Written by Yonas Tekeste, PT, DPT ,CSCS 8/8/22
When it comes to travel therapy contract rates it’s important for any travel healthcare worker to ensure they negotiate when it comes to money and other items that are essential to their contract. We know that discussing these areas can often be a difficult topic, but it’s something that you need to always do to ensure you are receiving fair compensation for your work. Keep reading as I share my top tips on negotiating money and other items for your next travel therapy contract.
Factors That Impact Pay for Travel Therapy Contracts
Before we go any further, it’s important to mention the many factors that you need to keep in mind when it comes to negotiating pay for your upcoming contract. Travelers often weigh up the pay and location when it comes to taking a contract, but you’ll want to think very carefully about what is right for you. When the pay is higher, often the location isn’t the best, whereas you may be willing to take a pay cut for a fantastic setting or location. I remember working my travel contract in the US Virgin Islands. It was a working vacation in a beautiful area. The cost of living is higher, and the pay is a bit lower. I chose this location for the experience not as much for the pay. Sometimes it is good to cycle between higher paying contracts in less desirable areas with lower paying contracts in highly desirable areas to limit burnout.
An area with a lower cost of living will on average have a lower pay rate, whereas somewhere with a higher cost of living like California will often offer you higher rates. However, keep in mind you’ll be paying a lot more for accommodations in this type of state. Take the time to calculate your take-home pay to have the best overview of the money you will receive. You can also check your max stipend amount on the GSA.gov website to get a better idea.
Average Pay and demand
To negotiate top dollar, you have to know what is a typical rate and how in demand you are as a healthcare worker. When it comes to the pay for travel therapists, this can be extremely varied. In general PT, OTs, SLPs can expect to earn between $1700- 2300 a week after tax, whereas assistants can receive between $900 – $1400 weekly after tax. These figures refer to weekly take-home pay after tax, but of course, they’ll vary from assignment to assignment. There are unicorn contracts out there. I have worked PT travel contracts where I have consistently cleared $3,000 weekly and sometimes even $4,000 weekly while working overtime. It is not common to make that much as a therapist, but it is possible.
In order of most demand to least demand travel jobs currently, it goes from PT > SLP > OT > PTA > COTA. This is based on the current amount of travel jobs available. The more in demand your field is the more power you have in negotiation. It is the supply and demand concept. If there is a low supply for a profession in an area, then the demand is higher, and you have more leverage to negotiate. If there is a high supply of therapists in a saturated area then there will be less of a demand and you have less negotiation power. Why would a recruiter or facility increase pay if they have a line of therapists waiting to take a job? Understand how in demand you are to better gauge how strongly you should negotiate.
Recruiters and negotiation
I recommend working with 2-4 recruiters to have the best chance of finding a contract that’s right for you. This will offer you additional jobs to choose from, as well as a variety of contract options. There are over 200 travel agencies and if you are not satisfied with a recruiter, you can move on to another one! Typically, larger agencies have greater access to jobs and pay less due to more overhead costs. Smaller companies normally have fewer jobs but tend to pay a bit more due to lower overhead costs. In my years as a PT, I have contacted over a dozen of travel companies. There are good and bad recruiters in most companies. I always recommend working with a referred recruiter from a friend or trusted source instead of finding one randomly on google. You can click here to get connected to a trusted recruiter.
When contacting a recruiter, you want to be transparent that you are working with other recruiters to respect their time, and this may push them to give you a more competitive rate. A good recruiter will not make you feel guilty for working with others and will appreciate the transparency early on. You never want to burn a bridge in the travel world as you never know if it may come back to haunt you.
As a travel PT, I always try to line up interviews for jobs I am interested in during the same week. This gives you more leverage when it is time to decide on a job. During my job interview, I ask as many questions as possible to make sure the contract is a good fit. You can read a sample list of interview questions here.
The only time you should try to negotiate pay before a job interview is if you see the same job listed between different recruiters. It is acceptable to state you see a job listed for a certain amount through another company and your recruiter may try to match it. You do not want to double submit to the same facilities as this will cause problems for the facility and travel agency.
When you get a job offer there is normally some sort of pressure to decide to accept within 24-48 hours as most facilities have a large need. Expect the pressure but do not rush to make a decision if you are not sure. You are the one person holding back your recruiter from securing a contract. You have a choice to accept or to wait for other job interviews If you wait for a day or two your recruiter might offer some sort of incentive to accept and not lose it to another candidate. They could offer a 40-hour guarantee, increased weekly pay, increased OT rate, or something else! If you line up multiple job interviews in the same week you can wait and see If your recruiter offers something. I recommend never lie and always be honest. You want to build a consistently positive relationship with recruiters.
If you are in an area with a lot of travel jobs similar to CA it will be easier to wait and apply for other jobs. If you are in an area with few travel jobs like Hawaii, then you probably want to accept the job asap. Sometimes jobs can go very quickly or slowly depending on how desirable the job is.
Your Experience and Contracts
As with any industry, you’ll find that experience does count for something when it comes to your payment, but probably not as much as you’d like to think. In most cases, your experience will not equal more pay but in some facilities it does. More experience and more certifications can make a more competitive applicant depending on the job.
Benefits and Bonuses
You can negotiate for other things outside of increased weekly pay. You can negotiate for reimbursements for scrubs, CEUs, travel, guaranteed hours, and overtime rate. Just be aware that if you negotiate for some reimbursement, it will come out of the same bucket of money your weekly paycheck comes from. Everything all comes from the same bucket and if you get more in reimbursements your weekly pay will most likely decrease as a result.
As you can see, there’s a lot to keep in mind when it comes to negotiating for money and other items for your next travel therapy contract. We highly recommend taking the time to research the area you will be working in as well as the average rates. This will give you a good idea of whether you are being given a fair rate or are getting low balled. As you become more familiar with the process of taking travel therapy contracts, you’ll find that the negotiation process becomes much easier.
Lastly, make sure to check out the Rate My Therapy Company Facebook group. It is a platform for therapists to rate and review facilities to improve transparency. It is a great tool for therapists to see reviews of companies before accepting a job.