Health

How to Become a Traveling Physical Therapist

Physical therapists are doctorate-level educated professionals who specialize in treating patients with illnesses, injuries, physical disabilities, or other health conditions that impact daily function and movement. Physical therapists evaluate, identify, assess, plan, and treat to improve patient outcomes. Physical therapy services can include restoring function, improving coordination, increasing range of motion, flexibility, and strength, among so much more. Physical therapists work with a wide variety of patients in different age groups and populations, and settings ranging from inpatient to outpatient, long-term to home settings, making them highly desirable allied health professionals for travel positions.

The Market for Travel PTs 

The demand for physical therapists is high, and labor organizations project their employment to skyrocket in the next 10 years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the employment rate of physical therapists will grow 21% from 2020 to 2030. Currently, the need for physical therapy is greater than the number of physical therapists available to practice, causing an abundance of PT jobs but a shortage of PTs.

This shortage is where travel physical therapy jobs come into play, as well as PT salary. Travel PTs often have the skills to offset staff and can increase productivity; this might be where your skill set makes you highly desirable for PT jobs and makes your salary jump. 

Requirements for PT Jobs  

Physical therapists must have a current and active license to practice. When traveling, PTs either apply for a license in each state where they plan to practice or apply for compact privileges. Physical therapy compact privileges don’t count as multistate licenses but as an authorization to work in a state other than the home state of licensure. A physical therapist’s permanent residence determines the “home state.”  

Check out this compact states map to see if your license has compact privileges.

A general overview of steps to obtaining compact privilege to practice in member states include:

  • Proof of license to practice in your home state
  • A valid driver’s license proving permanent residence
  • No disciplinary actions against your license in the last two years
  • The compact privilege state must be both a member of the PT compact and actively accepting compact privileges at that time

Generally, you must pay a fee and pass the jurisprudence exam for each state you wish to apply for compact privileges. Most states require you to pass the jurisprudence exam before applying for compact privileges. The fees range from $95 to $195. When negotiating your travel contract, this is an essential factor to consider when deciding on your assignments. Approval for licensure can take months. Also, ask your company if they reimburse you for any licensing requirements. 

Choosing Assignment Locations

Location. Location. Location. The old homage rings true. 

With travel assignments available across the country, deciding between assignments can be overwhelming and hard to narrow down but mostly exciting. Although travel PT jobs are great opportunities to see the country, it’s a good idea to understand your goals before you set off, like why you want to travel. 

Some agencies require their travel PTs to be a set distance from their permanent address, usually 50 miles. A good rule when looking for jobs and comparing agencies is to look at how far you want to travel to a new assignment. When basing your selection on location, consider choosing an area you’re familiar with and would enjoy exploring but can still stay relatively close to the comforts of home. If a new city doesn’t intimidate you, look for a location you want to explore on your days off to make the most out of your opportunity.

Besides location, there are several aspects of travel to consider before deciding on your assignment, including salary, contract length, benefits, patient population, and work environment. And as stated before, licensing requirements can also play a significant role in your decision.

Setting Professional Goals 

Consider your professional goals. Are you looking for a new city, setting, company, or skill set? 

If you’re looking for a company to settle into long-term, traveling can be a great way to find your perfect fit. Reputation and benefits can be make or break criteria when applying for an assignment.

If your goal is to find help obtaining your license in another state, finding a company that offers license assistance will be vital. Ask the agency if they’ll pay for licensing. Also, question the agency about whether you’ll have benefits on the first day of employment, after 90 days, or at all when considering working with them.

Do you want to open your own clinic eventually? Traveling allows you to make the connections you might need down the road. Consider how a PT travel job will help you accomplish your long-term goals.

Negotiating Your Contract

Be prepared to negotiate your contract. The art of negotiation is one of the most important skills you’ll learn from travel PT contracts. When deciding on an assignment, consider contract length, scheduling, the flexibility of scheduling, and time off. Your staff job may only offer 9 to 5, but travel PT might open the opportunity for shift work, weekend work, and more. When negotiating your contract, or deciding between assignments, consider time off. Some assignments allow time off, but others require you to request and list time off at the beginning of the contract.

Facility Considerations

The facility’s productivity standards are essential for PT travel if you’re setting-driven. Depending on the contract length, ask, “How many patients am I expected to see in an hour, week, or month?” 

For inpatient PT, you might see time slots or specific standards the facility has set in place. For example, you might have 40 minutes to see each patient, or you must see five units by lunch, etc. For outpatient, you may want to ask about patient loads. Do you have overlapping patients throughout your day, or do you have time slots for each patient? 

Knowing what services your clinic/facility offers and how many patients receive these services each day can keep you from burning out or feeling out of place when tackling a new job. 

Charting is an often overlooked aspect of travel physical therapy. When deciding on an assignment, ensure you can chart using the facility’s computer system or feel comfortable learning a new one in a concise amount of time. Many agencies list the computer system they use. 

Physical Therapist Salary 

Being paid adequately for your work is one of the most influential, if not the most significant, factors to weigh before taking the leap and leaving your steady job for a travel assignment. The high demand for health professionals like physical therapists means you should have no problem finding well-paying positions consistently. Cost of living and the quality of life you’re entitled to are driving factors behind salary, and you deserve to be paid sufficiently. 

Compare your pay with the most up-to-date job market data using our comprehensive salary calculator. It breaks down payment by discipline, permanent positions, travel contracts, agencies, and states. Our career resources also provide a breakdown of the top 10 highest-paying allied health specialties to give you even more salary details.

You’ll find that physical therapists rank among the highest-paid employees in the allied health field. Understanding that you deserve to be paid adequately for your skill set and that you receive even greater compensation while traveling is essential in negotiating salary. The average weekly traveling physical therapist wage in August 2022 was $2,039, but some jobs paid as much as $4,200 weekly. 

Many travel companies offer weekly allowances and reimbursements, continuing education, referral programs, cash bonuses, and loyalty bonuses as part of their contracts. One of the biggest perks as a healthcare traveler is tax-free stipends for housing and food. Stipends vary by state and facility but can significantly impact yearly income. Travelers often receive their stipends in their weekly deposits. 

Getting Started as a Travel PT

When you’re initially starting as a traveling physical therapist, one of the first things you can do is network. Ask around. Start Googling. Talk to your co-workers. You might even have a traveling physical therapist or former travel PT at your current job.

Visit Vivian and create a candidate profile, research pay, benefits, and shifts for the lifestyle you’re dreaming of living. Not only can you find travel PT jobs, but you can also browse permanent jobs. When an assignment piques your interest, do some research. Look at employer reviews online, read community threads written by travel PTs, and see if the company looks like a good fit. It’s also good to see what patients write about the facility. 

Travel physical therapy jobs can be great for your short-term or long-term goals. Regardless of where you go or what you do, it’ll be an adventure that comes with priceless knowledge and opportunities.

peyton
Peyton McInnis

Peyton McInnis, RN, BSN, has been a nurse since 2018 and is ONS/ONCC Chemotherapy Immunotherapy Certified and Neurotoxin and Filler Injection Certified. She has dabbled in oncology, hospice, vaccination, and med-surg travel nursing but is currently a clinical educator and FNP student at Chamberlain University. In her spare time, Peyton is a 200-hour yoga teacher. She’s passionate about holistic care and advocating for self-care.

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