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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