PT Adventures: CHS alums live their dream as traveling physical therapists

What if you could travel the United States doing the profession you love, pay off student loans, and live in close proximity to places most people only visit? That’s exactly how physical therapy alums Steve and Ellen Stockhausen have lived their life for the past six years. 

The Stockhausens initially met in the physical therapy (PT) program at the UK College of Health Sciences as lab partners in gross anatomy. Quickly becoming friends, rock climbing partners, and running buddies, they were soon dating and beginning to loosely plan their lives together.

“Ellen and I started dating prior to graduation from PT school, but before that, we were both independently talking to the same travel agencies and companies at a career fair,” Steve said. “We took our first permanent positions in Colorado, but the pull of the travel life was always there. After getting married we made the move to become travelers and haven’t looked back.”

Their life is now literally on the move as they pack up their family and belongings into two vehicles and head to a different location every six months to a year.

“The College of Health Sciences prepared us well for the travel lifestyle,” Steve said. “The PT curriculum at the time was very broad. As travelers, we are exposed to a much wider range of settings and skills sets. Flash forward to now and suddenly I’m using a ton of skills as a traveler that I first believed wouldn’t be as important to my profession.”

“Our clinical experience in Lexington also gave us a good feel for what it would be like to move around,” Ellen said. “We were exposed to many different settings that have been helpful to us as travelers.”

As traveling physical therapists, jobs consist of 13-week “assignments,” although contract extensions can be negotiated with potential employers. Candidates are also in complete control of where they would like to relocate based on job availability.

“We’ve worked in six different states so far (Colorado, California, Alaska, New Mexico, Kentucky, and Washington) and in multiple clinical settings,” Ellen said. “Traveling has given us an incredible amount of unique and exciting experiences.”

The Stockausens have now created a lifestyle for their family (daughter Kinley and two dogs Cayenne and Layla) that lets them explore wildernesses and sights that most people only dream of seeing. It has also birthed a successful blog called PT Adventures where Steve and Ellen tell their traveling stories and dispense advice to others who are interested in the travel life.

Currently in California, the Stockhausens are working in the home health sector of the physical therapy field. “Since we welcomed our daughter Kinley, the home health schedule has really worked for us,” Steve said. “The perks of the traveling have changed our lives. We bought a house last year. Thanks to the financial benefits of traveling, it took us eight months to save up a payment on a home that would have taken us eight years if we settled down in our hometown.”

While the allure of traveling may appeal to many new graduates, Steve said there are a few things every PT needs to consider before adopting the travel lifestyle.

“Traveling may not be for every new grad,” he said. “When you travel, employers expect you to hit the ground running. It took me a few months to really become comfortable with clients and to provide good care efficiently. I would recommend that new grads have six to 12 months of experience unless they feel confident in their skills to start immediately as a traveler.”