Travel Nursing Companies & Agencies : How to Pick the Best Company
From the day I got out of nursing school, I wanted to be a travel nurse. The excitement of being able to really experience a city and its culture while getting paid at the same time seemed absolutely brilliant.
I met several travel nurses while working at my staff job in Denver and took every opportunity to pick their brains. I usually asked them the basic questions like who did they work for? Where did they like working the best? Did they get benefits?
I did a little of my own research but nothing too extensive; I tend to be one of those people who just jumps in thinking that I will figure things out as I go.
The company I chose to go with was based on a referral from a travel nurse I worked with. She told me the housing was good, she liked her recruiter and that she would get a referral bonus.
The next day I called them up and before I knew it I was heading to Texas. The sooner you find the right company, the faster you can start traveling.
Know Your Needs Before You Search for the Right Travel Nurse Company
When I look back at my travel experience I have to say that it was pretty amazing and I really didn’t have any problems at all, but I do wish I did a little more research and asked a few more questions.
When looking for the best travel nursing company to suit your needs you first have to know what your needs are. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when considering travel nursing companies:
- Are you going to need health insurance?
- How important is it that you contribute to your retirement?
- Do you prefer to find your own housing or do you want your company to find it for you?
- Where are you looking to travel?
- How do you plan on getting there?
- Do you plan on working per diem as well?
What to Look for in Travel Nursing Agencies
When looking into travel nurse agencies you should first make sure that they provide the basics: free housing or a housing stipend, health and dental insurance, a retirement plan, travel reimbursement, 24-hour customer support, and a variety and abundance of travel nursing jobs all over the country.
Here are a few tips from my experience about the basics:
- Housing: I personally found it much easier to have my agency set up my housing for me. This way I knew it was safe, furnished, close to where I was working, and paid for. If there were any problems all I had to do was call my company and it would be handled. Many people choose to find their own housing and take the housing stipend instead. Your housing stipend depends on the city you live in but tends to be more than the rent you end up paying. This is a good way to make some extra tax free cash. The downside is that it is hard to find short-term furnished housing. Many times the landlords require a deposit and if you end up extending your contract, it’s not guaranteed that your landlord hasn’t rented out the place to someone else. If you have never been to that city before, it can also be tough to determine whether the neighborhood is safe or not.Another thing to keep in mind, if you are traveling with a pet it may make it difficult to find your own housing. Often times, travel nurse companies have housing already contracted that accept pets. My general recommendation is that if you are bouncing around from city to city then it would be best to utilize your agency for housing or stay with someone you know and take the stipend. If you find yourself wanting to stay in a city and have become familiar with its neighborhoods, then it would be worth it to find your own housing.
- Benefits: The majority of travel nurse companies offer health and dental insurance. Now that the Affordable Care Act is in place, it might be wise to research whether or not it would be more cost effective for you to go with your agency’s healthcare plan or purchase one of your own through healthcare.org. The benefit of going through healthcare.org is that if you do plan on switching travel nurse companies, you won’t have to change your insurance. Some smaller travel nurse companies will give you a healthcare stipend if you don’t take their health insurance so you can purchase your own. As far a retirement plans go, I decided to open up my own Roth IRA and not contribute to the 401K because I didn’t know how long I was going to be traveling. With some companies you can contribute to your 401K from day 1 and with others you have to wait as long as 1 year.
- Travel Reimbursements: When talking with your potential travel nurse company, make sure you ask them what the reimbursement is for travel. “Travel” cost is considered the amount of money it takes you to get from your “tax home” to your travel assignment or from one assignment to the next. Often times this can be negotiated if there is a high need in one state that happens to be across the country. I have found that the average reimbursement is $500. They will pay you half on your first paycheck and the other half when you complete your assignment. You have the option of either driving or flying to your next destination. I personally drove to each of my assignments; I couldn’t imagine trying to fit all my belongings into suitcases and I love road trips.
Important Questions to Ask:
Not all benefits or pay packages are created equal. It is important to find an agency that offers benefits, housing and pay packages that are specific to your needs.
1. What destinations does your agency serve?
The whole point of travel nursing is to travel…right? So it is important to find a company that serves the city or cities you want to travel to. Some agencies claim they have contracts nationwide, however, that may not be the case.
If you know of a specific hospital that you would like to travel to because it looks good on your resume or a specific city you want to explore, then make sure your potential agency has a contract at that location. This is especially important if you want to travel to places such as Hawaii and Alaska.
2. How are your pay packages broken down?
Does the company tend to pay a higher base rate with lower non-taxable reimbursements or a lower base rate with higher non-taxable reimbursements?
Having a higher base rate may serve you better if you plan on taking company housing, plan on buying a house or getting a loan in the near future. If you are someone who likes to find their own housing, then a higher housing stipend may be the way to go with a lower base rate.
3. What types of housing do you provide?
Most agencies offer a one bedroom furnished apartment for your typical 13-week contract. This typically does not include dishes, linen, a washer and dryer, a T.V. or even a vacuum. If you don’t like lugging your belongings around with you all over the country or paying out of pocket to rent this stuff, then it may be wise to ask if the agency provides any of these necessities at no cost.
If your contract is only eight weeks then you will most likely get stuck in an extended stay hotel. I personally like to have nice housing so I wanted a company that focused on providing comfortable and safe housing options. If you like to find your own housing then this may not apply to you.
4. What type of benefits do you offer?
Most agencies offer medical/dental benefits and a retirement package. If these benefits are important to you than finding a company with good benefits is essential.
If you like to live on the edge with no health benefits and you brush and floss your teeth like a champ then maybe you don’t care about benefits. If this is the case then you can ask the company if they are willing to pay you a higher base rate for not taking their benefits.
As far as retirement packages go, I found it easier to do my own Roth IRA on the side, this way if I switched companies I didn’t have to worry about moving my money all over the place.
5. What types of extra work related costs do you reimburse for?
Examples include licensing fees, CEU (Continuing Education) requirements, bus passes, Certifications, Uniforms and required immunizations?
Some agencies have a CEU database that is free for their employees. This helps cut costs in those states that require a certain number to maintain or acquire a new license.
These extra costs add up over time so it’s nice to know your agency is looking out for your pocket book.
6. What are your missed and canceled shift policies?
A missed shift means you called in sick and a canceled shift means they canceled you for low census. For the most part, the hospital determines how the agency handles this and it will be written in your contract.
This is important because in the traveling world if you don’t work then you don’t get paid and in some cases, you may have to reimburse your agency for housing costs.
There may be a clause written in your contract that allows you to “miss” a certain amount of shifts without being penalized. There will also be a clause that states how many shifts the hospital can cancel you; usually, it’s once a pay period and your agency shouldn’t require you to reimburse them for housing costs.
There are even some agencies that offer 100% guaranteed shifts meaning no matter what you will not get canceled.
Other questions you may want to ask:
- What is the travel reimbursement?
- How much will health insurance cost me?
- If I don’t take the health insurance, do I get a healthcare stipend?
- When can I start contributing to my 401K?
- Are there bonuses for extending assignments?
- How often do I get paid?
- Does the company also contract per diem work?
- Do they offer paid time off?
- Are there any bonuses available?
Top Travel Nurse Agencies
Here are a list and highlights of a few travel nursing companies to consider: All of these companies offer the basics such as housing, benefits, travel reimbursement, staffing in all 50 states, and 24-hour customer support.
|RNnetwork||Established almost 20 years ago. Offers customized pay, day one benefits, 401(k) contributions, 24/7 clinical support, and license reimbursement. Founded on the principle of personalized service. Owned by CHG Healthcare Services—one of the nation’s largest healthcare staffing companies.|
|Jackson Nursing||Founded in 2006. Emphasizes volunteerism amongst their staff. They offer medical mission opportunities. They also staff government agencies such as the VA, Department of Defense Medical treatment centers, Indian Health Services, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.|
|Aureus Medical Group||Established over 25 years ago. One of the largest in the nation. They have a student outreach program for new nurses. They also offer tuition reimbursement for up to $12,000 as well as paid time off (PTO) after working 2,080 hours.|
|Trustaff||Established roughly 10 years ago. They staff everyone from secretaries to engineers. They offer PTO, sign on and extension bonuses as well as licensure reimbursement.|
|AYA||Established 2001. Staffs multiple healthcare professionals. They also contract per diem work. You can see some of their nurses on MTV’s “Scrubbing In” TV show.|
|Nightingale Nursing||Offers immediate 401K contribution as well as extension bonuses. They also offer per diem work.|
|Mellenia Medical Staffing||Established in 1998. The offer contracts for government facilities such as the VA, Department of Defense medical centers, Indian Health Services, and The Federal Bureau of Prisons in addition to standard travel assignments.|
|Sagent||Established 2001. Offers immediate 401K contribution. Offers license reimbursement as well as VisaScreen and NCLEX-RN exam reimbursement for international travelers.|
|Trinity Healthcare Staffing Group||Established 1999 by a travel nurse who wanted to increase professionalism in the industry. They offer positions in all 50 states and take care of the ground work of securing a position and working out compensation and benefits.|
There are a number of travel nursing companies to choose from. Finding the best travel nursing company that fits your needs and a recruiter that has your best interests in mind are absolutely essential for an enjoyable travel nursing experience. The initial paperwork that needs to be completed in order to enter into this profession is extensive. The benefit of making the best decision right away means less paperwork in your future – and we all know that nurses always appreciate less paperwork! The right company for you is out there, now is the time to find them!
By Crystal Gustafson, RN
Crystal Gustafson is a Critical Care Registered Nurse who spent time as a travel nurse in various states including Arizona, Texas, Florida and California. She has recently accepted a system wide float pool position with Exempla Healthcare System in her hometown of Denver, Colorado and also has blog about prevention and education in healthcare. You can learn more about Crystal on her blog, Grassroots Prevention.