Should I Become a Travel Therapist?
Whenever I talk to my old grad school classmates or former coworkers about travel therapy, I often get met with comments like “Oh, I wish I could do that,” or “You’re so lucky. I could never manage that.”
And while I do feel incredibly fortunate to be able to have this traveling lifestyle, on the other hand I strongly believe that everyone should try travel therapy at least once.
While I think that travel therapy can work for a wide variety of people at various points throughout their lives, the following questions are things I asked myself before I began my journey.
Are you flexible?
This may be the single most important quality to have as a travel therapist. Luckily, as occupational therapists, we’re already pretty flexible! We’re used to having to deal with last minute schedule changes, grading activities up or down in the moment, and working with patients with a variety of needs and personality types.
The stakes just get raised a bit when you decide to travel. Instead of getting 3 cancellations in an afternoon, you may get a 13 week contract cancelled at week 2. You may not be able to find a contract in your preferred locations. You may have to make some compromises when it comes to housing.
With all that being said, in the grand scheme of things, my experience has been largely positive, even looking back at any last minute changes. But travel therapy does require the ability to roll with the punches in the moment.
Are you brave?
Now, unless hippotherapy has made some changes you’re obviously not going to be taming lions or anything like that. But travel therapy does require a certain amount of braveness. There are a lot of unknowns. It’s easy to get in your own head. “What if I don’t like the job? What if I don’t like the location? What if I get a difficult case and have no one to help me figure out what to do?”
The truth is that sometimes these these situations will happen – so you have to have the boldness to be willing to face them head-on and figure out how to best react.
Do you want to explore?
One of the biggest things that sent me over the edge to start travel therapy was that I realized I hadn’t been on a plane in 2 years. I’ve always listed travel as a big priority, but I wasn’t practicing what I preached.
I knew I wanted to see more of the world, and I didn’t want to wait until I was too old or tired to truly enjoy it. Becoming a traveling occupational therapist was the logical conclusion. Not only have I gotten to live in some cool new places, my personal travel has increased a ton as well.
Traveling like this just gives you a different mindset. Thoughts change from “I’d like to visit Thailand sometime when I have more money and PTO,” to “What are the steps I need to take to be able to visit Thailand in 2019?”
Do you want to make more money?
This was the other factor that solidified my decision to become a traveling therapist. One of the biggest reasons I wasn’t doing any kind of traveling was because my full time job wasn’t paying as much as I was told when I was in grad school.
Beyond that, I had very little PTO or flexibility to really take time off. Becoming a travel therapist nearly doubled my income and allowed me to get paid to travel, so it was a win-win.
Now, there are exceptions for this, like if you have a ton of experience or work in a market that has very little access to occupational therapists. But for the most part all of the travel therapists I know are significantly out-earning their permanent counterparts.
Do you feel stuck in your current position?
My first travel contract was a small setting change – from outpatient pediatrics to schools. And man, did I learn more in those first two months than I did in the past two years of my perm job. While I loved my patients and my work, I was starting to feel somewhat stagnant. It didn’t feel like I was learning much anymore.
Working at other places – whether you’re the only therapist or have a huge team of coworkers – can really open up new learning opportunities. You might even be able to pick up some new skills or certifications to add to your resume!
Do you want to get experience in a variety of settings?
One of the nicest things about travel is that in general, facilities really need a therapist. And as such, they are often willing to hire and train new grads or therapists who don’t have much experience in a particular setting. As long as you are willing to be flexible on location, it’s possible to get experience in any setting – which is especially nice if you’re trying to break into a more competitive setting such as NICU or hand therapy.
Do you have things to take care of at home?
This is the consideration that holds most people back. While it is possible for anyone to travel, there are factors that make it much, much harder for people such as small children, aging parents, and spouses with career needs at home.
And while I’ve met therapists who making travel therapy work for them even with these situations, there’s no denying it is much more challenging. But if travel therapy is important to you, there are definitely ways to accomplish it. Again, it helps to rephrase your thinking from “I wish that were possible for me” to “What would I need to do to make travel therapy possible?”
If you’re still teetering on the question of if you should try travel occupational therapy, my advice is this: just go for it. That initial leap is the biggest obstacle you will face in your career as a travel therapist. And while the qualities and considerations discussed here will help aid in your success, travel is also a great way to work on these qualities and grow as both a therapist and a person.
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