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Your Guide to Week One as a New Traveler

by Bill Denz

I've been traveling for a while and have been through the first-week transition enough times now to both know how important it is and also to understand how to best handle the transition for myself. Let's talk about days one through five in your first job as a travel physical therapist. Whether you've worked as a PT before or this is your first day as a new grad PT like I was, you'll probably be nervous your first morning. So I'm going to go over what you'll probably walk into and what's going to happen in your first few days on the job.

I know how challenging and "scary" it can be do start your career as a travel physical therapist. This article is meant to help guide you through the transition and make you more comfortable in your new environment from day 1.

The night before:

Bust out the brown paper bags, and make lunch. Pack it full of things that can be eaten immediately without much prep (apples, bananas, granola bars, etc.) Don't forget to bring some cash, just in case. Who knows if some kind soul will show you the refrigerator, only to lead you to an orientation that's two buildings, six floors, and a Hogwarts-like moving staircase away from wherever you left your lunch. Just be prepared.

Know your uniform. Ideally, you've known this since your interview, but just in case, text your recruiter and make sure you don't show up in the wrong stuff.

Scope out your facility. This is a must do for me. I always take a drive to the hospital/clinic and check it out. It's usually Sunday night so that everything will be empty, but make sure you know where you're going and where the gym is located. Nothing screams unprepared like being late on your first day because you got lost.

Summer's almost over, but the vacation doesn't have to end! 🌴 Apply to these travel PT jobs from Preferred Healthcare Staffing and Fusion Medical Staffing.

Day 1

It's go time. Get your coffee, and eat your Wheaties. It's your time to impress as a new traveler. Once you walk in the doors (that you know so confidently because you checked it out last night), you may have one of two things happen (at least from what I've experienced myself):

1- Trial by fire. This is the less likely option (in my experience), but be prepared. I walked into a clinic on Monday, and 3 of 6 therapists were sick. Guess who had an 8am eval on day 1? Now this was NOT the director's plan, but I looked pretty good when I stepped up to the plate in front of my director and coworkers and took on a full caseload. Now this probably won't happen to you, but it wouldn't hurt to bring your trusty goni just in case.

2- DAYS (yes, plural) of mind-numbing orientation. Infectious disease, HIPAA, armed gunman videos, fire safety videos, policy and procedure. This is what I usually get: general hospital orientation. The department orientation can be helpful, but you can only do the infectious disease stuff so many times before you're practically qualified to teach the class. Now if you get the opportunity to look over your new documentation system, I have some advice. Please do your best to systematically learn where all the buttons are. Every time (and believe me, I've done this plenty of times!) the PT leading orientation will show you a smattering of random buttons on one page and more buttons on the next, and before you know it, you don't even remember how to log in. Take a sheet of paper and write down step-by-step how to start a new eval, document subjective/objective/assessment/plan, and get the info down that you need to say. Every system is different. Your job is to find a way to fit the necessary info into your template, even if the computer doesn't make it easy.

Day 2

Usually more orientation. If yesterday was general, today will be department orientation. Others will see a modified caseload with less patients and time to document. If you get thrown into a full caseload without warning, I'd send a text to your recruiter because that's really just not reasonable. Today should be your day to learn where the equipment is and where those buttons are on the computer.

Days 3-5

Ideally, you will be seeing a gradual build-up of patients, and things will be getting more comfortable. This is also where I'd like to give you some more practical advice.

Make friends. The best jobs I've had as a traveler are NOT in the super cool locations of the world that everybody dreams about (for those with a wish-list that includes Cali, Florida, the Carolina's, Alaska, Colorado, and Hawaii, this is for you). The cool locations are really fun. Trust me, I've been to some, but the 40 hours that you're not exploring mountains, caves, waterfalls, and cities can get really dull if you don't have fun at work.

Here's what I do to test the waters and see if anyone's friend material.

Ask questions: first, people like to feel important and know the answer to things. Give your coworkers the confidence bump by letting them be the one with the answer. Second, you'll have plenty of questions. Ask them soon. If you mess up in week 1, its fine, but if you mess up in week 7 because you never asked, it's not fine.

Eat lunch with them. Even if you're behind on documentation, take some time to eat with your coworkers. Some will receive it well, and you'll have fun. Some won't... You just have to find out.

Last, say yes to any odd invitation that you may get. I went to a pig roast to benefit a small school, and I attended a coworker's family reunion. Both were awesome, and I'm still friends with that coworker's family!

So here's the short version for those like me who hate lengthy posts:

PREPARE! - Check out your site ahead of time, and be ready for surprises.

LEARN - the documentation system and how your company works.

ASK QUESTIONS - to help make friends and to learn about what's expected a traveler.

EXPLORE - check out the area! You're somewhere new, and you might never be back. Enjoy it!

So I hope this helps ease your mind. Week one as a traveler isn't too bad, but if you have any other questions that I didn't get to, please ask in the comments below!

Check out these resources for more information on travel therapy

New Grads Guide to Travel Physical Therapy

How To Pick a Travel Physical Therapy Company

Should New Grads Work in Travel Physical Therapy

Interested in travel PT? Check out available jobs below!


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