Kelli Leach
Kelli Leach
January 30, 2015 - 6 min read

Travel Nursing Vocabulary You Need to Know

When initially pursuing a career in travel nursing, you might find the lingo a bit confusing and overwhelming. There are several terms used often that most people haven’t heard of because they don’t typically pertain to a non-traveling career.  Below, I will explain some of the travel nurse lingo that you will likely come across throughout your career. Hopefully it will help you de-code that contract a bit.

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Pay Lingo

Per Diem: Many companies offer a daily per diem rate. They might also describe it as M/I pay which stand for Meals & Incidentals. This rate is typically paid out every day of the contract, 7 days a week, and is tax free. It will usually be included in your weekly or bi-weekly pay check, but some companies will pay this portion out on a prepaid Visa card that they reload each week.

Stipend: Your stipend is your housing allowance if you choose to find your own housing instead of taking their provided housing. It will be quoted in a monthly rate, or you can even ask for the daily/weekly breakdown rate. A prorated amount will be paid in each paycheck. It is tax free and the rate will vary based on the housing costs of the area you will be living.

Travel Reimbursement: Choosing the right travel nursing companyThis one is pretty self-explanatory, but each company has their own guidelines as to what they will reimburse and how much they will allow. There is typically a max amount they will provide in travel reimbursement and will pay half in your first pay check and half in your last paycheck to help cover travel to and from an assignment. Each company offers a different amount of money that they will pay per mile travelled, and some will allow you to apply hotel stays, U-Haul rental, etc. towards your travel reimbursement funds as well. Again, travel reimbursements are tax free.

Houseware Allowance: Some companies/contracts will offer a housewares allowance up to a certain dollar amount. You will need to ask your company what they will approve but typically this is for items like bedding, dishes, towels, etc. This too, is tax free.

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Sign-On/Completion/Extension Bonus: Some contracts that have an urgent need for nurses ASAP will offer a sign-on and/or completion or even extension bonuses that are typically paid out in your first and/or last paycheck. My advice on these is to ask if you can roll any bonuses into travel, housing, housewares, etc. Bonuses are taxed at a very high rate whereas reimbursements are not taxed. And in my experience, we can always use more travel or housing money.

Interim Benefits: Occasionally, if you are extending a contract and need to go home when one contract ends and before the next one begins, you can sometimes negotiate some sort of interim bonus or travel type reimbursement in the middle of that assignment. We haven’t dealt with this scenario much, but have negotiated for it once or twice. Also, many companies that provide insurance benefits will offer a time frame between contracts that you can continue receiving those benefits. It is very important to know how long you have because each company’s requirements vary.

Insurance Reimbursement: Most companies offer some sort of insurance program. But if you are like us and find it easier to carry your own insurance, they will reimburse you each month up to a certain dollar amount.

Holiday Pay: Pretty basic, but each company/contract pays holiday’s differently. It is important to understand what your holiday requirements are and how you will be compensated for them. As a traveler, holiday pay is not always a part of the deal.

Holiday Bonus: Many travel nurse companies actually offer bonuses on top of holiday pay if you work multiple holidays in one contract.

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Shift Differential: This is a pretty common term in nursing, but make sure you ask if there is and what is the shift differential on your assignment. It varies greatly, and doesn’t always exist in the travel world. Often times in travel nursing day and night shifts pay the exact same. Along the same lines, make sure you understand the state in which you will be working’s OT and DT laws – they vary from state to state.

Combined/Composite Rates: I believe this is predominantly a California thing. For some reason travel nursing in CA often pays one rate for the first 8 hours of the day, an overtime rate from 8-12 hours, and then a double time rate from 12+ hours. So when you are being quoted a pay rate for a CA contract they will often quote you the combined rate of the average of your first 8 hours and your last 4 hours at the higher rate. You need to understand this because if you work a 4th or 5th shift of the week, the pay is the same for those days as well. Also, if you get sent home early one day you aren’t actually getting paid that combined rate all day, so your pay could be significantly less. Those last 4 Travel nurse terminologyhours of the shift are where the money is made. It is just important to understand your pay rate. Ask questions and do the math yourself. I always ask for rates to be quoted as a Base Hourly Rate. On this same thought, rates are often quoted with that per diem rate combined in. Some companies even use their own little algorithm to add in what taxes you are saving when quoting the rate saying that it’s like you are making X dollars because this daily per diem rate and tax savings, etc. It’s confusing. Again, I always ask for base hourly rates and I do my own math and break it down to a weekly or monthly rate.

Missed Hours Penalty: Your contract will likely include a missed hours penalty. If you call off of a shift, you will not only not get paid, they will also deduct a certain amount from your paycheck to cover benefits you have received, etc. This can often be made back up and re-earned during a contract, but make sure you understand how that all works for each contract.

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Contract Lingo

Travel Nurse: The basic travel nurse contract is usually 13 weeks and includes an average pay scale and benefits.

Rapid Response Nursing: This refers to urgent needs contracts. They often pay higher but you have to be ready to be there quickly and ready to hit the floor running. These contracts typically require a couple of years of travel experience. Rapid response assignments tend to vary in length more than a typical contract, usually ranging from 4-13 weeks.

EMR Project: Electronic Medical Record conversion project contracts are quite common right now with so many facilities converting to electronic charting. Many hospitals bring in travelers for these projects. Some of these contracts do not require patient care, but most do. These contracts usually pay pretty well and can be from a couple of weeks to a few months long. They require experience with the computer system they are implementing and often prior travel experience is required.

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Per Diem Nurse: Many travel nurses pick up per diem positions to supplement their income. You work on an “as needed” basis and each hospital has its own requirements for minimum shifts in a given amount of time. This works as a great safety net for in between assignments, or if you don’t have guaranteed hours, or to make extra money while on assignment. There are per diem agencies and many hospitals hire their own force of per diem workers.

Day/Night Rotate: Pretty basic concept in nursing, but just be aware that it can vary greatly from facility to facility. If you see a D/N travel position listed, make sure to ask for clarification what type of rotation it requires. Some will do the first half of the contract is days and second half is nights or one week days one week nights, etc. But many times in the travel world this can mean you could technically flip flop from days and nights within one week.

Guaranteed Hours: We prefer travel nurse contracts that offer guaranteed hours. It is just more security for us to plan a budget. But not all travel contracts are guaranteed hours. And even if they are, there will still be an allowance for the hospital to call you off up to a certain amount of hours during your contract without pay. Make sure you understand the terms of your contract and hours.

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Lingo Wrap-up

Hopefully this gives you a better idea of the lingo used in travel nursing. Use this as a guideline to help you navigate the process; but always ask your recruiter to specify anything that you don’t understand. That is what they are there for – to help you secure a travel nurse job that you are happy with and understand the terms of. Trust me, a recruiter would much rather explain something to you upfront than deal with you being upset or not holding up to your contract terms. Just take your time, read your contract, ask questions, and enjoy your travel nurse journey!

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