You're an SL- What?: Life as a Travel SLP

 Next up for the SL-What? Series is Julia aka The Traveling Traveler! If you love travel, gorgeous photos, and/or speech-language pathology, you will LOVE her!! She is an incredible photographer, beautiful human, and spectacular SLP! Check her out!!

My name is Julia Kuhn and I have been a practicing SLP since 2009.  My specialty is adult neurogenic rehab and I currently work in an acute care hospital in Hawaii.  Travel therapy has allowed me to combine my love of travel and speech pathology.  To date, I have worked over 20 travel therapy contracts in 5 states from Hawaii to Massachusetts .  I am the blogger behind The Traveling Traveler, which shares resources, inspiration and tips for traveling therapists.  

My SLP career began as a Clinical Fellow in a Skilled Nursing Facility.  My passion for travel was leading me to use all of my PTO days to explore the world.   Frustrated with the lack of PTO days in a permanent position, I turned to travel therapy in 2010.  As a traveler, you can work a 13-week contract and then choose when or where you want to go again.  Travel therapy has helped me to see the country and travel to over 15 counties.  I have attended Spanish language school in Mexico and Costa Rica and got to check many destinations off of my bucket list! 

As a novice traveling therapist, I knew very little about being a traveler.  Learning happened through trial and error and networking with experienced travelers.  In 2014, I started a Facebook Group to connect traveling therapists called Travel Therapy Therapists. The group started with 20 of my friends and it has grown to over 6k members. 2 years later, I started writing a blog to provide more resources for travelers. 

When I was 16 years old, I began working in the activities and dietary department of a skilled nursing facility.  In dietary, I spent my days doing trayline, preparing thickened liquids and modified diet textures to serve at meals.  

Interacting with residents at the nursing home was my favorite part of the job!  In college, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.  I kept on coming back to the fact that I loved my job at the nursing home.  I researched the roles and people working in the SNF and that is how I found speech pathology!  

My current position is in a small, acute care hospital that services mostly geriatric patients.  As a traveling therapist, I have had the opportunity to work in adult settings at every level of care, which has been valuable to my professional growth.  It has been helpful  to understand the healthcare continuum of care and be able to explain that to my patients and their families.  

The majority of my career has been working in skilled nursing facilities.  I have also worked in level 1 trauma centers, inpatient rehab, brain injury units, LTACs, treated outpatients and even completed some home health visits. Patients ages have ranged from 18 years old to over 100 years old!

While it varies from setting to setting, my primary role as a clinician is to diagnose and treat impairments of language, cognitive-communication and swallowing.    

A benefit of being a traveler is getting to collaborate and learn from a plethora of individuals. From physical therapists, occupational therapists, respiratory therapists, nurses, nursing aides, dietitians and doctors.  Every clinician has something new to share and teach others.   Every assignment as an opportunity to learn something new!

The biggest challenge as a traveler has been the lack of consistency in jobs and not knowing what is next.  As a traveler, you sign on to work a 13 week contract.  At the end of that 13 weeks, you are unemployed and looking for a new contract.   It can be stressful to be constantly looking for a new job and finding new housing to accompany that location.  Travel therapy has taught me to go with the flow and be very flexible.  I live by the motto that “everything happens for a reason” and “life is about the journey”.  

Being able to help patients achieve their personal goals the greatest reward for me!  As a traveler, I often go into buildings that have been under staffed or lacking consistent SLP coverage.  It is rewarding to treat patients who were not able to get services that they needed in the past. 

One of my favorite moments as a clinician was when a patient wrote me a thank you card for helping her advance her diet and resolve her dysphagia.  At the bottom of the card she wrote “this card is the first thing I have written since my stroke [which was years ago]”   I cried when I read the card and realized that the swallowing treatment had such an impact on her life and well being.   

One of my favorite experiences was working in an inpatient rehab facility that treated patients with acute strokes and brain injuries.  This facility had an exceptional team that was constantly collaborating and learning from each other.  It forced me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to perform better as a clinician. It was a great team to work with and we had wonderful patients that made great gains. 

If I could teach the world one thing about our field that most people don’t know, it would be that we work with swallowing!  It would be nice not to get the blank stare when I introduce myself as a speech pathologist who is going to evaluate swallowing.  

I am a coffee and sushi lover, avid hiker, traveler, and wannabe photographer. Travel therapy has been an important part of my career because it gave me the flexibility to pursue my passions while traveling the country and the world. Travel has molded me into an experienced and confident clinician who can better serve my patients.  If you are thinking about becoming a traveling therapist, feel free to reach out to me or join the Travel Therapy Therapists Group on Facebook! You can also follow my adventures on Instagram.  Happy Travels! 

Thank you so much, Julia! I love keeping up with your travels and adventures! You always light up my feed with your gorgeous photos and bright spirit! So thankful for social media introducing me to your blog!

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