Nurses who decide to become traveling nurses often do so as a way to increase their income. There are many options when you work on a contract basis as a travel nurse. You can moonlight by working locally on your days off, commute to a nearby town or relocate to another area for extended periods of time.
Where to Look
There are several healthcare employment agencies that specialize in travel nursing. They function as placement services, matching healthcare facilities that utilize travel nurses on an ongoing or temporary basis with nurses who are seeking travel employment opportunities.
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Cross Country TravCorps
Cross Country Travcorps hires RNs and Certified Surgical Technologists. The agency offers a Guaranteed Pay assignment program throughout the United States so you're ensured of being paid once you've committed to the assignment.
- Shift differentials and completion bonuses
- $500 bonus upon completion of certain assignments
- Referral bonus of $500
- Mileage reimbursement
- Subsidy (lodging) stipend paid every two weeks (regardless if you rent or stay with relatives or friends)
- Free private housing if traveling alone
Expedient Medstaff is a nurse-owned and operated staffing firm and advertises top pay for travel nursing jobs. You can search jobs by discipline and specialty. Check-in often since the job listing is updated daily.
- Assignment lengths: 4 to 52 weeks
- Free private furnished housing, which includes housewares and generous utilities allowance
- Blue Cross health benefits
- Tax Advantage Program
- Top travel nursing destinations listing
American Mobile Healthcare
American Mobile Healthcare has a national reach of some of the best hospitals and medical facilities. Nurses are eligible for several bonuses, including a completion bonus that can be between $500 to $6,000, depending on the contract. Most jobs require a minimum of 18 months experience, but some specialties, such as Med-Surg, Psych and Rehab require a minimum of two years.
- $1,000 referral cash bonus
- 24-hour support
- 401(k) retirement plan and company matching program
- Credentialing assistance
- Daily meal allowance and incidentals
- Discounted tuition rates
- Free continuing education
- Free, private quality housing
- Guaranteed Pay program
- Housing and travel
- Incentive programs
- Insurance benefits
- Travel reimbursement
Additional Travel Nurse Agencies
Other travel nurse agencies include:
- Onward Healthcare, formerly Medical Express, has relationships with over 4,000 healthcare facilities in US and has thousands of travel nurses on assignments in all 50 states.
- Flying Nurses International fills a different need for travel nurses for international commercial airlines medical escort services.
- Worldwide Travel Staffing seeks nurses for its "hot jobs" located in St. Croix, St. Thomas, Guam and Saudi Arabia.
- Nurses RX serves all 50 states with thousands of travel nurses working in regions where there are tropical beaches, majestic mountains and red-rock deserts.
- RN Network advertises as one of the largest U.S. travel nursing companies and is recognized as "the industry's gold standard."
20-Year Veteran Travel Nurse Shares Insight
It helps to hear from someone who has performed the job you're considering. Travel nurse Darryl Silwedel began traveling as a nurse 20 years ago and never looked back. Although he's based out of North Carolina, he has traveled across the U.S. in pursuit of his profession and has enjoyed the diverse landscape and workscape.
"I have worked many assignments in California, mostly in the LA metro area and the SF Bay Area. Other areas I have worked are Kingman and Yuma, AZ, Northern Virginia and Texas. The majority of my contracts however, have been in North Carolina, Kingsport TN, Columbia, SC and Raleigh/Durham, NC at Duke University Hospital."
As a travel nurse you can decide which contracts you take. Maintaining a close working relationship with your agency recruiter will ensure you are informed of available opportunities, so you can plan your next assignment.
Work Less Make More Money
You may decide to start out on a part-time basis to get the feel of working on contract, especially if you've always worked as a direct hire with a hospital or clinic. "For the first year or so, I would work intensively for 4-6 weeks at a time in California, then come back home for a month or so. Overall, I worked a little less, but earned a significantly higher income," Silwedel explains.
You don't have to travel across country to work as a travel nurse. After a year, Silwedel returned home and began traveling locally, "This meant I worked contracts close enough to home where I would commute daily." If the hospital was too far for a daily commute, he would stay out-of-town on his days. His housing and travel expenses were covered by the agency.
How Much Can You Make?
Most agencies advertise that you can earn up to twice your regular income, depending on your specialty and the region of the country where you work. This is especially true if you move from a non-union region to a unionized one, such as California where the pay scale is significantly higher. With the increased cost of living covered by the agency, it's a good way to earn more money and see new areas of the country. When you add in the premiums a travel nurse receives, it's easy to see how your income can increase rapidly when you become a travel nurse.
Silwedel verifies this is certainly possible, "Take-home pay, given the higher pay rate plus the tax advantages afforded, is typically double for me compared to if I were a full-time, benefited staff member at a local area hospital. The overall compensation package for the short-term EMR contracts I have been involved in, compared to traditional 13-week contracts, are higher paying."
To sweeten the pot, Silwedel says that travel nurses, "are usually guaranteed 48 work week hours (four 12 hour shifts), as opposed to the usual 36 hours per week."
Credentials Needed to Qualify
You need very few additional credentials if you're a Registered Nurse (RN). Silwedel advises, "All nurses must be Basic Life Support (BLS) certified." If you're a critical care nurse, you'll be required to have at least two years of experience in an acute care. "I work mostly in critical care areas and am required to maintain my Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) certification," Silwedel says.
You may not need additional licensing. Silwedel's state, North Carolina, is a compact state, which means his license is recognized and accepted for practice in 24 states.
The NCSBN (National Council of State Boards of Nursing) maintains information about which states require separate licensing and which ones are compact states and how you can become licensed to practice in those, too.
Economic Impact and Job Future
"There are still many opportunities in travel nursing, although not as prolific as before the economic bubble burst," Silwedel shares.
As with other industries, he's seen Health Care Organizations (HCOs) tightened their belts. Many have creatively filled their staffing needs internally. He's also seen retired nurses rejoining the workforce. Both of these factors have significantly impacted the travel nurse industry.
For example, Silwedel used to work 13-week contracts which were standard for the industry, but he's seen those norms change in just the past year as hospitals and clinics prepare for the changes ObamaCare is bringing to the industry. "I have been working 3-6 week contracts for client facilities that are undergoing system-wide computer conversions, implementations or upgrading their existing electronic medical records (EMR) systems. HCOs and physicians must implement EMRs by 2014, otherwise Medicare reimbursements will be progressively cut each year until they are compliant."
The forced conversions presents a two-edged sword for the medical profession that's already suffering from budget cuts. "They can't afford any further cuts in an already tight market, so they're scrambling to digitize or upgrade," Silwedel states.
He's seen an increase in staffing of hospitals and clinics but only for brief periods as they work on the EMR systems. He says that the added staff ensures the hospital's level of patient care isn't negatively impacted.
Best Paying Regions
Larger cities will pay more as will certain regions of the country. Silwedel says, "If you are in a high cost-of-living area, such as NYC or much of CA, staff members actually earn much more than travelers, and as much as 100-200% more depending on locale, as I could earn on staff here in NC. So, if you're from the South or a rural area, and start traveling, you'll smile at your paycheck. If you're from a higher paying area, be prepared to adjust your standard of living."
"Nursing unions are big on the west coast and in the northeast, and labor disputes are an ongoing reality, often resulting in strike actions. Working a strike is the most lucrative form of travel nursing, typically paying $1,000 for each twelve hour shift worked."
Registering With an Agency
Keep in mind that no two travel nursing companies function the same way, so when you start investigating potential agencies, check out the different options available so you can decide which agencies are the best fit for your particular situation. Most travel nurses sign up with more than one agency to ensure they have consistent work.
Avoid any agency that requires you pay a fee in order to receive information about their travel nursing career opportunities. Ask any potential agency for referrals so you can talk with nurses working for them. If you use common sense as with any potential job, you'll be on your way to an exciting new career.