How do I know if I’m cut out to be a travel nurse?

You took the first step by coming to my blog and know you are at least interested in the possibility of traveling! I always tell nurses, if you are even a little bit curious, try one contract. If you have a staff job, see what the requirements are for an unpaid leave of absence, or the possibility to work per diem while you try travel nursing out. Many nurses first try traveling in their home state, as it doesn’t require a new license, and keeps them close to home. Or, jump ship and go to the opposite side of the country. Live outside of the box. You don’t know unless you try.


What qualities should a travel nurse have?

Being a travel nurse requires organization, flexibility, teamwork, an open mind, and a desire to learn (even if you did just sit through hospital orientation 3 months ago). Show appreciation and support to your new coworkers by being friendly and outgoing, even if they are not as welcoming as you expect. Be professional, and know your time is limited to 13 weeks.


Can I travel with my spouse, significant other, children, and/or pets?

Yes, yes, yes, and YES! You don’t have to be single to enjoy travel nursing, contrary to popular belief. Some travelers partner up as friends, purely for the shared housing opportunity to make more money. I even ran across a couple of travel nurses in California, who met in Denver, and ended up getting married! I travel with my wife, and also know plenty of travelers who bring their furry friends along. Some nurses leave family at home for 13 weeks to make the extra money that traveling provides, and then are able to spend a few weeks at home between assignments. Traveling with children might be more challenging, but think of all the interesting and educational places you can show your children on your days off. Homeschooling can work too if you have a spouse along. Just imagine all the possibilities!


What are the basic requirements to become a travel nurse?

Licensure as an RN with at least 1-2 years of recent inpatient hospital experience in your specialty is required. However, some companies do work with LPNs, have LTAC positions, and non-bedside positions (case management, house supervisor, etc).  For example, if you work CVICU, those skills are transferable to other ICUs like medical and surgical, but not neuro. If you work med-surg and hate it, get experience in a different area (ED, step-down, L&D) BEFORE you start traveling. That also gives you more options for assignments if you have experience in more than one specialty.


How do I obtain a nursing license in another state?

First, know if your home state is part of the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC). See the list of participating states here. Your home state is one is which you claim residence, pay taxes, and have legal ties to. If your home state is not part of the NLC, then you will apply for licensure by endorsement to each and every state you work. The basically involves paperwork and money. The costs associated with obtaining a new license are tax deductible, and can be reimbursed by the travel nursing company.


When do I apply for a new nursing license? Before or after I am submitted for a job?

It depends. Some states have “walk through” capability, meaning they can issue a license in as little as 24 hours, so it doesn’t make sense to apply for these types of licenses ahead of time. Other states, like California, have a notoriously long wait for a license (unless you fly to Sacramento to have it processed in person). In this case, if you know you want to travel to CA at any point, apply as soon as you can. My CA license is one I NEVER let lapse. Applying for, and obtaining a license before you are submitted does give you an advantage over someone with the same (or better) qualifications because you are ready to go. If you can afford to get 1-2 licenses, do it.


How do I choose a travel nursing company?

This is a highly individualized process because one company/recruiter might be a great fit for me, but not for you. There are a couple of very large companies out there that I prefer not to work with because the service doesn’t feel as personal to me, but have jobs across the country. The smaller companies might not have as many jobs, but may pay better. I suggest finding at least 2-4 companies to “interview”, and urge you to check out NATHO for a Joint Commission accredited company. Personally, I’ve worked with 7 different travel nursing companies, and there are 2-3 that I have used more than once. Some travelers find a company and recruiter they love, and stay loyal. I like to be pretty location specific for my assignments, so whoever has the best paying, dayshift assignment in a big city, that’s who I go with. You have to determine what your priorities are, and also, let your recruiter know so he/she can find the best fitting job for you.


What questions should I ask when interviewing a travel nursing company/recruiter?

See my Top Ten here (link soon).


What information will the travel nursing company want from me?

To start, the travel nursing company website will require basic contact details (name, phone, email) and a résumé. Expect a phone call the same or next business day. DO NOT complete an online profile, full application, and/or skills checklist at the beginning when you are “interviewing” the travel nursing companies. Recruiters can let you know about jobs BEFORE you give your time, but many don’t like to. Politely inform them you are searching for the right fit for you, and if the recruiter seems pissy/rude/insistent, then move on. There are hundreds of companies out there.


When can I be submitted for a job?

After you have filled out the complete online profile, skills checklists, and submitted 2 references you will be ready for job submission (requirements may vary based on company, but these are basic guidelines). Again, I recommend doing this with at least 2 different companies because each company may have different jobs. If you find the whole process overwhelming (which you will), you can stick to one recruiter at the beginning. This can be disadvantageous, but also, less stressful.


How do I find out about jobs? And how much they pay?

Your recruiter will find out your “must haves” and will then let you know about jobs that fit. Sometimes they will also tell you about a job, say, on an opposite shift, but the pay is really good. The recruiter doesn’t make money unless you take a position with their company, so they have every incentive to get you submitted to a job. Recruiters will call, text, and email about positions. I find a conversation at the beginning of a job hunt can help narrow down what I want, but then like to receive emails with new jobs after that. Regardless of how you and your recruiter are communicating, be sure to take thorough notes with a date and time, recruiter, company, hospital, city, shift (if a phone call), and also ask for the pay details in an email so you can review the numbers on your own time. Recruiters will present pay differently from one company to another, so make sure you are comparing apples to apples, i.e. one company quotes a “take home pay” of $1100/week with housing provided, another company quotes $42/hour “take home”, and even another could quote $600/week taxable & $945/week untaxed. It can be very confusing.


I’m ready to be submitted. What do I need to know?

Once your recruiter has a job you are really interested in, let them know, “I want to be submitted.” This is the first official step toward landing your dream travel contract! Let your recruiter know about any time off or vacation needs that should be included in your submission. Also, let your recruiter know NOT to submit you without your approval first. If you are working with more than one recruiter, this is especially important, as you do not want to be doubly submitted to an assignment. This can actually hurt your chances of getting the contract. I had this happen once, and will not work with that company ever again. Again, keep detailed notes of who you talked to, about what hospital, and when you were submitted to avoid any problems.


Why do different companies quote pay packages differently? How do I know how much money I’m actually going to be making?

Pay varies greatly from one state to another, with California generally being the highest pay (which is why I keep that license active). There will be “crisis rates” that come through, but usually there is more pay for a reason. The South usually pays less than anywhere else in the country. If the money seems too good to be true, ask yourself/your recruiter why. If a company is giving you the same pay rates for California and St. Louis, again, ask why? Unfortunately, there are companies and recruiters out there who know they can “get away” with giving a traveler less money, especially because it’s your first or second assignment.  You don’t know any better, and is one of the reasons why I’m here to help!

Ask for the specifics of how you will be paid: what is the taxable hourly wage? What is the daily per diem for meals and incidentals (M&I)? What is the weekly housing stipend? What type of reimbursements will I receive, and is the money taxed? If taking benefits, what is the cost to you? Once you have the the pieces separated, then you can really compare how one assignment stacks up against another. Generally you will be paid via direct deposit on a weekly basis, so taxes (I use 30% for estimates) will be taken out on less money than biweekly pay. In my experiences, I’ve made as little as $850/week (with company provided housing worth $1800/month) and as much as $1650 with everything included. Coming from a staff RN position in Michigan, this is considerably more money than I was making there ($1200/biweekly). And is also why I can’t see myself going back to a staff position anytime soon.


What questions will the manager/interviewer ask me?

First, the best part about interviewing as a travel nurse is….interviewing in your pajamas! Seriously, you don’t even have to brush your teeth if you don’t want to, but for the love of gawd, have some coffee. Expect a wide range of questions from the manager. I’ve had “standard” interview questions like, “Tell me about a time when you encountered a difficult situation with a coworker. How did you handle it?” I’ve been asked about specific IV drug infusions and dosage amounts. I’ve had managers ask me absolutely no clinical questions at all. I’ve been offered a job without interviewing (which I did not take, because how do I know if the unit would be a good fit for me??). I’ve had interviews last an hour, and some last 15 minutes. You don’t know how long the interview will last, but you do know your stuff. Be confident, sell yourself if the position sounds like a good fit for you, and the rest will fall into place.


What questions do I ask the manager/interviewer?

More info coming soon.


How long does the process take from submission to job offer?

This varies greatly. I’ve had interviews the same day as the job offer, as well as waited over a week for an interview. In general, I would say a few days up to one week. Check in with your recruiter, as they may be able to The job offer can happen the same day as your interview, just be sure to let the manager/interviewer know you are interested at the end of the interview.


What happens if I receive a job offer? Or multiple job offers?

Pick the hospital/location/unit that seems like the best fit for you based on the interview. If you interviewed for two different positions and received an offer from one, but want to hold out to see if you will get an offer from the second, be careful. In my experiences, if you have an offer, your recruiter will be hounding you. I will ask, “I’d like some time to think it over. When do you need to know?” This might buy you 24 hours, but generally not much longer. The manager has needs to fill, and if you don’t take the position, then they need to interview someone else. If you don’t accept right away, why? Did the other job sound like a better fit for you and your experiences? Did one position offer more money? Or have better hours? Or a more desirable location? Give yourself some time to think it over, but be courteous to your recruiter, and be honest with yourself. Once, I interviewed with Johns Hopkins CVICU, and because the unit paired their fresh hearts from OR, I declined the position because I was not comfortable with the staffing situation. Despite being very confident in my ability to recover fresh open-heart patients, I did so 1:1, not with another, potentially sick ICU patient to think of in the next room over.

You may even hear about a new job after you’ve interviewed and accepted a position. That’s how it always goes! Be happy with your decision, and look for your next contract in that “new and better” place.


I’ve interviewed & accepted the job. Now what?

Congratulations! And get ready for loads of paperwork! If you’ve accepted a job, you will be asked for a verbal contract while the official paperwork is prepared. You will receive an electronic contract via email and will then submit your electronic signature as legally binding.


What are the most important things to look for in my contract?

Make sure your pay information is exactly as you discussed. If not, have it corrected. Look for the hospital name, shift and hours, hours/week, and information about floating, holiday, and any schedule requests.


I’ve signed the contract. What’s next?

Compliance. Lots of compliance. Your company will generally have someone from the compliance department check in with you to get your compliance paperwork in order. This will include a physical within one year, drug screen, immunizations and titers, and more. Some items are company specific, and some, are hospital specific. The required items like the physical and drug screen your company should pay for and schedule. If there is a tight turn around time from submission to your start date, your company can find a location while you’re on the road. There may be modules to complete, a few more forms to sign, and some online testing. This is all normal, but adds to the stress of packing up and heading to your new assignment.


How do I organize all of my documents?

Start putting together a file system, whether paper or electronic. I personally have an accordion file folder, but also have a printer/copier/scanner that I take with me so I can scan and email my documents. This includes evaluations and performance reviews, BLS and ACLS cards, medical records such as titers and immunization records, as well as receipts for anything related to licensure, postage, mileage, etc.


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