Interview with a ...
Travel physical therapist
What do you do?
As a physical therapist (PT), I evaluate, diagnose, devise a plan of care, and treat patients or clients for movement disorders. I sometimes supervise treatments carried out by a physical therapy assistant. Treatments vary from teaching someone how to walk with a prosthesis to sport-specific exercises for a basketball player who had an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) repair.
As a travel physical therapist, I work with a travel company to get temporary PT jobs. I let them know the general location of where I want to work, and they match me with a job in those places. On my own, I find sublets to live in each place. Typical travel assignments last 13 weeks but can vary. And I can extend a contract if it's at a facility and location that I like.
How do you get to each assignment?
I have a car and drive myself to my job assignments, which lets me explore different parts of the United States. For example, when I was on an assignment in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, I explored the Freedom Trail in Boston. I also stopped to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah while I was driving myself across the country to California.
Describe your work schedule.
My schedule varies from day to day, and I occasionally have to work long hours. Sometimes, I meet my clients at a local office; other times, I go to their house. The work changes frequently, which is the exciting part of my job.
How did you become a physical therapist?
I have a bachelor’s degree in biology. I also have a doctorate in physical therapy (DPT), which is a 3-year program. The graduate programs have a combination of coursework and internships. Through the internship, under the supervision and guidance of a physical therapist or clinical instructor, I applied what I learned in school to my work with patients.
After graduation, I passed a national licensing board exam, and my state issued a license to practice.
Does one state’s licensing cover you for each of the states you work in?
All states require you to be a licensed PT to practice there. Currently, there are a number of states that are part of a Compact License that allows for reciprocity between your home state and other states that are part of the compact.
I got my degree and initial license in Maryland. I’ve worked in South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, Massachusetts, and California, and I had to get a license in each of those states.
Tell me what attracted you to a career in PT.
I was always interested in the healthcare field and looked into a myriad of occupations. I also worked a few years doing research in physical rehabilitation science. I wanted to find an occupation that would combine my love of helping others with hands-on treatment.
When did travel become part of your job description?
I’ve always loved to travel. I decided to travel for my job when I heard about these opportunities from an alumna of my DPT program. This job lets me work in a variety of settings within PT as well as combine my love for traveling to explore different states.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to do this job?
You need to be an active listener and to have patience and compassion. And if you become stumped, you need to be open to asking for advice from other PTs whom you have worked with in the past.
You have to be flexible and learn how to travel light when you're always on the move. You also need to be independent and self-motivated.
What are some challenges of your work?
I think the biggest challenge is keeping current with the ever-changing field of medicine and science. There’s only so much you can learn in school, and once you start practicing, you need to be open to different treatment techniques that you may never have heard of. You also need to keep abreast of the changes with insurance, medical treatments, and surgical procedures.
What do you like best?
I truly enjoy my job when my patients get to see their own progress with restoring or improving their quality of life and they share with me their small and big victories.
The best thing about travel healthcare is being able to explore and learn more about an area you've never been to before. It also gives you an opportunity to try working in different healthcare settings, be they hospitals, clinics, or home visits.
Jennifer Chi, "Travel physical therapist," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 2020.