Travel physical therapist career guide
Travel physical therapists are valuable members of the healthcare workforce who are growing in demand for their vital skills; according to the , the physical therapy profession is projected to grow 15 percent in the next 10 years. This increase in demand will also drive more opportunities for physical therapists to travel to facilities across the country. With Nomad, travel physical therapists have the opportunity to earn higher pay and explore new cities while continuing to have a meaningful impact on patient lives.
What is a travel physical therapist?
Travel physical therapists, or travel PTs, are healthcare professionals who help people recover from injury and illness through movement, pain management, and hands-on care. They travel to different locations, usually every 13 weeks, to provide their much-needed skills to facilities experiencing staffing shortages.
- Outpatient clinics
- Home Health
- Sports and fitness facilities
- Nursing homes
Similar to their traditional counterparts, travel PTs are able to work in a variety of settings depending on their previous clinical experiences and training. To qualify for a position with Nomad, travel PTs are typically required to have at least 24 months of experience in their chosen clinical specialty.
The conditions treated by travel physical therapists are as diverse as the settings where physical therapists work. Travel physical therapists are able to treat patients of all ages, from neonatal to geriatric. Some care for post-op orthopedic patients in the acute hospital setting, while others focus on helping patients recover from surgeries or illnesses at home. Travel physical therapists in the hospital setting can also work in multiple clinical areas, from critical care to med-surg. You can see a complete list of the conditions treated by travel physical therapists .
Ultimately, the main goal of a travel physical therapist is to restore function, reduce pain, prevent injury, and promote the patient’s ability to move. They can provide care at any stage of a patient’s journey, whether it be an acute stay in the hospital, or in an outpatient clinic setting.
Travel physical therapist job responsibilities
- Reviewing patients’ medical history and referrals or notes from doctors, surgeons, or other healthcare workers
- Diagnosing patients’ functions and movements by observing them stand or walk and by listening to their concerns
- Developing individualized plans of care for patients, outlining the patient's goals and the expected outcomes of the plans
- Using exercises, stretching maneuvers, hands-on therapy, and equipment to ease patients’ pain, help them increase their mobility, prevent further pain or injury, and facilitate health and wellness
- Evaluating and recording a patient’s progress, modifying the plan of care, and trying new treatments as needed
- Educating patients and their families about what to expect from the recovery process and how to cope with challenges throughout the process
- Overseeing the work of physical therapist assistants and aides
- Consulting with physicians, surgeons, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other specialists
Travel physical therapists have the additional responsibility of understanding the of each state where they take a travel job. These laws can vary, which can affect the travel physical therapists’ scope of practice as they travel from one location to another. Travel PTs are also expected to hit the ground running and adapt quickly to new environments, charting systems, and workflows.
Types of travel physical therapists
Like traditional staff physical therapists, travel physical therapists can be generalists or specialize in different clinical areas. Nomad currently offers 13 different categories for travel physical therapy. These include:
Travel physical therapists fulfill the same roles and responsibilities of staff PTs but on a temporary basis.
Travel physical therapist salary
The current average total compensation of a Nomad travel physical therapist, including stipends, is $2,102 a week. In terms of the weekly average hourly pay rate with Nomad, the current range is $40 to $92 an hour.* This is higher than $1,579, which is the current average weekly pay of staff physical therapists according to .
Choosing high-paying locations, obtaining more work experience, and specializing as a travel physical therapist may positively impact total compensation.
*Based on the average compensation data of travel physical therapists with Nomad as of September 26, 2023.
Highest-paying travel physical therapist jobs
*Based on compensation data of travel physical therapists with Nomad as of September 26, 2023.
Pros and cons of being a travel physical therapist
While traveling as a physical therapist offers many benefits, it's important to consider the whole picture and understand the potential challenges that come with traveling, especially if it’s your first time.
Some of the pros of traveling as a physical therapist include the potential to increase pay, explore new locations, experience new facilities and healthcare systems, and be exposed to new patient populations and clinical situations.
Some of the cons of traveling as a physical therapist include having to relocate often, having less time to acclimate to new work environments, incurring extra expenses related to traveling, obtaining new licenses, and at times, dealing with loneliness.
How to become a travel physical therapist
The road to becoming a travel physical therapist involves obtaining an advanced degree and passing a national exam. From there, you must gain work experience to qualify for most travel positions. Read a detailed overview of the steps to becoming a travel physical therapist below.
Earn an undergraduate degree
The first step in becoming a travel physical therapist is to obtain an undergraduate degree. The qualifying degree to be a physical therapist is a doctorate; you’ll most likely need a bachelor's degree with completed prerequisites to apply.
According to the APTA, some programs have specific pathways that allow early admission to a doctorate program through the successful completion of set preprofessional courses; even fewer programs may allow direct acceptance from high school pending the completion of specific undergraduate courses, amongst other requirements.
Obtain a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree
Once you earn an undergraduate degree, apply for and get accepted into a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program from a -approved program. Most DPT programs take three years of full-time study to complete.
Pass a state-licensure exam
Gain clinical experience
In order to qualify for most travel PT jobs, you’ll need at least 24 months of physical therapy experience in your chosen specialty. Gain hands-on experience and build your skills so you can step into traveling as confidently as possible.
Get licensed and apply for travel jobs
Once you have the minimum years of required clinical experience, you’re ready to start searching and applying for travel physical therapy jobs! If you intend to work in a state you’re not licensed in yet, be sure to visit that state’s physical therapy board website to check for any requirements.
Travel physical therapist skills
Working as a travel physical therapist requires core skills that are made up of a mix of hard and soft skills. These are acquired through extensive schooling, continuing education, and hands-on clinical experience.
- Some of the hard skills required of travel physical therapists include:
- Deep knowledge of anatomy and physiology
- Understanding pharmacology and pathophysiology
- Manual therapy techniques
- Exercise therapy techniques
- Knowing rehabilitation principles and practices
- Keen assessment skills
- Ability to implement different teaching techniques
Certain hard skills may be necessary depending on the clinical area. For example, travel physical therapists working in intensive care units may be required to treat patients who are medically unstable and have multiple critical medical devices attached to them. PTs will have to learn how to safely manage critical medical devices when providing treatment and notice when patients are decompensating or not tolerating interventions.
Some of the soft skills needed by travel physical therapists include:
- Cultural sensitivity and awareness
- Time management
- Interpersonal skills
- Communication skills
- Critical thinking
- Physical dexterity and stamina
Travel physical therapist certifications
Travel physical therapists can demonstrate their competency in specialized knowledge and advanced clinical skills by obtaining board certification in various specialties. The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties currently offers board certification in 10 specialty areas:
- Cardiovascular and Pulmonary
- Clinical Electrophysiology
- Women's Health
- Wound Management
While aren’t required, they can increase your expertise and solidify your skills as a travel physical therapist. Having these can also make you a more attractive candidate to future employers and facilities.
Frequently asked questions about travel physical therapists
- You can make a lot of money as a travel physical therapist by taking assignments in high-paying locations, mitigating your expenses through affordable housing, and utilizing all reimbursements available.
- Yes, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the physical therapy profession is projected to grow a robust 15 percent in the next 10 years. As overall demand grows, so will the demand for travel physical therapists to fill staffing shortages.
- Yes, being a travel physical therapist is worth it. You can increase your pay, have more flexibility in taking time off, diversify your clinical experiences, and explore new cities while doing your job!
Travel physical therapist healthcare resources
- American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). (n.d.). Becoming a Physical Therapist. Retrieved from
- American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). (n.d.). Board-Certified Clinical Specialist. Retrieved from
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (n.d.). What Physical Therapists Do. Retrieved from
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (n.d.). Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020: 29-1123 Physical Therapists. Retrieved from
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (n.d.). Physical Therapists. Retrieved from
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (n.d.). Work Environment. Retrieved from
- Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). (n.d.). Home. Retrieved from
- Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT). (n.d.). National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE). Retrieved from
- Indeed. (n.d.). Physical Therapist Salaries in the United States. Retrieved from