True Life: I'm a Travel Nurse

With one month left in our current assignment it’s time for us to figure out where to go next. I get asked how travel nursing works all the time, and while I’m still new to the system, I can answer most of the frequently asked questions.

How do you find jobs?

First thing you need to do is to sign up with a travel agency. The agency acts as a middleman for the hospitals (who don’t want to deal with floods of individual nurses) and the nurses (there are benefits for us in this exchange too).

A quick Google search will give you an overwhelming number of agencies. You can look up "travel nurse agency reviews" too, but I found that to be a mixed bag of too little information and deeply conflicting reviews. (News Alert: people write online reviews more often when they have something to complain about ... sort of like patients) so it all needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

I’m still pretty new to this, so I wont name names and bias you here. Many travelers start out with two recruiters so that they can compare agencies and make sure they’re getting a good deal. My best suggestion is to do what I did, look all around, read some reviews, and then go with your gut (a website that looks like it was updated this decade was a big plus).

Isn’t it hard to deal with licensing?

Yeah. It is. That’s part of what makes the agencies useful to the nurse. There are hoops to be jumped through in each state, and every state has a different set of obstacles to complete. A good agency can help you navigate that mess.

That’s one thing I will say about my agency experience so far. I like that the agency I went with uses a recruiter as my one point of contact for my entire gig. If anything is wrong with payroll, insurance, finding my work site, etc I just contact my recruiter and she deals with it.

Of course, if you live in a compact state, your license is good in between all of these states. No hoop jumping necessary. Get on board with that soon, NY, k great thanks.

Do you have to go where they tell you to go?

Nope. It’s a free country, people, and you can do what you want. You have no obligation to the recruiter or agency and they can't make you take a job. Their role is to help you find a contract that you want, and they don’t get paid unless you take the gig.

I tell the recruiter our preferred location, hours (days/mids/nights), and specialty. Then they send us options.

While we do get the final say—that doesn’t mean we get to go wherever we want whenever we want. Not every hospital is looking to hire a traveler; we’re more expensive than full time staff. We have to select the best option from among the placements that are being offered at the time that we happen to be looking. There are ALWAYS placements; they just may not always be in our top favorite places. What I’m saying is—there’s an element of compromise.

Tucson wasn’t our first choice—but it has turned out way better than we ever could have expected.

What areas can you work in?

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there are travel positions for many of the allied health professionals. There’s travel nursing, but there are also travel options for radiology techs, dialysis techs, phlebotomists, social workers, CNAs, and many many more. For nurses you can find jobs in all areas from med/surg, to OR, to ER, to ICUs.

From my experience, med/surg jobs seem to be the most numerous (and also the most boring).

How long are you there for?

The typical contract is 13 weeks. If they like you and the hospital still has needs they will offer to extend the contract. If they really need you they’ll offer an incentive to get you to stay a little longer.

Does it pay pretty well?

Pay packages for contracts can get complicated and could be it’s own post. You will typically receive a lower hourly rate than a full time nurse would make, but you’ll also receive a weekly meal and incidentals stipend as well as housing. If you maintain a tax home then these stipends aren’t taxed, which increases your take home pay.

On top of that, your agency might compensate you for other work related expenses such as travel or license fees. Your contract will also spell out rates for overtime and on-­call shifts. They may even dictate how often you can be canceled (without pay).

If you are able to live for under your housing and meal stipends you can come out a little ahead. The trade off is that there is no paid vacation or sick leave.

We are a family of two (plus pooch) and live pretty simple lives so even with our crippling student debt we are making it work so far.