Travel nursing has been absolutely life changing for my wife and I, allowing us to pay off $108,000 in personal debt in a little under 8 months.
We have seen beautiful places, laid on the beach, hiked in the mountains, and visited entirely too many craft breweries. The lifestyle has fit us perfectly, although there have been some tough times along the way.
If you are interested in travel nursing, here is the last guide you’ll ever need.
Get Some Experience
Having a solid nursing foundation is absolutely critical to travel nursing. Ideally, they want 2 years of clinical experience in the specialty you are applying for.
As of this writing, we are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and they are essentially taking any nurse with a valid license and a pulse.
While I am a huge advocate for travel nursing, I would caution against signing a contract without at least 18 months of experience.
I have a unique perspective on this, as I started after 2 years of experience, and my wife started in the ICU with one year of experience. While my transition into travel nursing felt like a fairly smooth one, my wife definitely reported increased stress and felt less comfortable in the beginning.
The two year rule is in place for a good reason. When travel nursing, you are not guaranteed the resources and assistance that is provided in your fledgling years at a staff position. You are expected to be ready to take a team of patients after 12-24 hours of floor orientation.
Not knowing where anything is and potentially navigating a new charting system will slow you down enough, being hesitant when it comes to nursing judgement can add a layer of stress that is too much for most.
Check Your Mindset
I know most of you are probably here for the actionable steps, but this one is extremely important. Travel nursing is an entirely different experience from staff nursing. Travel nursing takes a great deal of patience and flexibility.
It’s no secret that travel nursing can be extremely lucrative, but it’s easy to pick out the ones who are only in it for a fat paycheck. They come in late, bad attitude, don’t try to meet people or make friends, and then tell everyone how rude people at the hospital were.
I’m not saying you have to be ecstatic each and every day at work, but a positive outlook and sunny disposition can go a long way.
Have a Sense of Adventure
The real beauty of travel nursing is getting paid to travel around the country. You can go essentially anywhere in the United States and change location multiple times per year. Couple that with the option to have 4 days off per week, and you are the proud owner of a work-life balance most would kill for. So enjoy yourself!
It all sounds magical, but the truth is there is also plenty of tedious, if not downright annoying aspects of the travel nursing process. Between finding housing, keeping up credentials, new employees modules, and money lost from cancelled contracts, traveling has plenty of headaches to offer. It is up to you to decide if the freedom of travel nursing is worth the extra work.
Make an emergency or “escape rope fund” a priority in the beginning. That way, if everything goes wrong, you have plenty of money to get back home and figure things out. Other than that, you have to roll with the punches a bit and realize travel nursing has a large amount of uncertainty attached to it.
Outside of a pandemic, you are required to hold a nursing license in the state you wish to work. Many states have banded together to create the Nursing Compact (See image below) where a single license makes you eligible in all states participating.
There are still a handful of states who maintain their own credentialing process. Visit the Board of Nursing website for your desired state to begin the licensing process. While they all have their quirks, the general process remains the same across the U.S
- College Transcripts
- Background Check
- Nursing License
- Passport Photos
This is where most new travel nurses get overwhelmed. There are hundreds if not thousands of travel nurse agencies that come in all shapes and sizes. While I won’t speak on specific agencies, there are a few things that are very important to keep in mind while you talk to agencies.
Use Multiple Agencies
In order to keep agencies accountable and ensure you get a fair rate, always keep an active profile with 3-4 agencies. This allows you to shop a contract with multiple agencies and see who is paying best.
It is shocking how much pay can vary for the exact same position. It is extra work maintaining these active profiles, but will absolutely pay off when you sign at the best rate.
Consider Smaller Agencies
There are 5-10 large, national agencies that are very good at staying front of mind for new travel nurses. But, bigger is not always better. Smaller, boutique agencies can often offer better rates due to their lower overhead.
You will see all of the great swag larger agencies offer their travel nurses, but I would rather get thousands more on my contract value than a North Face jacket and a thermos.
Transparency and Communication
When talking to recruiters, this is what you are looking for. Unfortunately like everything else in life, there some recruiters out there looking to take advantage of you (more on that in the next section). Stay informed, and ask your recruiter lots of questions.
Are you getting straight answers? Compare your experience with other nurses. Also, is the recruiter available to you when you need them? Are they doing their best to keep you informed?
Remember, this person is your lifeline should anything go wrong during your contract.
Ok listen up, this directly affects how much you enjoy work for the following three months. First and foremost, remember that everything is negotiable. Recruiters will try to tell you it isn’t. Ask questions, demand full answers. I cover this at length in my contract negotiation post but I will give some quick tips in this section.
If it isn’t written in your contract, it isn’t guaranteed. So those days off for your dog’s birthday party that your recruiter said you would get? Probably won’t happen. Make them put it in the contract so your facility is aware as well.
Make sure your hours are guaranteed! How many times can the cancel you? Don’t sign a contract only to work 1-2 days per week due to low census.
Max your GSA stipends! Tax-free income is the creamy nougat center of travel nursing. if your stipends arent 90% of GSA maximum (read my negotiation post to learn more), there is a problem.
Don’t be afraid to ask for block scheduling. Block scheduling is multiple days in a row. My wife and I always request Friday through Sunday and almost always get it! Four days off in a row? yes please.