Accountable Healthcare - 19 Travel Nurse Tips
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February 1, 2021

19 Travel Nurse Tips

Travel Nursing is a great way to see the world while still earning a paycheck.  However, there are some things you need to know before you decide to become a travel nurse. Below you will find 19 travel nurse tips to help you. Even if you are a veteran travel nurse, there is a travel nurse tip for all travel nurses’ levels.

1. Don’t start the drive before you sign the contract

This may seem obvious, but never, EVER start to drive to the contract site before you actually sign the contract. If the situation around the assignment were to change for some reason, you have nothing to fall back on. Like any other business agreement, get things in writing and thoroughly review the contract before signing it.

2. Figure out your own weekly take home pay

ALWAYS figure out what your WEEKLY TAKE HOME PAY will be before signing any contract, and don’t be fooled by the term ‘blended rate.’ Ask for the hourly rate for taxable, weekly nontaxable so that you can figure out the actual take-home pay yourself.

3. Verify your take home pay

VERIFY YOUR OWN TAKE HOME PAY!! It is easy. Go to, enter the state you will be working in, and take the taxable pay, and it will calculate it for you. You can see for yourself how much taxable money you will be taking home. Add that result to the nontaxable weekly pay. Don’t forget; you pay taxes to the state you live in too. Ensure that the weekly stipend quote is based on 36 hours and not 40, or when you get your first paycheck, it will be less than what you had calculated it to be.

4. Get your hours in writing

GET IN WRITING the guaranteed hours (see point #1). Make sure it is for 36 hours a week. DON’T TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER ON THIS. In every contract I ever worked, my contract said that if they canceled a shift on me, they had to pay me anyway. I knew of a nurse who didn’t have this put into her contract. She went to Hawaii on her own dime, and then the facility she was scheduled to work at canceled her for just about every shift.

And why wouldn’t they? It’s cheaper to use their own staff. And they wouldn’t cancel her contract because they had a free on-call nurse. So, she was stuck there making no money. Because of the clause in most contracts (if you don’t work 468 hours in 13 weeks, you have to pay them an hourly rate back for each hour short), she owed them money. Plus, after all that, she had to pay them back for her housing. Don’t let anyone tell you, “Oh, they never cancel us there.” Tell them, “Put it in writing, then!”

5. Overtime and Holiday wages

Make sure you are getting a decent wage for overtime and Holidays. I once forgot to do this and worked every Holiday on 13 wk contract; Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years’ all for straight pay. Remember, on holidays and overtime. You are making time and a half on the taxable money only. If you are being paid taxable $20, then your overtime will only be $30/h.

I would suggest asking for at least $65-$70/hr for any hours over 40 and any Holiday and put it in the contract. In California, where they have to pay time and a half for over 8 hours a day, have them write it like this. “FOR HOLIDAYS AND ANY HOURS OVER 40 WORKED IN ONE WEEK, THE PAY WILL BE $70/ HOUR” or something similar.

6. What are considered Holidays

Get in writing what the facility considers to be Holidays. Again, please read and understand every word in your contract before signing it (see point #1).

7. Find out what your penalty will be if you have to cancel early.

I broke a bone in the first week of a contract and had to cancel. Because I got in writing that there would be no penalty-there were no contractual issues.

8. The best time to negotiate with an agency is BEFORE you sign the contract.

Once signed, negotiations are over, and you are stuck with whatever you did or didn’t have put in or taken out. I suggest compiling a list of the things you want in a contract(as well as things you don’t).

9. Reimbursement if the hospital cancels?

Find out from the agency if there is any reimbursement if the hospital cancels you right before the start date. If you drove across the country, that would be very costly for you. See if they can put a clause in that you will be reimbursed for your expenses. This is one thing I could never get my agencies to do, but I still tried every time; you might as well too – who knows!)

10. NEVER accept the words, “Oh, they never do that.”

Or “We don’t put things like that in a contract, but don’t worry…” If it’s not in the contract, I can guarantee you it won’t happen.

11. Time off during your contract

If you know in advance that you have to take a week or two off in the middle of the contract, don’t expect the nurse manager at the hospital to work around your schedule. Here’s what I always did. I told the recruiter that my contract would end at midnight the night before I needed off and would start back up on the day I wanted to start working again.

Time off should always be put into the contract, or it won’t happen. If you tell them before you sign, they ALWAYS get approval from the hospital. They will do anything for you before you sign the contract, so that is the time to get what you want and have it put in.

Make sure you will not be short on your hours at the end of the contract because of this. They have to add the weeks of your vacation to the end of the contract. If not, you may end up owing them for the weeks not worked. If they worded it like, “Must fulfill 468 hours from august 26th to November 25th, and you took 2 weeks off in the middle, you will be short 72 hours. Make sure they add it to the end and change the dates on the contract. This is something easily overlooked.

12. When do you receive mileage and other perk checks?

When the agency says they’ll pay mileage and other perks, determine whether you will get your mileage check when you arrive or are they just calculating it into your weekly pay over the 13 weeks, which means that you are not really getting it at all.

13. Read every contract thoroughly

If you work with the same agency at the same hospital for more than one contract, READ EVERY NEW CONTRACT THOROUGHLY BEFORE SIGNING.

14. Have paperwork submitted with 3 agencies at all times

Please have all your paperwork submitted and ready to go, with at least 3 agencies AT ALL TIMES, and let them all know this. Remind them occasionally that they aren’t the only game in town for you. I used to enter it into light conversation with all of my recruiters. “Oh, one of my other recruiters said that too!” Or something like that. Be nice, but get the message across. Whenever I was looking for a new contract, I would call all of my recruiters and tell them this; “Hi! I just wanted to let you know that I’m looking for a contract in the Northern California area. I have to take home AT LEAST $2500/ week. Please don’t submit me to any hospitals before telling me because I have notified all of my recruiters and will pick the best package offered.”

15. Remember, the agencies and recruiters are working for you as much as you for them.

Their pay comes from your paycheck. You are doing difficult, back-breaking work and taking on huge liability. We appreciate them for what they do but remember, don’t be taken advantage of. The things I put in here are basic. Think about it; these contracts primarily protect the agencies and facilities. They can cancel your contract at any time without penalty, and you aren’t reimbursed for your expenses. If you cancel your contract, you will be penalized.

So, make sure your contract benefits you before you sign it. If there are no guaranteed hours, then the contract is of no benefit to you at all. Why would anyone sign a contract that appears to be totally one-sided? Make sure you feel the rate is fair and something you can work with. Remember, this is a business transaction, so both parties should feel like their needs are being met properly, particularly financially.

16. What to do if you are unhappy with your recruiter

If you are not happy with your recruiter, call the agency’s main number, ask for the supervisor or manager and tell them that you would like a different recruiter. Simple as that.

17. Beware of agency provided housing.

In 11 years, I never once used housing offered by any agency; I found my own housing. It’s a bit more work, but I found it to be worth it. I once rented a one-bedroom, furnished apartment for $850/month. The apartment building was full of travelers, mostly placed there by their agencies. I found out that their agencies were deducting $1050/ month for the same apartment. Finally, I bought an RV, which turned out to be the best way for me to travel, but I have rented rooms all over the country. They are not hard to find. Go to reputable sources when you seek housing directly.  Look at the ‘travel nurse housing’ group on Facebook or the housing page on The Gypsy Nurse. I have also used Craigslist frequently.

18. Don’t accept low paying jobs.

Period. Unfortunately, the pay rate appears to be diminishing in travel nursing. While many theories and factors contribute to this, agencies need to hear it from your when unacceptable pay is offered. Years ago, the packages were so much better!! The reason hospital staff think we make such a killing is because we used to! Travel nursing jobs paid very well; HOUSING WAS FREE, leased you a car for free, etc. Now, if you factor in no benefits or paid days off, paying our own rent, using our own cars, we are making less than the staff nurses, in many cases. When travel nurses accept such low paying jobs, it brings the pay down for everybody.

Find a few good recruiters that you trust (and that takes time) but always keep your feelers out for new agencies. I once thought of starting my own agency to see the nurses paid their fair share. I really believe that the only way we will overcome unequal and unfair pay is to compare pay packages. There is no way to tell if you are being taken advantage of if you don’t know what others are being paid for the same job at the same hospital. Keeping it such secret benefits only the agencies who will continue to have wide variances in their pay packages.

I once had a contract offer in CA for a ‘blended rate’ of $72/hour. But before I signed, something came up where I was unable to take it. Liking that particular recruiter, I offered up a friend I knew who was looking. She applied and was offered $50/hour. I get that I had proven myself to that agency and recruiter. After all, I found my own housing, got myself to the contract, often got a second contract without him having to do anything, and never complained once I started a contract. So, to him, I was a “no-problems nurse,” which was more valuable. But $22/h? See how much play they actually have? Mind-blowing. If we all stuck together, compared our contracts, and refused bad ones, we could weed out the bad agencies, and I think we could improve the travel nursing profession.

Final point:

We can’t overlook our part as travel nurses in creating bad situations at times. I have seen travelers call in all the time, have bad attitudes, do a poor job, complain about floating, leave messes, and do sloppy nursing work. The biggest obstacle travelers have to overcome at every contract is the bad reputation of previous travelers. The hospital staff doesn’t seem to remember the great travelers. They only remember the bad ones.

It usually took a couple of months to prove myself. One sloppy nurse tarnishes us all. You get what you give. I never called in until I broke a bone. I was always on time and always left on time. It would help if you did a better job than the staff. That is what is expected. If you are a traveler, you must expect to be the first one to be floated. Period. That is why you are there, to fill in where they need you. It’s just part of the job.

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