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Shortly after graduating with my Master’s degree in Speech-Language pathology (SLP), I was working a full time job an hour away from my home. Technically, an hour each way to and from work is not a big deal for many. For me, it grew old quickly. You see, working as a speech-language pathologist in a skilled nursing facility, we are paid hourly. There is also no guarantee on the number of hours you get to work. It didn’t help that I worked in a very small facility that was never filled to capacity. My caseloads would also fluctuate frequently, so there was no way to depend on any type of income budget. In the back of my mind, I kept thinking of transitioning to working as a traveling healthcare worker.
I learned about working as a traveling speech-language pathologist while I was in graduate school. I was completely intrigued and knew it was something I just had to do! Yet, as I asked around for insight, nobody could offer me any leads! No one knew where I should begin and I grew frustrated quickly. This is why I decided to blog about my adventures which eventually turned into a book. I had to help others so they wouldn’t have to figure it out on their own, like I did!
the first step
My story is based on my occupation, but the rest of this information is consistent with ANY traveling healthcare worker. The entire reason this type of employment exists is because there is a need for these services. There is also a lack of available resources in rural communities. It is important to understand that most healthcare travel jobs are in remote areas. Because of this, they are hard to fill with good candidates.
So what is the first step? Decide where you want to go. It’s that simple. You can’t research license requirements if you don’t know where you are going. I knew I wanted to go out west, as I was single and searching for my “cowboy”. I love desert scenes, horses and warm weather. Research the states you would be willing to move for short periods of time. Most travel assignments are typically bundled in 3 month increments. This first step is most likely the most important step in the entire process. Why bother working as a traveling healthcare worker if you don’t want to explore while you’re there?
breaking it down
The next steps are less variable. Regardless of how where you go, the following steps below are required:
traveling healthcare employment agency
After deciding the where, it’s time to figure out the how. Quite honestly, this step requires a little detective work. Using the internet, coworkers, friends, acquaintances and your professional licensing board, ask opinions about traveling healthcare worker agencies. This is not a generic travel agency. These specialize in placing professionals in employment around the globe. There is a lot of information available about traveling companies.
It helps to develop a checklist narrowing down your options to the top 3 companies. It needs to reflect the important information about benefits, travel pay, housing, insurance, license reimbursements, etc. Remember to think about the time in between assignments, as those are typically unpaid weeks. It is a good idea to make a list of questions including clothing allowance, uniform requirements and professional supplies, etc. Never be afraid to negotiate. Some people don’t take a break between assignments, others take a month off! It all boils down to your financial situation.
now onto the company!
The healthcare agency with whom you choose to work will contact you with employment opportunities. They arrange phone or online interviews between you and the potential hiring company. Just like with any position, both parties need to make sure you will be a good fit. All the benefits and pay, etc have already been negotiated with your traveling agency.
This interview is about your job duties, expectations, time frames and any other questions you would have for an employer. If you feel this is not a comfortable placement, you decline the job (if it’s offered). The travel agency will locate additional options. Remember, even though the traveling agency you signed up with is working for you, they also earn a commission after your placement and completion of a contracted term. Stand your ground with what you will and won’t accept.
This is where many traveling healthcare workers can earn some extra funds. The weekly salary is variable dependent on who pays for housing – the agency or yourself. If you handle the housing, the weekly pay may be increased to accommodate daily living expenses. Many agencies though receive major discounts with extended stays or realtors. However, when I was a traveling healthcare worker, Airbnb did not exist. I was left to my own accord to locate housing in rural areas where many places were not listed on line. For ease, especially since traveling with 2 cats, I let the agency make the housing arrangements.
But, it’s not only housing for the duration of the work assignment. One needs to consider housing while traveling TO the work assignment also. I had to plan the drive, determine how many hours a day I was willing to travel and locate pet friendly motels along the route. Being new to traveling with pets, I was shocked and dismayed when the pet friendly rooms were clearly not well maintained.
If you wish to read my entire journey as a traveling healthcare worker, my book is entitled America, Cats and Guns. It is exclusively sold on Amazon. If you realize you too have a story to tell but don’t know where to begin, might I suggest you read 10 steps for writing a book – the basics.
Being a healthcare professional certainly has its pros and cons. One of the greatest cons is the cost of maintaining the license, as some fees are just out of hand. Yet, if you are considering working as a traveling healthcare worker, it is time to figure out how to be licensed in the state in which you plan to work. Most professional healthcare licenses do not cross state borders. Here is the easiest way to make your next move:
- Do an online search of the state’s licensing board
- Be especially aware of dates to apply – some state boards only meet quarterly, so if you know where you want to go, apply asap
- Take note of deadlines for background checks and fingerprinting – this is both for the licensing board AND the traveling healthcare worker agency
- Make sure to have continuing education requirements updated at time of license application
- If planning on moving forward within 6 months, update TB tests and physical (and any other medical requirements your healthcare profession requires for employment)
Employment as a traveling healthcare worker certainly has its ups and downs. One of my travel days was during horrible storms, one of my motel rooms was beyond disgusting. At one of my placements, housing wasn’t ready upon arrival. This meant I had to live in a motel for 2 weeks with no kitchenette and only a dorm size refrigerator. My phone charger died after 4 hrs on the road. At times, I felt scared for traveling so far away from home alone. When you don’t know anyone, just the thought of the car breaking down in the middle of nowhere is a scary thought.
Yet, there were countless ups that overpowered the downs. Friendships, education, cultural experiences and just plain old fun! I explored parts of America I’d only read about. I learned about American history and toured the towns where it all happened. In my book America, Cats and Guns, I not only share the technicalities of HOW to work as a traveling healthcare worker, but I also share some fun stories about my adventures. It’s a quick, easy read.
to sum up
Working as a traveling healthcare worker is both challenging and rewarding. Taking the proper steps up front will help alleviate the hassles down the road. If you wish to delve deeper into the realities of being a traveling healthcare worker, I encourage you to read the book America, Cats and Guns. It is the tell-tale all of what it took to get the job done. If you have a story to tell and need some help getting started, begin with my post 10 steps for writing a book – the basics. Good luck with your travels and be safe out there!
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