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Allied Travel Secrets: What Traveling is REALLY Like

Looking to get a glimpse behind the scenes of travel healthcare? We’ve assembled a half dozen allied professionals with varying degrees of travel experience to provide the inside scoop on the rewards and challenges of the travel lifestyle. Ready? Before we get to the facts, let’s meet our panel:

  • Jaime Schuette, a physical therapist, has been traveling for two and a half years. “All my assignments have started out as 13 weeks,” she said, “But I’ve extended all but one of them, some as long as six months. It’s been awesome.”
  • Christy Morris, a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant, has been on the road for a total of three and a half years. “I like to move around, so my assignments have ranged from three to nine months,” she explained, “I wanted to travel throughout the United States and, I thought, what better way to do it than to get paid for it?
  • Physical Therapist Jody Herbert has been traveling since 2010. “I’ve done anywhere from four weeks to six months,” she said. “I love to travel and being able to see the country and go to cities that I’m thinking about living in, so I can experience them before I make a huge life-changing choice.”
  • Heather Hampton is a speech therapist who has two years of thirteen-week assignments on her resume. “I always wanted to travel, ever since I got out of grad school, but I was too scared to actually do it at first,” she admitted. “Then a friend of mine started traveling, so I thought I should give it a try and I’ve enjoyed it so much.”
  • Leigh Crain, another physical therapist, is the veteran of the group. “Typically my assignments have been 13 weeks long, but there have been some variations,” she said, describing her six years of travel. “I’ve had one assignment that lasted only two weeks, and I’ve also had experiences where I’ve stayed in the same city for a year and half. I’ve had 19 addresses in seven states! It just shows that there’s great variety in what you can do as a traveler.”
  • “I’m just finishing up my first assignment,” remarked physical therapist Sarah Ann Callaway, the baby of the bunch. “After I graduated from physical therapy school, I had no clue about where I wanted to live or what kind of environment I wanted to be in. I became a traveler so I could have the chance to travel around the United States and figure out what particular areas I wanted to work in and what kind of settings were right for me.”

Travel Highlights

When asked what they most liked about travel, our allied clinicians gave a variety of answers. “What’s not to love?” said Jaime Schuette. “I love the ability to travel. I’ve done several cross-country trips now. I’ve walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, driven through Big Sur, seen the nation’s capitol...I’ve literally driven from Florida to California and back!”

“For me, travel is great because I get to help different people in different environments,” Jody Hebert explained. “My last four placements have been awesome, and have really opened up my eyes to why I love what I do.

“The thing I love most about my job,” said Christy Morris, “Is getting to meet the new people at each facility and getting to see the sites of each new town that I move to. Also, I’ve learned that, if I start to get burned out on a place, that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. 13 weeks is not that long.”

Leigh Crain agreed that the ability to stay on the move was a major travel benefit. “It’s really rewarding,” she remarked, “From the ability to experience new environments, to the time off, to changing the type of setting that you’re working in.”

“I have to say,” she added, “That one of the other things I love most about traveling is the flexibility it allows between assignments. I just spent a year and a half in one city working multiple jobs and then I was able to take five weeks off before my next assignment. If you’re a permanent employee somewhere, short of taking a leave of absence, it’s very difficult to get anything beyond two weeks off at a time. That type of flexibility is one thing I really love about traveling.”

“I just love the opportunity to continually grow,” Schuette said. “Traveling has allowed me to dabble in some areas that I had never had the chance to try—and I don’t need to worry about becoming committed for the long term if it isn’t the right fit. I really I wish I had done this sooner…especially because I don’t think I’ll be stopping any time soon! It’s so much fun, and there’s almost an adrenaline rush when it comes time to think about where you can go next and what opportunities are waiting for you.

Advice for New Travelers

“The advice that I would give to someone considering a travel career is to do their research and talk with other therapists who are traveling and get a feel for what it entails,” Leigh Crain suggested, when asked what clinicians should do when first considering a travel career. “If it sounds like a good fit, jump in with both feet.”

“Ask as many questions as you can think of, “ added Jody Herbert, “Find out what types of patients you’re likely to have and what peers you will be working with. Based on your personality, figure out what you want in a location and make sure they have it. Ask questions about social life and activities in addition to serious questions about the facility. I would also suggest that you go to a city that you’ve always wanted to go to, so that your first job isn’t just a job. You actually get to do things outside of it…have fun!”

“My advice is just to go for it!” Heather Hampton laughed. “Don’t be scared. Once you get (to your assignment) you’ll meet great people; all of the facilities that I’ve been to have been very helpful and friendly. It’s a lot of fun. Even if you’re a shy person like me, just go for it. You’ll love it.”

“Traveling is not for everyone,” cautioned Sarah Ann Callaway, “But if you think it might be a good fit for you, you should really try it. The assignments are only 13 weeks so, if you wind up not liking it, it’s not that long—but you could wind up loving it and wanting to continue traveling.

For her part, Jamie Schuette believes that the most important thing that new travelers should know is the importance of maintaining a positive attitude and a willingness to learn. ”As long as you have that, you have everything you need,” she said matter-of-factly. “Don’t sweat the small stuff and just go with the flow. I would definitely say to enjoy the moment, there’s so much out there to enjoy in terms of the work and the new surroundings. If you go in there with the right attitude, everything will fall into place. You don’t need to worry about your housing or how to find the grocery store or what have you. People will be there to help you and it’s just a great experience.”

The First Day

As for the first day of an assignment, Christy Morris suggested that new travelers be prepared for an action-packed start. “Just know that things are going to be quick, and fast-paced,” she said. “But people are usually very helpful. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions.”

“I was so nervous and scared to death on my first day on assignment,” Heather Hampton admitted. “Luckily I had a great team behind me and they helped me every step of the way. Once I got used to it, I was fine.”

Of course, each facility is different, so the attitude of the permanent staff will vary. “In Most places,” said Morris, “The staff is very welcoming, especially other therapists. They really seem to accept that you’re there to help them and they’re usually very excited to see you by the time you get there.”

“Sometimes when you start at a new job, the other clinicians may or not be so welcoming,” countered Leigh Crain. “People will be watching you since you’re the new person and I’ve found that it’s really important to be nice to everyone and take advantage of every opportunity for social stuff. Things like happy hours really help make the transition go smoothly.”

“I’ve never had any issues at all with feeling welcomed,” Jody Herbert said. “On my first travel job, I was the only physical therapist and the other assistants and occupational therapists brought me in with opens arms. In the past few clinics I’ve been in, I’ve made some really good friends that I’m still in contact with.”

Travel Essentials

Once you’ve landed the perfect assignment, the preparation for travel begins! Other than the obvious essentials, what does our panel recommend that you bring?

“I would recommend that any allied professional bring a notebook that they can keep notes in from each assignment,” said Christy Morris. “You’ll want to keep track of all the different techniques that you learn...and also bring a laptop.”

Heather Hampton pointed out that, “As a speech therapist, a lot of the facilities don’t have the materials that I’m used to. So I bring my own materials with me, just to make sure that I’ll have something that I’m comfortable with.”

Leigh Crain, meanwhile listed her “must-haves” as her running shoes and her GPS system, saying, “You will never catch me without a GPS unit.”

“Bring your dog!” Sarah Ann Callaway enthused. “I couldn’t have done traveling without my furry friend. Other than that, I would say to just bring an open mind.”

“Not to sound like a broken record,” said Jaime Schuette, “But I would go back to the positive attitude and willingness to learn. I don’t think there’s anything else that you need to have. You’ll be able to find all the resources you need once you get (to your assignment). Treat traveling as a journey and you’ll have a great time.”

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