My Awkward First Day of My Very First Travel Therapy Assignment

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My Awkward First Day of My Very First Travel Therapy Assignment

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I have spoken to a number of travel occupational/physical/speech therapists and have compared stories about the very first day of a first ever travel therapy assignment, and they pretty much all have a few things in common.  The most common themes are: feeling unprepared, overwhelmed, and pretending to know what you are doing.

This post talks about the ridiculous things that happened on my first day of a travel assignment and hopefully will better prepare someone entering the travel therapy world. I also will provide some tips to make a traveler’s first day smoother.

My bestfriend/fellow OT traveler and I off to our first assignment in MD. If only we knew what we were getting into.

First things first, no one at the facility knew I was going to be working there

My first travel OT job was in Maryland and I arrived per first day instructions. I located the therapy gym and asked for the rehab manager who surprisingly had NO idea who I was and had NO idea I was supposed to be there. I also quickly realized that this was not the same person I had spoken to on the phone for my interview. During my phone interview I had made a point to make it very clear that this would be my very first job ever as an Occupational Therapist. So, the rehab manager runs to her office and comes out several minutes later with a list of patients with a bunch of words I had not seen yet such as CPT codes and number of minutes next to each patient’s name (now I know this is called a DAR- Daily Activity Record). She hands me the DAR and walks away and I said,” Um, am I going to get some type of orientation?” Her response was “Oh, sorry, corporate was supposed to give you an orientation.”

Fake it Until you Make it

Exploring your travel location is one of the best parts of traveling therapy. The White House.

I spent the next 8 hours running around trying to survive the day, pretending to know what I was doing. I stalked other OTs with questions like, “So…how do we know how long to see the patient?”, “How do I bill for this?” and “What’s a RUG?”. It was a complete shit show.  The peak of the day was when I was so flustered that I approached a nurse asking where a patient’s room was and she said “oh that’s on the third floor.” My jaw dropped… “There’s more than one floor?!”. No one had even bothered to give me a tour of the building.

I survived!

I did survive that day but BARELY.  My first day of my first travel job and my first job ever, was the most I ever pretended to know what I was doing. To top the day off, having to explain why I was not 90% productive my very first day to a corporate supervisor sitting in an office looking at a sprea

Spent a lot of time at Abe’s house in DC.

dsheet was one of the most irritating conversations I have ever had. I drove back to my apartment and collapsed on to the couch. Shortly after, my roommate/fellow travel OT/best friend, came through the door. We looked at eachother and she went straight to the kitchen and poured us two glasses of wine and our “WTF happened today” ranting began. There were tales of a lack of any type of training from the facilities where we worked as well as even attempting to treat the wrong patients (unintentionally), and the expectation of brand new OTs in a new setting to be 90% productive their first day.

Despite how ridiculous our first days went we still stuck it out and each day got a little easier. I definitely would have not survived if there were not other OTs there who were willing to help and explain things to me. Also, the reassurance from my best friend that we could do this together was a big help. Despite the negative parts of my first day, starting with travel OT as my first assignment was the best decision. To be thrown into a situation like that makes you learn the hard way how to be a good and extremely flexible therapist. Overall, I had some great times in Maryland and it sparked the travel bug that I still have today.

Tips to Make your First Day Run Smoothly

The National Zoo in DC.

When I was looking into travel therapy I was looking for information about travel therapy from actual therapists, but it was sparse. I wished there was more information out there when I started to warn me about how potentially first travel assignments could go. So after travel therapy for almost 4 years now here are some tips to make your first day run smoother.

  • Get there early! Sometimes you only get an address and a time for first day instructions. Arrive early with plenty of time to find parking, the correct building and the person you need to find. There’s nothing worse than showing up late for your first day.
  • If the assignment is your first job ever, then make that clear to someone who actually works there. Even if this information is obvious on your resume, don’t assume that your supervisor knows (I swear no one even reads my resume half the time). If the phone interview is with someone who does not work at the facility, hound your recruiter in order to make sure the facility knows it is your first job.
  • Be ready to be completely thrown into the regular routine. Keep in mind that if a facility needs a travel therapist it means they are understaffed and desperate for help. Most of the time you are expected to hit the ground running. If you feel like you really cannot handle that, then I wouldn’t recommend travel therapy. I rarely have gotten a formal orientation during my assignments but now I always ask for at least a tour of the facility! 🙂

How did your first day go as a travel therapist? Any other questions about the first day of a travel contract? Leave a comment below!

About the Author


Hi there! My name is Sarah and I am the creator of Tiny Van Big Living. I am a former traveling Occupational Therapist who lived in a converted camper van (Vanny Devito) full time for almost two years. I am collecting experiences, not things while slowly climbing out of the giant hole that is student loan debt.

6 Comments on “My Awkward First Day of My Very First Travel Therapy Assignment”

  1. I ran across this post while researching…I am starting up an internal travel program for my company. While there isn’t much on the actual start up out there, I loved your post…and am definitely taking away some tips! We are actually including 2-3 days of orientation to the company prior to the first assignment! Just wanted to say thanks for sharing your experiences!

    1. Hi Tara! That’s such a great idea! I think we all understand that we have to be more flexible and “ready to go” as travelers. However, there are simply things you wont know unless someone tells you. I know that if managers would just take a few hours to explain things to a new traveler it would allow the traveler to be more productive and for things to move more smoothly. Thanks for reading 🙂

  2. Your post was great! I’m an SLP-CF and I am considering a travel position. It sounds like a great opportunity to learn! Did you find it difficult to switch licenses/find housing/other logistics? Or was it primarily the jump-in-head-first approach that was most challenging?

    1. Hi Jess! Working as a travel therapist is absolutely a wonderful learning experience! Honestly getting licesned in each state is probably the most annoying part of travel therapy. If you find your own housing it can be a headache but can also save you lots of money. My next post will be about finding housing , so that should answer a lot of your concerns. My very first job it was challenging to jump in head first becuase I felt like I just didnt know a lot yet as a new grad. However, after that it was expected and not as difficult. Hope this helps, thanks for reading :)!

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