Archive | January, 2012

Yes, I can hold a steady job. But I don’t want to, thank you very much.

29 Jan

My passion for being a physical therapist remains strong, but finding the balance between life and work has been a daunting task. I have been a full-time employee, but the whisper inside to be a travel P.T. was ever present. The whisper became more like a bug in my ear when, in 2007, I met a fantastic PT (now friend, too) who had experienced life as a PT traveler and matter-of-factly told me within the first few weeks of knowing me, “It would be perfect for you, and you’d be great at it.” Sadly, it felt like too big of a “risk” for me at the time, so I pushed away that nagging voice in my head and carried on my established path. That road, however, was riddled with flashy billboards proclaiming, “Travel, PT! You know you want to!”

It was true. I wanted to find a way to do what I loved (both travel more and be a PT) while staying balanced (read: not overly invested, overly stressed, overly consumed by my work). I love challenging work, and from the beginning, I’ve been drawn to clinical practice (particularly inpatient neurologic rehab) that is hard work on multiple levels but holds the potential for monumental stepping stones toward the reward of the patient’s recovery. The multifactorial intensity of these practice settings can make maintaining my “balance” another (less welcomed) challenge. When I wanted to recalibrate my life/work balance without taking the plunge into travel PT, I dipped my toes in the waters of being a wandering P.T. by filling a “full-time” schedule floating between several facilities PRN (“as needed”). Ironically, I then missed the continuity and contributions made from start-to-finish of a patient’s care. My gypsy soul was in a tug-of-war with my professional preferences. Where was the middle ground between the heavy commitment of full-time placement and the freedom (yet, little sense of investment) of PRN work? To me, the happy medium could be Travel PT. No other employment status offers the “pseudo full-time employee” feel (for 13 weeks) by allowing you to contribute your unique insights and skills, leave a positive footprint, but then move on to the next!

As I certainly don’t live in an idealistic fairytale, I know that every situation has its potential pitfalls. Sure, some travel contracts are to cover a maternity leave or a leave of absence. But to paraphrase conversations I’ve had with many therapists experienced in travel/contract work— many places that will pay for a contractor are desperate for a reason. So, with new freedom and travel adventures comes a tradeoff. It is likely that I will encounter places with staffing troubles, management issues, morale dips, and/or obscure locales. This brings to mind another recurring pearl imparted to me by fellow travelers: “You can do anything for 13 weeks [within the realm of your professional ethics and values].” For the many perks, I think it will be worth it.

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So, the Southwest, you say?

21 Jan

How could I possibly narrow down the 50 glorious states to Arizona and Colorado?  Well, here’s what I considered:

1.)    Timing is everything.  Things pretty much aligned with the culmination of my Argentina trip.  I was able to give my employer 4 weeks’ notice in advance of my 2 week trip that, upon my return, I would transition to PRN (or “as needed”) status.  My plan was to begin a local “travel” PT contract (which is typically 13 weeks) at the end of November to get my feet wet, then hit the road.  Two out-of-state assignments in a row, plus travel time, would equate to approximately 7 months away.  I also wanted to be home before the holidays and any on-the-road winter weather.

2.)    I had a “feeling”.  Not much more to it than that.  My gut said, “Go west, young (wo)man!”  As I described in my last post, I haven’t experienced many states since my pre-teen days.  Plus, the opportunity to explore natural landscapes I haven’t yet seen was alluring.  My gut also told me that my next round of PT travels (should I enjoy this lifestyle for a bit longer) will take me back toward my homeland of the northeast.   But, I’m getting ahead of myself…

3.)    ‘Tis the season. Based on the aforementioned “timing”, I hoped to be headed to my first destination roughly mid to late February.   Although I love cold weather and snow, managing to drive and live in the motor home (named “MH”— creative, I know) while worrying about frozen water lines/pipes and icy roads was not something I intended to take on during my first outing.  As much as I adore seeing my breath on a brisk day, I equally detest scalding hot weather (a bit ironic that my home base is central Texas where we saw 70+ triple digit days in 2011).  Therefore, I hoped to escape the torrid temperatures for my second contract (theoretically, to start mid/late May).

4.)    Family ties.  Although Arizona was always in the running, it sealed its place in the final two when my mom and stepdad relocated from Texas to the Grand Canyon State.  I frequently live apart from my scattered family, but being close enough to them for visits (and pet sitting) seemed appealing. Also, they are full time RVers themselves and will likely have to field a few SOS calls regarding MH. This #4 consideration is also a strong influence on my second round of travel hopefully taking me north, to bridge the geographical gap between me and my family up there.

5.)    It’s not about the destination but the journey.  What can I see and do while en route to my job?  Initially, New Mexico had been in the mix of travel assignment possibilities, but the areas in which I was interested had a high probability of snow (refer back to #1 and #3 considerations).  So, highlights of New Mexico moved to the list of “places to stop along the way”.  Additionally, what locations could I incorporate on my journey from first assignment to second?  I also needed to be realistic about the distance of my trip, not only for my two final destinations but for the time I would take to go from point A to point B.  I’m not a good long-distance driver (again, a bit ironic) and so I needed to be cognizant of the length of time I would be on the road each day.   Another consideration:  driving MH plus tow dolly plus car also limits the speed at which I can travel safely.  Finally, time is money.  As fun as it would be, I can’t afford to be too leisurely on my trek to each assignment.  Time between each assignment is without pay (other than a travel allowance from my company, which will only put a dent in the gas expenses of my fleet).

Given all my considerations, how has it all panned out?  Well, my timing wasn’t that great.  I got cold feet on my plan to be 3-ish hours away from home (so I could take advantage of some tax-free benefits) and be able to come home occasionally for weekends.  It just felt too fast for my MH preparedness, and I was without a decent cat-sitting option.  So, I narrowed my window to seeking an assignment that was commutable from my home.  This bit me in the ass, and I was contract-less for many weeks longer than I thought.  Until my January start date, I treaded water working PRN at my former full-time gig and dabbled in a bit more contract home health.

Looking forward, I selected Arizona and Colorado for my assignment destinations.  My delay in getting to Arizona would actually work to my advantage if I wanted to be near Sedona or Flagstaff (potentially snowy earlier) but would make for a hot time if I wanted to be near Phoenix or Tucson.  If fate landed me in the sweltering desert, I knew I could look forward to blissful weather in Colorado for the summer/early fall.  I would hit New Mexico sites on the way to Arizona and catch the Grand Canyon on the way to the big CO.  I lined up a great couple, who fulfill their love of travel and new experiences by house sitting, to take care of my home and kitty while I’m away.  Luckily, the flexibility of their lifestyle meshes well with that of a travel PT (as you don’t know exactly when or where you’re going start an assignment until just weeks before).   Sure, it’s an unpredictable and ambiguous career path… but it sounds exciting, doesn’t it?

Wow, you’re really going to do that?

17 Jan

What? Driving  a motor home, towing my car, wrangling two oversized puppies, finding out each 13 week assignment a couple weeks before it starts … just me and the open road headed across the southwest solo all for the very first time?  Sure, why not?

I typically see raised eyebrows and a look of disbelief when I talk to people who don’t know me well about this master plan I’ve concocted.  People seem to think the idea just sprung into my head overnight and then—bam! – I took off!  Well, okay, I have kind of operated like that before.  But, I swear, I always put a lot of thought into it.  Can’t blame a girl for having a vision and making it happen, right?  Despite my propensity to get an idea in my head and execute it fairly quickly – most notably when redecorating, re-landscaping, traveling, relocating, and job-changing — I’m not really an impulsive person.  I am a planner.  Type A to the max.  I actually could argue that this life route is far outside my comfort zone—less control, less ability to plan down to the “t”, more flexibility required.   But I’m also focused, (a wee bit) impatient, and averse to feeling stagnant.  Those traits, along with my wanderlust make the discomfort of being outside my box worth it.  (I hope.)

When I was younger, family vacations were important—many of which involved hitting the road.  At 11, I had my first big adventure.  A cross country trip with my mom, a mini-van, and more scenic American landmarks than you can shake a stick at (although I’m sure Mom would have liked to beat my ass with said stick on several occasions throughout the trip).  Some may think that Dad got it right by flying out to meet us on the west coast for the hotels and amenities part of the trip, but that bicoastal trek opened my eyes to the beauties America has to offer (plus a few places you’d have to drag me kicking and screaming back to… but at least I now have stories to tell).  My list of domestic destinations continued to grow (to date, 8 states left to go), along with international jaunts to Toronto, Mexico (just Tijuana, but that’ll do), England x 2, France, Spain x 3, Costa Rica, Portugal,  and (the most recent) Argentina.

With the exception of the four states in which I’ve lived (18+ years in South Jersey, the college years in Boston, 8 weeks in NOLA,  6 years and counting in central Texas), I’ve seen most of my US destinations through tween eyes.   I’m looking forward to discovery through my 30-something eyes by living it, instead of vacationing it.  Southwest USA, here I come!

The next episode…

15 Jan

My Type A efforts to transfer my Argentina trip blog to this one are complete! It’s nice to have those posts wrapped up with a pretty bow here, since my inaugural blog was hatched in anticipation of that adventure. I’ve been doing a lot of work the past few days to have my new creative playground locked and loaded, to catalog the upcoming chapter of my life. So, here it is! Looking forward to staying connected with you along the way.