5 Things To Know Before Accepting A Travel Nursing Assignment

Whether you’re a newbie in the travel nursing world or you have several years of experience under your belt, it’s important to stay at the top of your game. Being a travel nurse means taking risks, especially if you’re taking a contract somewhere that may be unfamiliar.

Even though there are lots of unknowns, pursuing a career as a travel nurse certainly has its perks. The key to ensuring that you're saying “yes” to the right contract is getting prepared – what you should know before accepting an assignment, what questions to ask your travel nurse recruiter, and how to plan for when you’ll be away from home.

1. Nurse Licensure and Documentation

In order for a recruiter to submit you for a travel nurse contract, there are a number of required documents that you'll need to have at the ready. For example, nurses will need to have an active license in the state where they want to take a contract, or a valid multi-state license (if the desired state is part of the Nurse Licensure Compact, or NLC). 

LPNs and RNs will need to show proof of their Basic Life Support, a TB test, a physical and select immunization records.

Additionally, you will need to have professional references. Typically, travel nurse agencies will ask for names and contact information for at least two past supervisors. Many hospitals will require that the recruiting firm contact references prior to moving forward with interviews or potential contract offers.

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2. Understanding Pay Packages and Financial Preparedness

Pay packages can be complicated. You'll see RN contract pay posted in different ways. Terms to be familiar with include: hourly rate, taxed versus untaxed, stipend, weekly gross, or blended rate.

An hourly rate is taxed, while a travel stipend is completely untaxed. Stipends are to be used to cover housing, meals and incidentals for the duration of a travel nurse job. 

Weekly gross is a cumulative total of the untaxed hourly rate and weekly stipend. For example, if a travel nurse contract pays $50/hour untaxed, and the weekly stipend is $1,500, a travel RN can expect the weekly gross pay to $3,500. ($50 X 40 hours worked per week, plus the $1,500 stipend). 

A blended rate is when a travel nurse recruiter calculates the weekly gross total, and the divides that sum by the hours worked in a week. Using the example above -- the weekly gross pay is $3,500. If we divide $3,500 by 40 (for 40 hours worked in a week), the blended hourly rate would be $87.50. This can be a little tricky for those who are new to the travel world, because they might think that the $87.50/hour is untaxed, which is incorrect.

Before accepting an offer, it's critical to make sure you're financially ready to travel.  Plan to have enough money to cover expenses for at least the first seven days of your assignment. This includes  housing, groceries, rental car, gas, and any miscellaneous spending on activities. 

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Travel nurses won't receive their paychecks and stipends right away, so it's important to have some savings allotted for the first 7-10 days on contract.

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3. Ask The Right Questions Before Accepting An Assignment

Not sure what you should be asking? We talked with experienced travel nurses about what questions they ask their recruiters before they accept a contract. Here's what they said:

1. Is there a set schedule?
2. Will there be a mix of 8-hour and 12-hour shifts?
3. Is block scheduling an option?
4.  Will I have to do rotating shifts, or mandatory rotating weekends?
5. Are there guaranteed hours?
6. Is there an option to extend my contract beyond the original end date?

1. What is the cancellation policy, if the building cancels my contract once I arrive?
2. Is there an inclement weather policy?
3. Is there a policy about acting as a float nurse? Would I have to float from unit to unit?

Pay Packages
1. Will there be overtime (OT) available, and what's the OT rate?
2. Is there holiday pay? What is the rate? 
3. Will the stipend amount vary throughout the months? 

Agency Perks
1. Will I earn PTO?
2. Do I get benefits like medical insurance?
3. Do you offer licensure reimbursement?

Clinical Questions
1. What is the nurse-to-patient ratio on this unit?
2. What type of charting system is used? 

Many hospitals use Epic or Cerner for their Electronic Health Records platforms, while long-term care or skilled nursing facilities use Point Click Care (PCC). Though uncommon, there are still facilities that utilize paper charting, especially in the more rural areas. 

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4. How To Get Ready For Your Travel Nurse Contract

Travel nursing assignments can range anywhere from 30 days to 13 weeks. Here are a few things to take care of before packing your bags:

  • Research options for forwarding your mail
  •  Pause any monthly subscriptions where packages arrive at your doorstep
  • Check the weather for your destination - make your packing list accordingly
  • Set your thermostat according to the season (if you're leaving in winter, consider lowering your thermostat to 65 degrees to save money on energy costs)
  • If you take prescription medications, make sure you contact your pharmacy or provider to see about getting a 90-day supply, or more
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5. Read The Fine Print

Before signing your contract, always double check the details. Employment contracts are binding agreements amongst all parties involved -- that includes you (the contract employee), the travel nursing agency, and client building.

Remember, there are ways to negotiate before signing the dotted line.

Pay attention to the following details of your contract:

  • Start date and end date
  • Contract cancellation penalties
  • Effective date of  medical insurance, if applicable
  • Hourly rate and overtime (OT) rate
  • Stipend amounts per week (they can vary by month)
  • Consequences for missed hours
It's a good idea to keep a printed copy of your contract on-hand, as well as having it easy accessible digitally in case any issue arises.

As a contract employee, you must be your own advocate. If something doesn't make sense or seems incorrect, reach out to your recruiter directly. Ask for a breakdown. If you receive your information via phone call, always ask for a follow-up email or text. Get that explanation in writing so you can refer back to it, if needed.

Remember, there are thousands of experienced travel nurses nationwide. Before embarking on your next journey, be sure to join a few Facebook groups to grow your professional network, get tips from the pros, and learn about the latest trends in travel nursing.


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