Kelli Leach
Kelli Leach
November 4, 2016 - 8 min read

Choosing the Right Travel Nursing Assignment

This is definitely a loaded topic because the answer is different for everyone.  When we first started traveling, we chose assignments almost solely on location. We had a list of places we wanted to live in during our travel nursing career and that dictated our decision making.

Last year, however, we became pregnant and decided we wanted to get out of debt fast so we made our decisions solely on pay rate. We literally lived in a location that I said we would never live because the pay was great (it ended up not being so bad of a location after all). And now this year, with a baby, our decision making process has shifted yet again.

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The Many Factors that Play into Choosing the Right Travel Nurse Assignment

For us, the two main factors when making a decision on how to choose the right travel nurse assignment are 1) location and 2) money. Of course other factors come in to play too. For instance, my husband (Skyler) only works day shift CVICU or ICU – period. So being that specific off the top automatically weeds out many potential job opportunities. At first, recruiters hated working with him on the day shift only thing because it is very limiting. But we stuck to our guns and accepted that being that specific did limit our opportunities significantly.

But for us, it was worth it. We don’t even consider night shift positions anymore. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we know many nurses that only work night shift contracts because it can pay better. Obviously contract dates also play a role in choosing an assignment. Whatever job you take has to fit into your schedule. We were looking at a position just today actually that we were very interested in but the start date overlaps with our current contract so unfortunately, it’s was a no-go.

Other factors that can play a role would be the hospital itself and/or agency loyalty. We have turned down contracts just because of the reputation of the hospital before, so that does have some pull. Likewise, maybe there is a prestigious facility you have always dreamed of working for.

That could certainly sway your decisions. Also, some travelers are loyal to one agency and/or recruiter, so they only choose assignments that that particular agency offers. We work with several agencies so that isn’t an issue for us, but if it comes down to a couple of different positions to decide between, we do have agencies and recruiters we prefer working with, so that can sway our decision.

Money Talks

But like I said, location and money are the biggies for us. I am a numbers oriented person. I keep our budget on an Excel spreadsheet and with that I have figured what our minimum weekly take home pay can be for us to live the way we want to live. If an assignment doesn’t stack up to that minimum pay, no matter how bad we want to go to that location, we pass it up.

And likewise, a contract that pays exceptionally well will be weighted more heavily than one that does not.

Location, Location, Location

For us location plays a very important role. We started travel nursing to see the country. Others travel with the intentions of making lots of money, so their guidelines for choosing an assignment are quite different from ours I would say (although ours are shifting a bit these days too).

For us, we typically email our recruiters when we are looking for our next assignment with a list of locations we are interested in moving to. For instance, right now we are looking for Raleigh, NC or Charleston, SC as our first choices; but would consider Chicago, IL or maybe Nashville, TN or anywhere that pays exceptionally well. So I guess you could say that is our starting place when seeking out a new assignment.

on assignment travel nursing


From there, our recruiters will email/call us with possibilities and then we weigh each of our options out and make a decision on which assignment(s) to apply for. Our current assignment was actually about to end and so we were going through this process but nothing was currently available that we felt was better than our current assignment, so we chose to extend here a few more weeks to give us more time to keep looking.

We are hoping that in the next few weeks either one of our preferred locations will open up or something very high paying will become available. In the meantime, we keep looking…

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Q: What are some things to consider when choosing an assignment?

A: When choosing a travel nurse assignment, you first need to figure out what is important to you. Why have you chosen to travel? Is it money? To see Hawaii? To live near family? To work for a particular hospital? You need to have a clear understanding on what motivates you to uproot your life and begin this nomadic lifestyle.

Q: What are some things to avoid when choosing an assignment?

A: Don’t let a recruiter pressure you into making a decision you don’t feel comfortable with. Of course, you have to be flexible to be a travel nurse, but that doesn’t mean you have to abandon all of your goals for doing this in the first place. Be very clear about what is important to you and stick to that. There is a fine line between being flexible and being a push over.

When we were seeking out our first a travel nurse assignment our recruiter at the time told us about an opportunity that we weren’t really interested in. She tried telling us that nothing else would come along and that since he was a first time traveler if he didn’t take this one she wouldn’t be able to place him, blah, blah, blah. We said that it’s okay and that we still weren’t interested and to let us know if something else did open up. And go figure, something we were interested in became available the following week.  Don’t be afraid to turn down an assignment, another one is right around the corner.

Q: Can I request certain assignments (location, specialty, etc)?

A: Absolutely! Not only can you, you should! You will have to have significant experience in your specialty so that is a given. Skyler is a CVICU nurse; however he will take general ICU jobs and the occasional Neuro ICU position. Other than specialty though, you can request whatever it is you are looking for. It may or may not be available, but it is always a good starting place. Maybe they don’t have the specific city you are requesting but one an hour or two away. Maybe that will work for you, maybe it won’t. It’s all up to you really.

Q: Are there any red flags I should be on the lookout for when offered an assignment?

A: Trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right to you, trust that and move on…something else will become available. Also, make sure to get everything in writing. That way if once you do get to an assignment and it isn’t what you were promised, you have some recourse. Also, be weary of pay packages that seem off. I am not a tax expert, but some companies play with their pay packages (what is and isn’t taxable) too much to make us comfortable. If you are weary about something ask an expert and/or pass up that particular opportunity.

Q: Is the length of an assignment negotiable?

A: Most of the time, yes. Most assignments will have a specific length of time they are looking for a nurse to commit (often 13 weeks).  This typically isn’t set in stone. We have asked to have the length of a travel contract adjusted several times and I don’t think it’s ever been an issue. Also, extensions are almost always a possibility. But say you know you only have 10 weeks available before you have another commitment, or you really would like to stay 16 weeks to get you through to a certain date, it can’t hurt to ask. If they want you they will usually work with you on assignment length

Something else you can do is ask for time off mid-contract (during the negotiating process). Last spring we knew we wanted to fly home for Mother’s Day to tell our moms that we were expecting. So in our extension contract we negotiated that week off (and even worked out an interim travel bonus to help pay for the trip).

Q: What can I negotiate in a contract? What are some uncommon things that can be requested?

A: Almost everything is negotiable, in theory. The pay package is just that, a package. So your recruiter can often shift the numbers around for you to tailor a package more toward your needs. Say your recruiter presents you with an assignment and you like it but there is something about it you would like to adjust; talk to your recruiter about that and s/he will either tell you 1) s/he can fix it for you, 2) s/he needs to speak with the account manager to see if it can be changed, 3) tell you to talk to the nurse manager about it during an interview, or 4) tell you it is non-negotiable. Here are some things we have negotiated in the past.

  • Housing Upgrades – W/D in unit, 2 bedroom, TV in package, assigned parking space, etc.
  • Shift – Sometimes a job is posted for D/N rotate or night shift only and Skyler will speak with the hiring manager about the possibility of a day shift position. Usually they can’t change this because they post what their specific need is. But occasionally if they really like him and they have some wiggle room they will take him on as a day shifter.
  • Start/End Dates – As I said above, we have negotiated this many times. Although end date is usually easier to negotiate than start date.
  • Time Off During Assignment – If you know in advance you will need specific dates off during an assignment it is very important to negotiate this into your contract.
  • Pay Rate – My mom had some luck recently negotiating a higher hourly rate. We have never had luck with that, but some higher demand specialties might.
  • How the Pay Package is Allocated – Our recruiter knows that we don’t like bonuses. They are taxed very high, so we prefer to roll any bonus money into travel or housing which is tax free.

Communication is Key

When it comes to choosing ‘the right’ travel nurse assignment, there is no right or wrong way to do it. It all depends on your personal preferences as a traveler and of course, what is available at the time. When there are a slew of positions currently available for your specialty you have much more room to be choosy. But when the pickins’ are more limited, you are stuck with choosing from what is open. As always, just be honest and upfront with your recruiter about what motivates you to travel. If it’s to make a bunch of money, they know to only contact you about high paying positions. If it’s to live in specific locations, they know to keep an eye out for those cities. If you are wanting to be a local traveler and stay near family, they know to alert you when something near home opens up. Just be clear on why you are traveling and make your decisions based on that. 

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