Working Tourist: Creating Community

Donalyn has been a speech-language pathologist since graduating in 2015. She has experience in a variety of settings including schools, skilled nursing facilities, and home health care. She started working as a travel SLP two years into her career, taking assignments in Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and even the Virgin Islands.

The concept of traveling as a therapist first became a consideration in her last year of school. She came across @thetravelingtraveler’s Instagram account and thought to herself, “What? We can do this?” So while working in a permanent school position after graduating, she said, “travel therapy was always in the back of my head.”

Supplemental Health Care was the first staffing company Donalyn worked with when she started her travel career and her relationship with her recruiter is what keeps her coming back. She said, “I will say, working with Supplemental Health Care is my favorite company because I have a really good relationship with Ashley, my recruiter.”

Even when she went on contracts with other agencies, like to the Virgin Islands, the two kept in touch and continued to talk about her career goals. Donalyn was working in the Virgin Islands when the pandemic hit, so when the uncertainty of the future started to grow, she decided to return home and work with Ashley again.

Her recruiter found her a remote position that met the career goals they had been discussing. “It was amazing because I was able to move up the ladder,” she said. “I’m a supervisor for the first time ever. It’s a blessing in disguise because I’ve been able to work on my leadership skills.”

Even after being thrown into teletherapy at the start of COVID-19, Donalyn really likes working virtually. It took time to figure everything out, but once it clicked for her, she found different activities for the kids to make it more enjoyable. She’s able to work directly with parents to come up with new activities for future sessions and has even sent some Tiktoks for making homemade playdough to her Gen Z parents! She said it’s been great to connect with parents in their home environment and their so thankful when she’s able to explain things to them directly.

Reflecting on her experiences over the past year, Donalyn said the most challenging time was when the pandemic first hit. She had made the switch to teletherapy and adapted to the challenges, but she was feeling anxious and depressed not knowing what her future as a traveler would be.

The Black Lives Matter movement was another important moment in 2020. Donalyn took it as an opportunity to look at diversity and inclusion in travel therapy. “I started to think about how I could create a safe space for travelers that were Black, and people of color. Just a safe space for us in the midst of everything.”

She created the Facebook group Travel Therapists of Color to build community for others in her line of work. She had been in contact with other travel therapists during the pandemic and they formed friendships through their discussions about shared experiences and challenges. Donalyn shared that a lot of them did not have that kind of community support when they were starting out in their careers, so creating the group helped them create that for themselves and others.

According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, in 2019 only about 8% of ASHA members and affiliates identified as, what the U.S. Census refers to as, a racial minority. With little representation in the field, Donalyn thinks it is important to create community among her fellow travel therapists of color as well as support future therapists in their budding travel careers. The group is open to all BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) travel therapists and students interested in travel, whether they are in speech-language pathology, physical therapy, occupational therapy, counseling, or some other therapy field. “We welcome everybody,” Donalyn says.

Donalyn also spoke to the importance of representation in travel therapy to give other perspectives and different opinions on this career path. When she started out, she thought she needed to take a permanent position and make it through her CF year before traveling, but she has since learned there are plenty of different paths to become a successful travel therapist. Not every journey will be the same.

Her advice for other travelers is to make sure to do your research and use online groups to help. Word of mouth is important. She also emphasized having a solid relationship with your recruiter so you can get the job you want with your career goals in mind. And you will need to be flexible. Making quick choices and adaptability are very important to being successful as a travel therapist.

On top of the Facebook group, Donalyn also runs an Instagram account, @donalynallen, where she shares her travels, experiences, and resources with her followers. If you need any activities for your speech students, she’s also working on more content for her Teachers Pay Teachers account too. Make sure to give her a follow!

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