June 17, 2024

Travel Physical Therapist: Requirements, Pros, Cons, More

by City Staff Writer
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A travel physical therapist is a licensed physical therapist in a particular state that's hired by a physical therapy group or by a travel nurse staffing firm for a limited amount of time.

In short, a "travel" physical therapist is still considered a physical therapist, but they're usually staffed for a shorter period of time.

Key Takeaways

  • A travel physical therapist is a licensed physical therapist being placed into a medical group for a short period of time (anywhere from 6 to 13 weeks, on average). "Travel" physical therapists usually still work a full-time 40 hour per week schedule.
  • Compensation for travel physical therapists can vary greatly. However, averages as of June 2024 suggest anywhere from $2,750 per week to $3,299 per week in gross income.
  • Most travel physical therapists are placed through short-term medical staffing recruiters.

Table of Contents

What is a "Travel" Physical Therapist?

The "travel" physical therapist job is very similar to a typical physical therapist role. However, the key difference is the amount of time that the physical therapist is employed for.

On average, a contract for anything between 6 to 13 weeks is made between the medical provider and the physical therapist. In this way, the position is considered a short-term employment position.

An appealing part of this opportunity for licensed physical therapists is the ability to work in a multitude of environments, locations, and states.

License Requirements

Each state requires a state issued license in order to practice physical therapy. Our team reviewed more than 50 job postings in the travel physical therapy space and found that 100% of them listed "having a license" in the designated state as being a job requirement.

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), "Licensure is required in order to practice as a PT or work as a PTA in the United States. Licensure is managed by individual state regulatory boards." Don't expect anything different here when it comes to a "travel" physical therapist position.

Some job listings offered to reimburse the travel physical therapist for the application and license. In Illinois, as an example, the license application fee is only $100. For a full list of state license fees that you could expect, we like the TrustedHealth resource right here.

Common Job Requirements

Based on a review of more than 50 "travel physical therapist" job listings, here are some of the common requirements that can be seen:

While not all of these are requirements, these are some of the most common that we see. Typically, at least 1 year of care experience is required in order to apply. However, this type of role is heavily skewed toward a recent graduate.

Health and Dental Benefits

A common question that we hear is, "Do travel physical therapists get medical and dental insurance?" The answer is yes. While not offered by all, when reviewing those same 50 job listings we found that around 48% of them had offered some type of medical benefits, including:

  • Immediate enrollment in Health Insurance;
  • Dental Insurance; and
  • Life Insurance.

Some even offered 401k benefits, travel reimbursement (usually around $500), and career advancement reimbursements, as well.

Pros and Cons of a "Travel" Physical Therapist Position

Some of the pros and cons of the position are somewhat obvious. However, let's cover a few of the basic benefits and drawbacks, then get into how you might want to consider this as part of your overall career development.

Benefit: Travel Opportunities around the United States

One of the key benefits is getting the opportunity to travel. For recent graduates (usually ages 25 to 30), this can be a very appealing way to explore new states and consider where you might want to settle down.

In addition, for those who are looking to travel around the United States, this can also be heavily appealing as it gives you the opportunity to spend anywhere from 6 to 13 weeks at one location and then make a change.

The travel aspect is certainly one of the most appealing benefits of this role. According to a Reddit thread discussing the opportunity, one user said, "If you have the ability to consistently relocate every 3-12 months without your mental health taking a hit then I can't think of any other reason to not do it."

Benefit: Varying Environments

Another major benefit is the opportunity to get to work in a number of settings. Since this role is highly attractive to recent graduates, with only 1 year of experience required, it's a great way to gather experience rather quickly.

The therapist gets the opportunity to try out a number of environments (i.e., from an orthopedic practice to something like ATI Physical Therapy or a smaller rehabilitation provider) and treatment settings, which can help in determining the right type of fit for a full-time option.

However, this can also be a drawback if the practice or rehabilitation group doesn't have a full-time position for you after your contract is completed.

Benefit: Tax Reimbursements

In many cases, you'll have a type of "travel tax" that can be applied to your role. Many travel nurses are very familiar with both this challenge and benefit. In fact, many services like TravelNurseTax.com can be of assistance for you once you secure your role.

In short, you'll have some travel, telephone, internet, and other tax exemptions that will apply. And this can be a significant benefit for those who are looking to accelerate their income rather quickly.

If you're curious about your tax situation with this type of role, we recommend discussing with a local Certified Public Accountant (CPA) before applying or accepting a travel physical therapist position.

Drawback: Inconsistent Employment

A rather obvious drawback is inconsistent employment. If your contract is anywhere from 2 to 6 months, you might be finding yourself looking for a new position far before the end of your agreement. In addition, this can cause a significant amount of stress on a living situation, especially if you're combining short-term living along with your short-term employment situation.

If you're comfortable with this type of instability in your life, then this might not be a significant drawback for you. However, this is the main drawback that limits most experienced licensed physical therapists from seeking this type of a role.

Drawback: Career Development

Another rather obvious but important drawback is the limited experience these roles provide. More experienced physical therapist positions that offer more competitive salary figures usually require at least 3-years of direct physical therapist experience (working directly with patients).

It may be harder to acquire more time in the long-term with a short-term position (like that of a travel physical therapist position). This could put you into a situation where you're seeking employment quite often over a 3-year period in order to advance your career development.

For some this may seem like a nice benefit (if you're the one who wants the flexibility), however, for others, this may be a significant drawback.

The Rise of Telehealth and Travel Opportunities

In 2019, telehealth for most medical services began to rise. According to JP Morgan, "the global telehealth market was valued at $83.5 billion in 2022." With an anticipated growth rate of 24%, we can expect to see more telehealth getting adopted in the United States as a primary care offering.

While many thought that physical therapy would be one of the exclusions for this, given the focus, a study (published by Matthew J Miller, PT, DPT, PhD, Sang S Pak, DPT, Daniel R Keller DPT, Allison M Gustavson, DPT, PhD, Deborah E Barnes, PhD, MPH) found that "37% of physical therapists were delivering telehealth." However, the same study concluded that only around 6% of medical patients experienced those digital telehealth services offered by physical therapy groups.

Those who are seeking a "travel" option may have another opportunity. With the adoption of more telehealth services by patients, hybrid opportunities can create more personal-life flexibility. In particular, less time in an outpatient-inpatient hospital setting or rehabilitation center and more time "working from home."

This can create the flexibility that you're looking for a physical therapist without the drawbacks of inconsistent employment, lack of potential benefits, and lack of a "straight line" with your career development.

Give CityPT a Try

CityPT was designed to support new and experienced physical therapists who might want this type of flexibility. Head over to our "For Therapists" page to learn all about our hybrid model for physical therapists and how easy it can be to start a practice in your area (and offer telehealth services to your patients).