Julia Kuhn, MS CCC-SLP, is an experienced travel SLP and founder of TheTravelingTraveler.com, a resource and lifestyle blog for traveling healthcare professionals. Julia was a presenter at TravCon 2018 as part of the expanded sessions for allied travelers. We caught up with Julia and she generously agreed to answer a few questions about her experience as a traveler.
FC: What are the top three reasons to become a traveler?
JK: This varies for everybody! Everyone has their own unique story and their own why for being a traveler. Overwhelmingly for me it’s been travel, flexibility, and professional development. As a traveler, you can travel the country and have the flexibility to travel the world. I’ve been able to work for 6-9 months and then take months off for a trip. Working 9-10 months of the year and traveling for the remainder has been the best part of traveling for me. By the age of 30, I saw more states and countries than most people could dream of seeing in a lifetime.
Professional development is also huge. As a clinician, you may get stuck in a routine working at the same place year in and year out. You see the same type of patients and work next to the same co-workers. Traveling to new buildings or new settings can help you to jump start your learning and professional growth. You can learn new methods from new co-workers and from working with patients with different impairments. Learning through experience in new places has helped turn me from a novice clinician into an experienced, well rounded, expert practitioner.
FC: What are the biggest challenges new therapy travelers face right now?
JK: The biggest challenges now are the cuts to Medicare that will impact therapy reimbursements, specifically in Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs). Many SNF therapists will likely find their hours cut or jobs lost over the next couple of years. However, this doesn’t mean that there are not jobs for therapists, it means that they are being redistributed to different settings. The jobs that may be lost in the SNF setting will likely be booming in the home health setting. If you’re thinking about travel therapy, consider getting experience and working in home health.
Housing is also a considerable concern. The cost of renting apartments continues to rise, while the payment for travel contracts stays relatively the same. It’s getting harder and harder to be able to afford the lifestyle of a traveler. When I started traveling, I lived in plush apartments in the city. Now, I rent rooms and do what I can to save on rent. That’s also a personal choice (I would rather live with a roommate and save money over having my own place), but affording housing is becoming costlier and a greater challenge.
FC: How has the industry changed in the past few years? Do you see any trends?
JK: In 2013 I saw a huge shortage of therapy jobs and decrease in bill rates after the MDS 3.0 changes took effect. At that time, I honestly thought that travel may be dead. Then, slowly but surely, the market improved and now it may be better than ever!
The job market, just like the housing or stock market, is cyclical. However, there is an overwhelming trend of high-paying jobs moving to home health and schools (for SLPs). Meanwhile, there are less options for SNF jobs and those jobs are paying less. As I mentioned above, home health is definitely a great place to look for a travel job. As a Speech-Language Pathologist, school contracts are also very lucrative and easy to find.
FC: Part of the traveler lifestyle is that you have to downsize your possessions. What’s one thing that you cannot live without?
JK: A coffee pot! I’m a coffee addict and need my morning cups of Joe to get out of bed. I usually buy a cheap $25 12-cup auto brew at the beginning of an assignment and throw it away when I leave.
FC: What tips do you have for finding safe housing options?
JK: I use Google A LOT! I Google neighborhoods, buildings, and addresses. I also crowd surf for recommendations and thoughts on areas. City-Data also provides a lot of useful neighborhood data.
FC: Was there anything that surprised you when you started your travel career?
JK: I think that just about everything may have surprised me. When I started to travel, people were not talking about it so openly like they do now. I was surprised at how quickly things moved. One day you interview for a job and the next day you must decide if you want it or not. A week later, you’re moving cross-country.
Starting to travel was a bit like jumping off the deep end dive without knowing how to swim. On my first SNF assignments, I walked into the building, was given a list of patients to see, and told to go and treat. I had many managers treat me like I was disposable and try to bully me into unobtainable productivity and caseload expectations. Traveling isn’t easy, and I learned a lot along the way. What was hard at the time, has now made me a better person and a stronger clinician, so I don’t regret a thing!
FC: What advice would you give a new allied traveler that will help them transition into each new assignment?
JK: Be open and flexible! Every building is going to do something differently. Don’t walk into an assignment with the attitude “this is how I did things before, so this is how I’m going to do it now.” I see travelers get upset over such trivial things – just go with the flow. Learn the new systems at the building and work with the staff to figure out what you need to know.
Where can FlexCare take you?