Updated: I recently made the difficult decision to leave the nursing field. However, I have accepted a position as a Tavel Nurse Recruiter for my company Travel Nurse Across America! I will be starting in February 2020, so if you are ready to take the plunge and want a recruiter who know first hand what it’s like to be a travel nurse, shoot me a DM at my Instagram or Facebook!
How Many Years of Experience Do You Need Before You Start Travel Nursing?
The minimum requirement to be a travel nurse is 1 year of experience for floor nursing and 2 years of experience for specialty nursing (i.e. OR, L&D, ICU, ED). However, I recommend taking longer if you don’t feel completely comfortable as a nurse yet. This is because once you get to your assignment, you basically have to take off on your own. Most places I’ve been to I’ve maybe gotten a day of orientation at the most just to learn their systems and rules, but I’ve also gone to other hospitals where I walk and and my orientation is, “Here is your OR room, have a nice day.” So definitely have a solid background before making that first leap into the travel world.
Which Travel Nurse Company Are You With?
When I first started travel nursing, 6.5 years ago, I had to company jump because I just didn’t feel like I was clicking with the recruiters or agencies that I was working with. They all like of felt like used car salesmen instead of someone who would have my back and be there for me if I needed them. For the past 5 years I’ve been with Travel Nurse Across America. You can search their available jobs by clicking here. If you decided to go with them drop my name, Leah Helmbrecht, and I will get a referral bonus. I wouldn’t work for them if I wouldn’t recommend them.
My recruiter for the past 5 years, Derek King
What I love about TNAA
-Communication is great! Any time I call, I actually talk to a human, instead of having to push a bunch of numbers until I get an answering machine.
– They offer Sick Pay! After working so many hours, I started accruing sick pay where I can call out 40hrs a year and still get paid! Let’s be honest, nurses get sick too!
-For every extra OT hour worked you get and extra $25
-Provide guaranteed hours
-Day 1 health insurance, 401K, and Pet insurance
-I can take 3 weeks off and remain on the insurance plan. So after each contract I don’t worry about taking off time for an extended vacation!
-They cover my pre-employment screening and any licensing or certifications I need.
-They have a housing department that can help me find a place to live.
-Gifts! After so many hours worked, I get to choose from some TNAA gear. And It’s actually things that I use! They also never forget me during holidays! #giftcards
-Pay might not be the highest, but I’ve found that I make pretty close if not more than some people who were cheated by their recruiter. I’m always given the max amount and ALWAYS paid on time!
What Questions Should I Ask When Searching For A Travel Company?
A large part of being a travel nurse is finding the right company and recruiter that is going to support you, be easily available/responsive, get you the best pay, and make sure you get all of your pre-employment covered.
When I was looking for a company here’s what I asked:
-What kind to medical insurance do you offer and does it start day 1 of my contract?
-Do you pay weekly or bi-weekly?
-Do you offer sick pay?
-Will you pay for my nursing license and certifications?
-Do you offer CEUs?
-How much travel stipend money do you offer?
-Will you cover my PPD, immunization, and drug testing?
-If I have to call out a day, what would happen?
-If I ever felt unsafe practices at a hospital and wanted to leave that assignment, what would happen?
-Do you help find housing?
-If I want to take time off in between contracts, will you still cover my health insurance?
The Breakdown Of The Money and What You Should Ask For When Signing and Extension.
Let’s talk contract extensions. Imagine there is a pot of money that the hospital gives your company. From that pot, your company takes their cut, and takes more money to pay for your license, drug testing, PPD, travel, etc. Now whatever is left gets broken down into your pay as hourly, housing, travel, meals and incidentals.
When you re-sign a contract, the company no longer has to pay for those pre screenings or travel expenses for you… THAT IS YOUR MONEY! I never re-sign a contract without getting a bump in pay or at lease a resigning bonus (however, keep in mind most bonus money gets highly taxed). So now you don’t have to wait yearly to get your raise at a permanent job, go travel and get one after 13 weeks!
How Does Health Insurance Work?
Your travel company should offer you health insurance packages. It comes out of your pay each week. If you decide to take time off, you have the option of switching to COBRA, which is the exact same health insurance, you just have to pay it up front instead of out of a paycheck. I use the same insurance card and when I start back to work, they reinstate my insurance and I just continue to use the exact same insurance card.
Do You Have To Quit Your Permanent Nursing Job In Order To Be A Travel Nurse?
You don’t… if going PRN is something your current permanent job will allow. I believe most jobs that are PRN require around 4 shifts a month. So make sure schedule time off during your assignment so you can get home to work those shifts. I know plenty of people who work three 12hr shifts for their travel job and will work with the scheduler to get off certain dates so they can go home and work their PRN job. I didn’t want to work at my perm job anymore so I said, “peace out” gave my 30 days notice and didn’t look back!
Do You Get To Make Your Own Schedule?
I am currently on my 24th contract and I can say in my experience that I have never been able to make my own schedule. We are there to help fill in the gaps. That doesn’t mean you can’t talk with the scheduler and see if certain days off are available as long as your are getting your hours in. Also, if I know there is going to be something I need to attend and need the time off, I will let them know in my interview and have my recruiter write it into my contract.
Do You Recommend Finding Your Own Housing Or Letting The Agency Find it?
For my first assignment, I had my company find my housing for me. I was stressed out about having to drive from VA to AZ and wanted to just be able to move in and not deal with any of the deposit or risk of a scam. After that first assignment I realized that taking my housing stipend was how I would make the real money because it’s tax free.
In order to qualify for tax free housing you must: Have a home base address that you pay rent to and keep belongings there, own a car and/or have a drivers license registered to that address, be registered to vote to that address, have your bank statements associated with that address, and go home 3 weeks out of the year (it doesn’t have to be consecutive weeks).
Let’s continue this conversation in the next question…
How Do Taxes Work?
The dreaded tax season… my least favorite thing to talk about, but oh so important. If you have been taking your tax free housing stipend, you may be making anywhere from $80-100,000/year. However, when you get your w-2 forms it may look like you only made $30-40,000. This is because your housing stipend is typically maxed out to ensure you make the most on your paycheck.
Let me try to explain this better: When looking at housing prices across the US, it varies drastically from state to state. The federal government has put a max on what a housing stipend may be per state. So when you are looking for housing your recruiter can max out the tax free stipend for that state and when you find something cheaper, you end up pocketing the rest of that tax free money. Now, in order to reach that tax free max, they may have to lower your hourly taxed pay. However, you don’t want to go too low with your hourly or you could end up getting audited by the IRS.
example: When I was a permanent nurse I was only making around $21/hr and to live by myself my rent was about $1000/mo. So now I would never put down that I only make $15/hr just to make the max tax free stipend. Typically I’ll have my recruiter set my hourly taxed to $21/hr and then take the rest and get as much tax free stipend that the rest of my money “pot” will give me in order to maximize my weekly paycheck. —– I hope I didn’t just confuse you more.
Who Does Your Taxes?
Typically, I just go to H&R block every year. I call ahead and explain that I’m a travel nurse and which states I need to file for in order to give that person enough time to look up the laws of those states. A better company that specifically does taxes for travel nurses is called Travel Tax. I tried to use them before, but got lazy with all of the stuff I had to collect and mail back to them… I just don’t keep a lot of the receipts they ask for.
What Are The Best Places To Find Housing?
What Are Some Other Travel Nurse Forum Sites?
Do You Get More Patient’s Because You Are The Travel Nurse?
I travel in the OR, so I wouldn’t know about the floor, but typically I think it depends on the facility. I did have one assignment where the charge nurse felt like the travelers should work more and as soon as I would get out of a surgery he would put me in another room or give me another case to do instead of the bunch of permanent staff that had been sitting in the lounge for the past hour.
Does Travel Nursing Get Lonely?
I feel like this is the #1 worry that people have about travel nursing. You pick up your life and move to a new place where you might not know anyone. Do I get lonely? Not anymore. When I first started I would miss my friends and mope around my apartment until I reminded myself that were was so much to explore and forced myself to go out a adventure on my own.
After a while I started to enjoy my own company and would go out to eat alone, but make small talk with people at the bar, or go see a movie by myself without anyone judging me that I got a popcorn, M&Ms, a giant coke, and junior mints. Once you learn to love being by yourself then having someone else there is just an added bonus. However, I do LOVE making new friends! I encourage you to ask your coworkers to hang out or if you are invited out and are really exhausted, still go out!
Is It Hard Traveling With Your Dog? What Do You Do With Her When You Work 12hr Shifts Or Go On Your Trips?
Traveling with a dog can be challenging sometimes when it comes to finding housing, but in the last 6.5 years I haven’t been homeless for an assignment, so it is doable. I won’t lie, it can get expensive and some places wont allow certain breeds or have a weight limit. Some renters require a non-refundable pet deposit, so paying $500 for 3 months seems a bid ridiculous to me. There are pros and cons to having your pet with you, but for me, I wouldn’t trade my pup for anything.
During my long shifts I will turn to dog watching or walking services like rover.com or WAG! to come to my house where I will leave a lock box outside with my key in it. You can also look up dog daycares in your area to see if they are open before you go into work and after you get out. These are all options for when you are going out of town on vacation too!
Do You Date While You Travel? How Does That Work?
I won’t pretend to be a pro at being in a relationship and traveling since in the past 6 years of travel I’ve had 1 actual relationship that crashed and burned. But the good news is, when that happened, I packed all the stuff up and moved as far away as I could and never had to see him again lol.
Not going to lie, guys get nervous when you tell them you are on a limited contract, but what is also good about this job is you can always resign your contract (up to a year in 1 state) or go permanent. So when I was in that relationship I stayed in one place for almost a year. If it had lasted I would have decided to either go permanent or just go to another state for 13 weeks and then come back. A question you have to ask yourself, “is this person someone I want to stay in one place for,” if you started to travel to see the country. Another great option is to travel together, if he has a job where he can work from home.
That is the best advice I have to offer as a single woman in her thirties. The dating world isn’t great in any state I’ve been to. I typically use the common dating apps, but get more random dick pics (that I did not request, nor invite) than phone numbers. One minute we’re talking about Antarctica and penguins and the next… BAM! DICK PIC!
Can You Do Travel Nursing Internationally?
You can, but it’s a lot more work than traveling in the US and I personally haven’t done it myself. I do know you need to apply for a nursing license in that country and apply for a work visa and then find a travel nurse company in that country too. Kay.reli did travel nursing in Australia for a while and could be a better resource. Checker her out on Instagram!
If you have any further questions, feel free to drop them in the comments below!