New Year’s means new resolutions and that could mean checking new places and adventures off your bucket list. What do you aspire to accomplish in 2017? Learning to surf in Hawaii, skiing the Rockies or hiking that mountain in California? For the SLP with a sense of adventure you may want to consider becoming a traveling therapist. Being a traveling therapist allows you to travel and explore the United States while maintaining a job as an SLP and getting paid for work.
The term “travel therapy” can be vague; it generally refers to the industry that staff’s therapists in short term contracts across the United States. Travel therapists are used to fill short-term, immediate staffing needs secondary to staffing shortages or temporary leaves. Jobs can be in any setting and are typically between 3 to 9 months in duration.
Here are some things to know if you are considering a career as a traveler…
1. Be prepared to “Hit the Ground Running”
As a traveling SLP you will be working in places that have immediate staffing needs, some more dire than others. From the start of your assignment, you may be expected to perform your job and assume a full caseload with little to no orientation. Having strong clinical skills and caseload management abilities can help make the transitions easier.
2. You will learn A LOT
The idea of taking over a new caseload with little orientation may sound challenging and scary. However, you do not need to be a veteran clinician to be a traveler. Being a traveler will introduce you to new settings, buildings, new patients and new co-workers. It is a great way to enhance your clinical skills and expand your practice.
3. Nothing is Ever Free
As a traveling SLP you will be subcontracted to a facility through a staffing agency. There are hundreds of staffing agencies competing for your business and their marketing tactics can be misleading. Agencies advertise free housing, CEU’s, relocation, etc, but of course there is a catch.
Traveling can be a challenge, but it can also be an extremely rewarding and enriching experience.
What is important to know about reimbursements is that nothing is truly ever free. A staffing agency essentially gets paid a sum of money for each 13-week contract that you complete. Think of that money as one big pie that can be cut in many different pieces. First, the staffing agency is going to take their share of the pie to cover expenses to run the agency and make a profit. After that the rest of the pie is yours and can be split different ways. You may choose to split the pie into 13 equal paychecks every week. You may also choose to have money allotted for housing expenses, moving expenses, ASHA dues, etc. and then make less money per week. Make your money and contract work for you and divide it as needed.
4. You May Qualify for Tax-Free Stipends
As a traveling SLP you may qualify for tax free living and housing stipends if you maintain both a residence at home and duplicate expenses by traveling to a temporary location for work. If you qualify for a tax-free stipend, it is again coming out of the big pie, as mentioned above. Staffing agencies follow government guidelines to determine the amount of stipend that they can allocate based on geographic area. Thus, your stipend may be different if you are working in San Francisco vs Omaha.
5. You Can Extend Your Time
You may be asked to extend your contract for more than the initial time. Taking an extension is your decision and has pros and cons. Extensions can ease the burden of moving so frequently, but they can hinder our wanderlust souls.
Thank you to Julia Kuhn, blogger, over at The Traveling Traveler Blog. For those times you wish you could be an SLP in Hawaii, check out her blog.
If you continue to extend at a location for a whole year, you would no longer be considered a temporary employee; per IRS guidelines. You would still be eligible to work in the same location after a year, but would no longer be considered a temporary employee and would no longer qualify for tax-free stipends.
6. Research the Industry
As you can tell from the last three bullet points, there is a lot to learn and know about working in the travel industry. Do your research before becoming a traveler. This could include:
- Find a mentor who has travel experience
- Join groups on social media to connect with other travelers i.e. “Travel Therapists” and “Travel Therapy”
- Read websites and blogs about the industry
- Attend “The Traveler’s Conference” which is an annual 3-day conference in Las Vegas every September. TravCon has seminars on travel and connects more than 1000 travelers and agency representatives in one location.
- Speak to an accountant or tax professional knowledgeable in traveling professionals and filing multi state income taxes
7. Explore Your New Surroundings
While three months may sound like a long time to be at a place, it goes by very quickly. Take advantage of your time at your new location to explore and engage in your surroundings. Think about your bucket list and New Year’s resolutions; remember what it is you want to accomplish this year and go for it! Make a list of things you want to do or places to see at every contract and stay proactive in checking items off that list. Join community groups, take classes and engage in your new environment! Before you know it three months will be over.
8. Attitude is everything
Your attitude is a big part of what will determine your success and happiness as a traveling therapist. Traveling can be a challenge, but it can also be an extremely rewarding and enriching experience. If you go into an assignment with a negative attitude you will likely have a negative assignment. Going into a building with a positive attitude is key for success.
Best of luck and happy travels to everybody beginning new adventures in 2017!
Links of Interest
Check out Julia’s blog at The Traveling Traveler
Join her Traveling Therapist Facebook Forum