Getting to the heart of travel healthcare.

A podcast hosted by Sunny & Matt

Podcast Transcript


We welcome Crystal Funke, DPT, to Cardium podcast who shares her story of going back to school to pursue a degree in healthcare administration while traveling as a physical therapist.

Back to School While Traveling in Healthcare

July 8, 2020


Voice Over: Welcome to Cardium from Aureus Medical, the podcast that gets to the heart of travel healthcare and asks what's your why? With each episode, we explore the topics and issues that impact healthcare professionals in the fields of nursing and allied health. Now, here are your hosts, Sunny and Matt.

Matt: Welcome to another episode of Cardium. If you are a subscriber, welcome back family. Thank you for being part of our Cardium family. If you're a new listener, thanks for stopping by. We hope you enjoy this podcast and we would love you to subscribe so you can enjoy future podcasts.

Matt: Not joining me today is my partner in crime Sunny. Sunny is feeling under the weather today. So folks you've got me and we wish Sunny the best of health and when she can join us for the next podcast. I say this all the time and you folks have heard me before talking really about how excited I am for the podcast. This is another good one. It's relatable and I think it will be really relatable to our audience out there. We talk about healthcare providers, healthcare professionals, people that get into this industry and there's a lot of education behind that.

Matt: And whether you're a technologist, a nurse, a therapist, there's a certain amount of education that you need to bring to the table or you can't practice. And education, generally speaking, the pathway is you go out, you get your schooling, and you do your thing, and you get a job, and your work your career, and you'd maybe decide to travel. And maybe continuing that education really isn't a thought and for those people out there that decide, man, I've done this thing, whether it's being a nurse, technologist, therapist, for a while now, but maybe there's more I can do. And maybe there's more I can do in healthcare. This is going to be the podcast for you.

Matt: If you've thought about it. If you thought, wow, how do I balance those things out and is this really for me and how do other people do it? And then how do other people do it who travel? I think that you two will be excited about today's podcast because our guest today has done all those things. So I'm really, again, excited to bring our guest on board and we'll have some questions. I will have some questions for her about what led her down this path and I think there's a lot that we can learn.

Matt: So, before I bring Crystal onboard, I want to read a little bit about what she's done and where she's at today. Crystal Funke is a doctor of physical therapy who has been traveling for over six years. I learned just today that she's recently taken a perm job now after that traveling. So congratulations, Crystal. She's a 2010 graduate of Kansas State University and a 2013 graduate of Southwest Baptist University.

Matt: She is currently enrolled in school pursuing her Master's of Healthcare Administration. In her spare time, Crystal likes to travel, obviously, explore the local restaurants and wineries, catch up on live music, and visit her nieces and nephews. Thank you for joining me today, Crystal.

Crystal: Thank you.

Matt: Well, as you heard in the opening, talking about education, you've done this traveling gig up until yesterday for six years, but before that spent a significant amount of time in school pursuing your doctors of physical therapy, which was not an easy task. That's a long road, a long path. But you got it. And maybe just like others out there, you thought, "Okay, this is it. I'm going to get down this road and practice, see where life takes me. Maybe do this traveling thing for a while."

Matt: And maybe you can tell us about what led us down your journey and the decision you made as far as why you wanted to become a physical therapist and then the decision to start traveling and what led you to taking a permanent job?

Crystal: Okay. Originally, I was unsure in undergrad what I wanted to do. However, I had shoulder surgery when I was 19 and had to go through physical therapy and it was while I was in therapy myself, that I realized, "Hey, this is a career that I could do." I really liked it. And that changed how I was participating in school, lit a fire under my bottom, and I became more interested in what I was actually learning.

Crystal: So from there, I went to Southwest Baptist and got my doctorate in physical therapy. While I was there, as you guys are well aware of, student loans crept up on me. And I was trying to figure out a way that I could live and travel and be able to pay back my student loans and travel therapy happened to be one of the options. You guys presented at my school. We had a job fair in the hallway and actually Sunny was there. And it was an option that I hadn't really considered before meeting you guys. I used travel therapy as a way to not only pay back my loans, but also to explore the country and then explore the different settings and see exactly what I wanted to be a part of.

Matt: Yeah, that's pretty exciting. And just the option of being able to get out there and start traveling and looking at graduating and trying to not only get into your career, but see some exciting places, and all while you're paying off the student debt that you had there. You're filling all the needs that you need to right there once and you're doing this right out of school. So, that's obviously ... It's probably not something you planned on when you decide to become a physical therapist, right away. The travel world was probably something that was opened up to you when the student outreach folks visited your school.

Crystal: Yes. While I was out doing my clinicals, it was nice to be able to change different settings. When I had started my clinicals, I would have told you that I wanted to do sports med outpatient. However, while I was doing my clinicals, I was exposed to a lot more neuro and different acute care settings and that changed my mind. So, there were a couple of placements initially that were skilled nursing facilities.

Crystal: However, I was able to change my settings as I traveled with you guys and get more into acute care, some larger trauma hospitals, and I was able then to get into the ICU, see the trauma, and from there, go into inpatient rehab again as a traveler. So, I got to experience multiple different settings and it definitely formed me as a therapist being able to decide exactly what I wanted to do and where I wanted to do it at.

Matt: Yeah. And I think that is one of the great parts about traveling, is you can really explore the settings that you feel comfortable in. Although you're able to practice in different settings, there's some that are more appealing than others, and that's going to be personality based, that's going to be patient based. There's a lot of things that go into that. And the nice thing is that you were able to see that and recognize, "You know what? This isn't a good fit for me. I'm going to do a great job and then move on to the next one."

Matt: And then others that, "You know what? I could do this forever." So, yeah, I think that's a great point that you bring up. And as far as how you looked at the travel world, was the decision based on the setting first or was it more of the explorer? "Boy, I've never been to the Northwest." Or, "I've never been to the Southeast part of the country." Or was it more job decision based? And if it happened to be in a really cool place that you could explore when you weren't working. What led you to the decisions when you decide to take a new assignment?

Crystal: As far as taking a new assignment, I mostly looked at setting. I have focused a lot of my time as a traveler on acute care, and I wanted those trauma settings, I wanted the intensive care units where I could expand my career and expand my skills. I didn't want to just see run of the mill pneumonia. I wanted to see the crazy cases in the ICU. But then when I decided to go to inpatient rehab, I decided I wanted to see the other side of that. When I recommend somebody goes to inpatient rehab, what does that mean? What are they getting? And so I chose to go to the other side of that as well.

Matt: That's awesome. That's awesome. And I think that really will resonate for a lot of people that not only are traveling today that are listening, but also if they're afraid to step off, and maybe that gives some inspiration for people out there that might be considering traveling as a future decision for them.

Matt: So, your journey has led you six years later of traveling and seeing a lot of different settings. And you decided, not only did you decide to go perm, which we'll talk about that, but you'd also decided this education, pursuing your doctorate wasn't enough. You're crazy. But you've decided that maybe there was other things out there education-wise that would allow you even pursue different goals or more goals. What led you to the decision that you want to go back to school?

Crystal: Yeah. So, a lot of times as travelers you fill in at places that are having an upheaval of staff. Whether they've expanded too fast and they don't have staff to fill in, or that they've all of a sudden lost a countless number of therapists. There are some places I've worked that the number of therapists they've lost in one year is scary.

Crystal: So, I decided to look at why are they losing these staff? What is going on at either the immediate management level or even the executive level? Why are all these staff members leaving this place? And when I go perm at somewhere, how do I make sure when I sign on that everybody that's there doesn't automatically leave as well? So, I wanted to make sure that I knew the intricacies of management and how to improve staff retention.

Matt: At what point after that assignment did you say, "You know what? I'm going to do it. I'm going to start exploring schools and this is what I want to do." Is there someone that you spoke with or was it just start looking up universities and make a decision?

Crystal: I have spoken with a couple people. So, I have not been necessarily the typical traveler. I was actually at that placement for two years as a traveler. So, it was my summer of my last year. I had been there maybe 20 months and I started looking into it and then I found a couple of schools, went back to RES and said, "Okay, what exactly are you guys going to pay for degree wise and how do I make this all happen?"

Crystal: And my recruiter at the time helped guide me through, okay, well this degree we would pay for, but this one, it doesn't quite match up with healthcare so we can't pay for that. So I was able to not only find a degree that matched up with something you guys would pay for, but that also interested me.

Matt: Yeah. That's a pretty smart decision. So, obviously talking about what the company would help out with, that's a huge one because you're still probably dealing with student loans and that's probably the reason that you ... Well, that is one of the reasons you started traveling. But it was able to be still in your wheelhouse of what was interesting to you and really long-term goals. I think that will go a long way to really help bring all of this full circle as to the why. So, you've been enrolled in school now, has it been a year now? Is it not quite a year?

Crystal: I started July 2018.

Matt: Okay. Okay. And how much more time do you have to go before you get this goal knocked off?

Crystal: Four weeks.

Matt: Wow. Look at you go.

Crystal: I'll be done with my masters in four more weeks. Not that I'm counting.

Matt: Not at all, are you? Yeah. It's been a busy 2020 for you. It's going to be really busy for you.

Matt: So we had mentioned when I opened up with your bio that you love hanging out with families and your family, nieces and nephews. What was the support like from your family? Obviously they were with you or with you in spirit in many ways when you were working on your doctorates and then you had to tell them, this is the next step for me, when it comes to education. How did the family respond and how did they support you?

Crystal: As far as my family goes, my mom was really supportive of it. She herself is an accountant. So I had to take a lot of accounting classes with this program and so she would help me through some of those classes. I haven't done accounting since undergrad, probably sophomore year. So, I needed help with refreshing on those.

Crystal: I also had a good friend of mine that lives with me. She's actually a traveler with you guys, too. We were on assignment together. She would help brainstorm through some ideas. And my boyfriend was very supportive of it as well. However, it is hard to say, "No, I can't go do that. I still have homework to do." Or, "I can't go out to that concert." Or, "I can't do this this weekend because I have a final due." Whatever it may be. They were all very supportive, very accommodating. Homework came first.

Matt: Yeah. And it is a short term pain for a long-term gain, isn't it?

Crystal: Yeah, absolutely. As a therapist in general, it's very physical and I didn't think that I would be able to do my job my entire life, especially doing inpatient rehab or in the ICU, the trauma patients. There's a lot of intensity that you have to give and I can't do that when I'm 65. So I wanted to find something else that I could still incorporate my skills but still have a job with.

Matt: Yeah. That's great. And I think it's awesome that your family was there to support you. It sounds like everybody really understood that homework came first, even though going out on a Friday night sounded really fun. You're pursuing this thing and you need to get it done and it really aligned with what you wanted to do long-term. Did you have a mentor? I know a lot of healthcare professionals out there do have a professional mentor. It sounds like the friend that traveled with you or traveled on the same assignment with you was there, but did you have a mentor that maybe wasn't a friend that you were able to call on and say, is this the right step for me? Am I doing this at the right time? Anybody that you can recall on that?

Crystal: I don't think so. I think I just kind of went for it.

Matt: Yeah. Again, it's just a matter of where people are at in their lives. And if they've got a good support system at home, a really good network, and people that really understand, I think that that will go a long way. Obviously, it's not been easy. Traveling isn't easy. And as you mentioned, the job is physically demanding too. When you started school, you were still traveling. What other struggles that you can think of and how did you balance all of that out? Did you use any methods that you can say, "You know what? If I ever had to give anybody advice, another PT out there wants to go back to school, a nurse wants to go back to school, you should do this and avoid that."

Crystal: So, one of my biggest issues, I made sure first that the class was all online. So, I didn't ever have to go to a campus. I had books delivered to me wherever I was at assignment. My tests, if I had to take a proctored exam, it was through the computer, all my papers and everything. I was able to do everything from a distance, which helped a lot.

Crystal: One of the biggest struggles is when you leave one assignment and you go to the next, I didn't always find a place that was already furnished. So, that didn't necessarily mean that internet was going to be there and I had homework that I had to do. So I would have to be able to find coffee shops to do homework or type a paper or whatever it may have been, as well as take a test. And sometimes it's a little difficult to take a test in the middle of a Starbucks.

Crystal: However, I was really looking, okay, I have this assignment due this time, let's get that ahead of time. And then we can get on the road to our next assignment and then it'll all be ready for us. My advice to any traveler going back to school would be trying to find a program that's flexible and that you can do it all online. The one thing about the school that I'm part of, it goes in eight weeks sections. And so if you need time off and you're not ready to start that next class, when that eight weeks ends, you can pause for four weeks or eight weeks, however long you need, to take a break. I haven't done that, but it is an option.

Matt: Yeah. That really does give you flexibility when you need it. Like you said, you haven't used it yet. But boy, for people that do need it, that's a really nice option to have.

Crystal: Absolutely. You could also work with your professors, they were really flexible knowing that it was online and that most of us were working professionals. If you said, "Hey, I can't do this assignment at this time. Can we shift the dates? Or I need that assignment to be done ahead of time." They would work with you on that.

Matt: Love it. I think that's great advice. So Crystal, you've taken a perm job. You're four weeks away, and no one's counting, until you receive that degree. You traveled for six years, you've reset your goals, and once you get that degree and you've started your perm job, you're probably going to have a new set of goals in mind. If you had to write your own story about where you'd like to be in six years, where do you see yourself and what does the degree that you're pursuing, along with your doctorate of physical therapy, what do those two things combined look like for you in the next six years?

Crystal: So, in the next six years, I would like to be in a director position or a management position. However, I don't want to give up patient care. Too often I see that managers get out of that patient care realm and forget what it's like to be a frontline employee, forget what it's like to deal with patients on a daily basis who maybe don't necessarily want to do therapy. So, while I would like to be in a management position, I also don't want to give up that patient care aspect.

Matt: Yeah. I think that's really important. I think you're really trying to strike that balance there. And I think that that will go a long way, especially understanding those goals. Whereabouts

Crystal: Absolutely. And I think even as an employee, to be able to see a manager that helps out to, "Hey, I'm going to take this extra patient load for you." I think that really helps as an employee to see that your manager is willing to help out.

Matt: Absolutely. We love talking with travelers. Now, I'm talking with a former traveler because she took that job. But talking with travelers, if you could offer advice to a traveler, somebody getting new into the industry, and it doesn't have to be a physical therapist, it can be a nurse or a tech, or the therapist themselves, give us some real quick pieces of advice. Because six years is a long time. I know that you use extended on some of your assignments and you spent some significant time there. But people looking to get into it, give us some advice on what would be the best bet on, on how to make that type of career successful from your point of view.

Crystal: To live minimally. So everything I own can fit into my car and I am able to pack up quickly and go on to the next location. So you have to be flexible as well. Your contract may get canceled, so you have to be able to move on to the next place.

Matt: I love that. And I, it's almost like it's a, you're working for the CIA or something, Crystal. But, hey, I think it's great advice. Try to try to be a little bit minimalistic when it comes to moving from assignment to assignment.

Matt: Before we wrap up today, I think, getting back to really the topic of our conversation, when people are looking at getting back to school, what do you think stops? What do you think is the biggest, the roadblock for a healthcare professional when they're considering going back to school?

Matt: They might've been practicing for a while and what are the biggest obstacles and how do you overcome those? And how would that be something that you, if you were to offer advice on that side of the world, that you could offer someone if they're on the fence of going back to school.

Crystal: You can have an employer that will pay for your schooling, absolutely. The other issue would be time. You have to make it work. Whether that means, hey, you don't get to watch this TV show tonight because you have to start on this paper, or you don't get to go out to all the dinners or brunches or whatever it may be, just because you've got things to do. But in the long run, I think it's worth it. I am almost done with my masters. I am on my capstone currently. And as soon as that is done, I'm done and won't have to do this anymore.

Matt: That's great advice. I think that's really good advice. And hopefully those words of advice will push someone to make taking the plunge and getting out there and exploring their next step in their career. So, thank you for that.

Matt: Well, before I let you go, we love to ask our guests one final question we ask every guest and I think it's a really important one. Everybody has different answers and we would love to know yours. So before I let you go, Crystal, what is your why?

Crystal: My why for being a physical therapist is to help people get back to who they were before. When I had therapy on my shoulder, I had been an athlete my entire life, and all of a sudden couldn't do it anymore. I had been a catcher. I couldn't throw a ball from home plate to the pitcher anymore before my surgery. And it was incredibly upsetting. And I remember feeling that hopelessness of my life as who I am is over.

Crystal: So, it is nice to be able to help give that back to people. Yes, it was just a shoulder. It was just something minimal. However, when people have strokes or traumas or amputations, it's so much more than that. Their entire life has changed. And I like to be able to help them get back to who they were before and know that there's more to life than just the amputation or the stroke or whatever it may have been.

Matt: I love it. I think that's a great why. Thank you very much, Crystal. That's going to wrap up for us today, Crystal, and thank you very much for joining us. Good luck on your next goals, your next part of your career. And we hope to get you back traveling. So, congratulations on the perm job and congratulations on your degree in a small four weeks.

Crystal: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Matt: That's going to wrap up today's podcast. Sunny, from wherever she's at, says goodbye. And I do too. We would love to hear from you, Cardium listeners. So please drop us a review. Let us know your thoughts on today's topic or anything else you'd like to discuss. That's it everybody. Bye bye.

Voice Over: You've been listening to Cardium from RES Medical, with your hosts, Sunny and Matt. We are the podcast that gets to the heart of travel healthcare. To subscribe, access show notes, or to learn more, visit, C-A-R-D-I-U-M podcast dot com. Or wherever you're listening, be sure to rate us, review, and subscribe. Thanks for tuning in. Until next time.

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