You can see it now: your brand new adventure as a travel nurse. Packing your suitcase and heading to new locales, all while caring for patients as a nurse. You’re ready to go! Before you dive in, there are a few things you should be aware of about starting your travel nurse application process for your first travel nurse assignment. As with any job, it’s important to have the facts and figures in front of you before you make a career decision.
5 Questions to Consider Before Beginning Your Search For for Travel Nurse Assignments
How Does Travel Nursing Work?
Travel nursing jobs offer health care professionals the opportunity to work remotely while still providing quality healthcare. They allow you to travel to different areas across the United States where there is a shortage of registered nurses. Many travel nurses choose to specialize in certain types of patients, such as pediatrics or geriatric.
The job requires someone to possess good communication skills because it involves working closely with physicians. You must be able to interact well with patients and families and provide comfort during times of stress. Some hospitals require travel nurses to undergo background checks; others do not.
How Long are Travel Nursing Assignments?
The standard travel nursing assignment lasts about 13 weeks, but anything from 8 to 26 weeks is common. Hospitals will often offer travel nurse contract extensions, too, if you want it. If you do choose to extend, make sure to ask for one early enough in your assignment so you can plan accordingly. This way, you won’t find yourself scrambling to find housing and childcare while you’re still waiting to hear back.
You don’t have to wait to be contacted by a hospital either. Recruiters typically reach out to nurses within the first few days of starting work. Once you start working there, hospitals will sometimes contact you directly to see how things are going.
Hospitals will generally pay travel nurses based on their assigned hours. But some facilities pay hourly, others monthly, and still others use a combination of both. Typically, you’ll receive a weekly paycheck each week, but again, this varies by employer.
Who Can Become a Travel Nurse?
Travel nurses are Registered Nurses (RNs) with typically 12-18 monthsof hospital-based RN experiencein their field. They are often employed full-time by agencies that recruit nurses for temporary assignments. Some travel nurses work part-time; others work full-time.
The required work experience may be shorter or longer depending on the specialty or the particular needs of the facility. A few travel nursing companies require 2 years of experience; others prefer 4-6 months.
Specialty areas include critical care, emergency medicine, labor and delivery, pediatrics, surgery, medical/surgical, orthopedics, neurology, psychiatry, urology, gynecology, neonatal, OB/GYN, and general practice.
Where can Travel Nurses Go?
Travel nursing is one of those career paths that can seem pretty far away, but once you start looking into it, there are actually plenty of opportunities around the country. And while some places like Hawaii and California may be the dream destination for many people starting out in the field, others may offer better pay and benefits.
The good news is that you don’t necessarily need to pick a specific state to find work. In fact, you can even apply online to be put on a list to receive emergency assignments. This way, if a job opens up in a city that interests you, you won’t miss out on the opportunity because you weren’t notified about it ahead of time.
Is Travel Nursing Good for Career Advancement?
Travel nursing is one of the best ways to advance your career as a registered nurse. It can increase your skillset and make you a better candidate for future nursing jobs; however, it does come with some drawbacks. For one thing, traveling often requires long hours and frequent overnight stays away from home. This can be tough on your personal life. Additionally, travel nurses are exposed to a wide range of patients and healthcare systems, which helps develop your knowledge of medical conditions and treatment options. These experiences can also improve your ability to communicate effectively with doctors and nurses, helping you become a better nurse overall.
5 Things to Know Before Starting Application Process for a Travel Nurse Assignment
1. Research travel nurse staffing agencies and recruiters
One of the best and easiest ways to dive into travel nursing is by signing on with a travel nurse agency. They can help with the travel nurse application and help you find your ideal travel nurse assignment. There are many reasons to go this route, not the least of which are the relationships agencies have with hospitals and other medical facilities. But just as all nurses are not the same, staffing agencies vary widely. Do research ahead of time into the agencies you’re considering: check their job posting sites for listings in regions where you want to work; dig into their website for any statistics, reviews, or other information.
Finally, don’t be afraid to interview the agency before sending out your travel nurse application. As much as the agency would be interviewing you, you can also ask questions and gain information to decide if a particular travel nurse agency is right for you. Interview recruiters too; these are the people with whom you’ll be working quite closely, so it’s important for you to have a significant comfort level with your recruiter (or as we call them at Nurse First, traveler advocates).
2. Get to know your taxes
As travel nurses often work in different states, and those states have different tax requirements, it’s crucial that you do your research before beginning your travel nurse job. For example, if you work primarily in one state you may be liable for that state’s income tax–regardless of whether or not that is your home state.
To that end, learn all you can about a “tax home” and how to establish yours. A “tax home” is what the Internal Revenue Service considers your primary place of residence and receiving income. Consider consulting with a tax professional for advice about this. Taking care of these details before you start traveling–and before you have to file your taxes–will save you huge headaches later on.
3. Learn how pay packages work on travel nurse assignments
As you’ve learned about travel nursing, you may have been attracted to the pay travel nurses can earn. Although it’s true that travel nurses can earn a very good income, it’s important to understand how the pay is structured. Often the “total pay” includes an hourly rate, plus stipends, per diems, and other benefits. Before you get too excited about your overall pay, be sure you understand that things like insurance premiums and housing costs could come out of your pay package, depending on the agency you work with.
As you interview staffing agencies to determine the right fit for you, ask direct and detailed questions about how their pay packages might be structured. This will help you determine if that agency–and this career–are right for you.
4. Decide where you’d like to work
Although there are no guarantees that you’ll get your first pick of travel nursing locations right off the bat, you can have some say on where you end up.
One way to go about researching locations is to look for where travel nurses are in high demand. This will increase your chances of being placed where you want. Additionally, if you have specialized certifications such as NICU or telemetry, this could also increase your chances of finding the right position in the right place.
Remember that although location is meaningful, many less attractive locales may offer higher pay and better benefits for travel nurses. Don’t discount the less popular destinations, simply because they’re not Hawaii or southern California. You never know when a seemingly unattractive assignment may have hidden gems just waiting to be discovered. Travel nursing is an adventure after all; why not embrace it?
5. Understand how travel nursing will affect your life
Most travel nurse assignments are around 13 weeks per assignment, which means that if you decide to become a travel nurse it’s possible that you’ll be away from the place you call home for a couple of months. This takes preparation.
Do you have a spouse or a partner? What about children? How will your travel nursing impact those closest to you? If you are partnered, consider an honest conversation with your partner about the effect your absence will have. And if you have children, consider their ages and whether or not there are others in your life that could help to care for them. Talk to your travel staffing agency to see if they can help you find housing that will accommodate family needs. And if you’re single, don’t discount your relationships! Friends, parents, siblings, and other connections will be affected by your absence. Take stock of what your travel will mean!
Also consider pets, plants, and the upkeep and maintenance of your permanent place of residence. Is there someone who could take care of things for you? Perhaps a high school or college student that could pet and/or plant sit, as well as collect mail and help take care of other details?
Will There Be a Demand for Travel Nurses in the Future?
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a halt to many aspects of life, including the ability to travel. But this doesn’t mean that there won’t be a continued need for travel nurses. In fact, it seems likely that the need for travel nurses will increase during the pandemic.
Nursing shortages nationwide continue to be an issue. A report from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing found that nearly one third of hospitals had nurse vacancies last year. And while the rate of new nurses joining the workforce is increasing, the rate of nurses leaving the field is outpacing that increase. This trend is expected to continue into 2021.
Additionally, there will always be natural disasters and emergencies that pop up, which will require a surge of travel nurses who can come in and help out.
As such, there is a large pool of experienced nurses looking to make the switch to another career path. These nurses could potentially fill positions in areas like home health care, hospice, long term care facilities, and emergency departments.
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Travel nursing can be a rewarding and lucrative career choice, especially if entered into with extensive information and intention. Doing your due diligence with research and forethought will help ensure that your time traveling on travel nurse assignments will be the best it can possibly be.