Travel physical therapy
Travel physical therapy affords the flexibility of living almost anywhere you like. No matter what state you live in, there is a need for rehab professionals in inpatient and outpatient settings. If you have been wondering if travel physical therapy is right for you, keep reading to learn more about the ins and outs of this type of practice.
What is travel physical therapy?
If you have a sense of adventure, feel confident jumping into unfamiliar situations and love taking on new challenges in new locations then travel physical therapy may be a perfect opportunity for you. While this type of practice is not a fit for everyone, many who work as travel physical therapists rave about the lifestyle. Unlike traditional staff or PRN physical therapists, travel physical therapists sign on to limited contracts, usually through a recruiting agency, at hospitals, outpatient clinics, schools, etc who are in need of staffing. On average contracts last about 13 weeks but they can be shorter or longer (6 weeks to 6 months, for example).
What are the benefits to practicing as a travel physical therapist?
Flexibility and variety: Unlike traditional physical therapy, working as a travel physical therapist gives you flexibility to choose where and when you want to work. While you are limited to locations that are offering assignments at the moment, you have the opportunity to try living and working in many different places and in different settings. Also, because travel physical therapy contracts usually last 4-6 months, you can choose to take time off in between assignments to travel to different places or do whatever you like.
Higher salary: On average, travel physical therapists make $98,329 /year. Salary can range from $65,500 to $120,500 depending on how many contracts you pick up each year, what the rate of pay is and whether you have a tax home (see below to learn more about tax homes).
Meet new people and expand your skills in travel physical therapy: Travel physical therapy offers the chance to meet and work with many new people. If you are someone who enjoys meeting new people, this can be a great way to expand your social circle. Additionally, you have the opportunity to work alongside and learn from many different PTs and expand your skills for working in different clinical settings.
What should you consider before working in travel physical therapy?
Be ready to hit the ground running: Travel PTs are filling a short-term staffing need and are expected to jump right in and start working. You should feel comfortable working independently in the setting in which you are contracted. While new grads can certainly work as travel PTs, this is something to consider. Having a mentor outside of your place of employment can be very helpful in this situation.
Have your state or compact license ready: You must be licensed in the state in which you are going to practice. Be aware of the licensing requirements and the timeline for getting a license before signing a contract to work in a new state as you will not be able to work without one. Nowadays, the PT Compact privilege allows therapists to work within a number of member states without getting licensed in each state. Not all states allow privileges under the PT compact yet.
Choose recruiters wisely: Staffing recruiters help you land travel physical therapy contracts. They are there to act on your behalf but they are also likely working on commission and eager to have you sign. This means they may not always always advocate for the best pay and benefits possible. Having 2-3 recruiters that you work with will give you more assignments to choose from throughout the year and can help you get the best benefits out of each contract. That being said, having personal knowledge of the best available benefit packages will help you advocate for yourself.
Establish a tax home … or not for travel physical therapy: One factor that can significantly affect the amount of take-home pay a travel PT earns is whether or not they establish and keep a tax home. A tax home refers to a livable residence that you maintain in your primary state of residence wherein you return for a total of at least 30 days each year. When a travel PT chooses to maintain a tax home, they will be able to benefit from tax free housing, travel reimbursement and sometimes meal allowances as part of their benefit package during an assignment.
There are strict requirements for establishing a tax home. You must be able to provide the IRS proof that you are incurring regular expenses in order to reside in or maintain the place of primary residence. Rental contracts, payment records, and tax returns may be requested at any time to prove the legitimacy of a tax home. Establishing a tax home can be beneficial to allow for the deduction of duplicate living and travel expenses while on assignment but not all travel PTs want to go through the hassle of establishing and maintaining a tax home. In this case travelers are often considered an “itinerant” worker in which their tax home follows them wherever they are working and housing and travel reimbursements are considered taxable income.
Research short-term housing options: Be sure to research short-term housing options in the area you plan to take an assignment. This can be tricky in some places and it is best to know ahead of time what is available. Also, because assignments can be canceled at the last second, it may be a good idea to limit the initial lease to no longer than 30 days with the option to extend once you know the assignment is a go.
Be aware of health insurance gaps: Company-sponsored healthcare plans can be an affordable and easy option for health insurance while on assignment as the premiums are often partially paid for by the travel company as part of your benefit package. If you are going to pick up another assignment with the same company then you may be able to continue on their health plan for 14-30 days between assignments. If you plan to take a longer gap, however or switch to a new company, you may find yourself without coverage.
Some working in travel physical therapy may choose to purchase a plan through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace which will cover them throughout the year. They will be 100% responsible for the premiums but out-of-pocket costs could be more or less than a company-sponsored plan depending on their level of income the previous year and available subsidies. Finally, in some states individual plans through private insurance companies may be available. Either way, be sure to consider how you will deal with possible gaps in healthcare coverage as you cannot always predict when you will need it.
Start 30-day Free Trial and explore TheraPlatform. HIPAA Compliant Video and Practice Management Software for Therapists.
Keeping the travel physical therapy option open
As you can see, travel physical therapy offers many exciting benefits to an adventurous clinician. While you may miss your close friends and family while you are away, by carefully selecting your assignments you can fill your time making new friends and exploring the local culture and landscape.
Additionally, if you are a clinic owner or hiring manager looking to fill a short-term staffing need, consider travel PTs as an option and know that the team at Theraplatform is here to help with our practice management and EHR/EMR software. They also offer a 30-day trial for free. No credit card required. Cancel anytime.