10 things I wish I knew before becoming a travel nurse
Becoming a travel nurse is an exciting new adventure. However, there are a lot of components that make up the full travel nursing experience. We want to prepare you to the best of our abilities with this list of 10 things nurses have said they wish they knew before becoming a travel nurse!
Read Your Full Travel Contract
This is not exciting, but it is necessary. You’ll want to make sure to read AND understand your contract. Ensure what you asked for has been honored, like pay, and requested time off. Your contract contains reimbursements, float and cancellation policies, shift times, and the specific unit you will be working on. If you have any questions or concerns with your contract, ask your recruiter can fix or explain clauses. Once you sign your contract you agree to all the conditions and policies in the contract.
Make Sure to Understand Nurse Housing and Housing Stipends
When a travel nurse receives housing “provided” by a travel agency, like Nurses PRN, it goes in the agency’s name. However, it is ultimately coming out of your pay package. It is true housing is not free, and if it is, then it is probably too good to be true.
Nurses PRN does not upcharge any housing, but some agencies might. When a traveler lets a travel agency know what they’re looking for (house, apartment, studio, cabin, rent a room in a house, etc) a Housing Coordinator sends options of what is available for where they are traveling and the traveler decides which housing they’d like to go with. So it’s all their choice, Nurses PRN doesn’t pick it for them.
Oftentimes it is beneficial for the traveler to take the housing stipend instead of having a travel agency do housing and here’s why:
Say your housing stipend is $625/wk and your meals and incidentals stipend is $275, totaling $900 tax-free per week. The housing you found that you really like is $1250/month, which comes to roughly $282.26 per week. If you took that same housing option but had Nurses PRN put it in their name, you would no longer be eligible for the housing amount tax-free, so we would max out the meals and incidentals stipend (IRS guidelines standard is $385/wk). Now instead of getting $900 tax-free, you would only be eligible to receive up to $385 tax-free. If there is any money left to go to the nurse, this would have to be a taxable amount.
Make Sense of Taxes
To begin, we are not tax professionals and would advise any nurse to consult a tax professional for information. What we DO know is that firstly, a nurse is only eligible for tax-free money if they are “duplicating living expenses”—there is no “distance rule”. This is what the IRS considers qualification for receiving tax-free money.
Secondly, a travel nurse can receive tax-free money for UP TO one year at the same hospital. If they stay longer than a year, they would lose their eligibility for tax-free money. The IRS now considers this their permanent residency. Make sure to understand your tax situation with your recruiter before signing on that dotted line.
Research Your Contract Location before You Get There
This may seem obvious, but it may surprise you how many variables change just by crossing a state border. Before packing your clothes, check the averages for temperature and weather patterns for your area. If you’ve traveled in the Midwest around fall it may surprise you how quickly the crisp autumn mornings turn to a snow blizzard!
Understanding the price of food, entertainment, and taxes of your location can help you budget for your stay. It also allows you to arrive with realistic expectations. It’s also just fun to create a bucket list of what you want to eat and places you want to explore!
Learn From Experienced Travel Nurses
Going from a staff nurse to becoming a travel nurse is a totally different ball game. A new traveler never knows exactly what to expect while travel nursing for the first time, no matter how much research is conducted. Chatting with experienced travelers is the best way to gain nuggets of information you can’t find from a quick Google search. We always recommend finding a veteran travel nurse who you get along with well, and have them be your nurse mentor!
Don’t Over Pack
This is a mistake many first time travelers make. Nothing is more of a pain in the butt than moving objects you haven’t used from one location to the next every 13 weeks. For a packing guideline read 5 Tips for Packing for a 13 Week Travel Contract.
Pick a Travel Agency for the Recruiter
We’ve heard from a handful of nurses that they were first attracted to the big-name agencies when they first started traveling. However, once they talked with a recruiter they felt like just another number. A bad recruiter experience can spoil the entire travel nursing and agency experience.
Don’t let that happen. Shop around for recruiters that you feel a connection to who is trustworthy, caring, and bound and determined to get you the best contract out there!
Don’t Burn Bridges
No matter how badly you dislike your current contract, finish it out the best you can. After all, you only have committed to 13-weeks at the placement. A bad experience with your temporary employer can ruin your chances of having positive recommendations for other jobs in the future.
In the agency world if you ghost your recruiter long enough, do a poor job at your placement, or leave the agency with a burned bridge the agency and entire hospital system can blacklist your name as a “Do Not Hire”. This cuts nurse’s chances of ever going back to that system or agency to nearly zero.
If your heart isn’t in a contract let your recruiter know beforehand so you can perform your best with the passion and heart we know you possess.
Don’t Assume You Know New Hospital Procedure
Every single hospital is different and runs with different procedures and unspoken rules. You are already the new kid on the floor so saying something like, “Well, at my home hospital we do it this way…” will only irritate your coworkers. Instead ask questions your first day, even if they may seem obvious, so you know exactly what is expected of you and how the floor functions.
Always Be Ready For the Unexpected
Unfortunately, shifts and contracts can get canceled and if that happens it is never fun. Your recruiter will of course move mountains to ensure you keep working but if that fails you need a backup plan. We recommend to always have 3 months of income saved away for cases of emergency.
We hope these 10 tips have helped you get a better idea of what to expect in the travel nursing world. Many of our tenured nurses have expressed these as the bits of information they knew before becoming a travel nurse. Follow this as a guideline but remember to always be upfront with your recruiter, try to absorb as much knowledge from veterans as possible, and always read and understand your contract and housing stipends before signing on the dotted line. Have more questions on travel nursing? We’re happy to chat with you!