Working in Hawaii by Zach Ketcham
A resource I wish would have been available to me beginning as a therapist is “Rate My Therapy Company” Facebook Group. This community was created to make it easier for therapists to learn about companies before applying. This group allows therapists to rate companies and provide valuable information on factors such as pay, productivity, and company culture. I hope you enjoy this insightful article Zach Ketcham, PTA on his experiences of working a contract in Hawaii.

I remember when I first learned about travel therapy when I was 18 years old and working as a PT tech in an outpatient clinic. As someone who had rarely left their hometown, let alone the East Coast, I began to daydream about tropical getaways that would involve long beach days with friends, traversing through the jungle to waterfalls, and I suppose the necessary obligation of going to work in order to experience these things.

Fast forward six years later and I was now a licensed PTA who jumped right into the travel therapy world, immediately pursuing my license to work in Hawaii should the farce idea of living in such a storybook place ever become a reality. I worked several contracts on the East and West coasts for the next couple of years, always meticulously eyeing different travel platforms and giving my information to dozens of companies so that they might inform me as soon as an opportunity to work in Hawaii became available.

It paid off to have the HI license in hand before I actually had the assignment, and in 2019 I got the call I had been waiting for. Without hesitation, I put my notice in while working a contract in South Carolina, and packed my bags for paradise! With about two weeks to go until my start date, I began to realize that securing housing and a car on an island with a six hour time difference from me was quite the challenge. I didn’t know a soul on the island of Maui before my move, and quickly realized that the island worked very differently from what I was conditioned to expect on the mainland. The first thing to note is that a large number of locals may not answer your calls or take you seriously about renting if you are calling from an out of state number. This can be very frustrating but important to remember that Hawaii is a tourism state where millions of people are having the same idea as you about relocating. I found that a little patience and consistency showed that I was serious about making the move, and it didn’t hurt to name drop the facility I would be working at during my time there. Despite how patient I thought I was, I was only able to solidify a rental car and 1-2 potential housing opportunities before it was time to fly. I may be a little more precarious than most in this way of thinking, but I figured as long as I had a car upon my arrival, I could sleep on the beach or figure something out for living arrangements in the meantime. Luckily, one of my two opportunities panned out and everything was starting to come together, or so I thought.

I then found out that island initiation is a real thing. I can’t explain it, but it’s real and a very understood thing amongst locals. After a series of trials and tribulations including car and roommate issues, I was almost ready to call it quits on my attempts to fit into “paradise”. Looking back on it now, that would have been one of the dumbest mistakes of my life. I decided to fully give the Aloha way of life a shot, which meant slowing down, appreciating what and who is around you, and connecting with people in the community rather than just being a passerby. I got word of a local soccer game, and after showing up to play for a few weeks I had made a new friend who offered me a room in his house that would get me out of my current undesirable living situation. Everything just snowballed from there into the best memories I’ve made thus far in life. I became connected with other healthcare travelers on the island, and weekends were spent doing exactly what I had once been daydreaming of.
Although in my opinion island life is just as good as it sounds, I think it is important to be very open minded and I’ve realized that it’s not for everyone. A few things to keep in mind: Resources are not as plentiful as the mainland, this means prices are inflated for things that we might consider commonality, but are more luxury items on the island. For example, air conditioning. Though it is very hot, most people don’t use AC as it is very expensive to run in Hawaii and you might find yourself with a hefty electric bill running this for several hours at a time. My advice for if you can’t stand the heat, shut your doors and run the AC for about 30-45mins at night before you go to bed, and it should stay cool enough while you sleep. Otherwise, many places are built with breezeways for the tradewinds, and you’re better off just going outside to explore. It can also be hard to fit into social groups at times, the “locals only” saying holds true in some places and you might even find this to be the case from your patients at work. I’ve had more than one occasion where a Nana or Aunty/Uncle gave me the “stink eye” just for being a Haole (non-Hawaiian white person). Just remember that you are in their home, and that unfortunately there is a stigma which is true at times of outsiders coming to the islands and disrespecting it. Culture is HUGE here, and most everything and every place has some sort of sacred meaning. Do not take sand from the beaches, or lava rocks from hikes, as Hawaiian’s believe in Pele’s curse (goddess of fire), and the curse involves bad luck for whomever takes from the island until the item is returned. Now whether or not you believe in curses is another conversation, the Hawaiian’s certainly do and it goes a long way to show respect to another’s ideals and beliefs in their home.

If you decide to stick around for a while, you will probably start to pick up on the local slang or “pidgin” talk. And if you’re lucky enough to learn to love island life like I did, then hopefully you will also find yourself in this position of passing on advice to the next newcomer, while emphasizing the importance of pono (righteous) living in Hawaii. For me, Maui No Ka Oi! (Maui is the best), and I am currently planning on setting a homebase on the island to travel from, after taking contracts here for the last two years. Thanks for reading my article and A hui hou! (Until we meet again).

My name is Zach Ketcham, originally from Richmond, VA. I’ve been a traveling PTA for 6 years and a travel agent for about a year now. My passions are health, fitness, and travel; and being able to incorporate these things into my career makes it really not feel like work at all. If you have any travel therapy questions or looking for help to plan/book your next trip, feel free to reach out to me,, or check me out on IG: @zdketch

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