So February 2019 started my travel nurse journey and I have no regrets. There are some challenges, but it’s much easier than I thought it would be. If you’re contemplating your career as a travel nurse, take that leap of faith and just begin. There’s a lot of research that went into my first 3 contracts and every day I learn little more! Here’s what I have learned so far:
1: Talk to other travelers about their pay and their company benefits. Obviously, not in front of permanent staff, but be comfortable having that discussion. My company does not reimburse for licenses or cover travel expenses or parking and they don’t offer an extension bonus, but I learned that I usually have a higher weekly payout. When I compared with other travelers, all the money adds up. However, the biggest draw back I experienced with my company is my tax free housing/meal stipend is pro rated if I don’t work all my contracted hours. This wasn’t a big deal until recently. For example, I work in an outpatient procedure unit that is only open for day shift M-F. The unit was closed Thanksgiving and Black Friday, so I only worked 30 hours and my stipend was adjusted by 1/4. I worked less, but that doesn’t matter to my bills and rent! However, if you’re working 3 12 hour shifts, it probably won’t be hard to make up those missed hours.
2: Don’t be afraid to switch companies! I enjoy working with my recruiter and I have worked with him for 3 contracts, 4 if you include my upcoming extension. However, based on my example in number 1, I am ready to switch companies. I have had multiple recruiters and companies from the beginning of my travel nurse journey simply to compare pay packages. I always went with company A because they had the highest weekly pay, but now I know what’s a deal breaker for me and what’s not!
3: Speaking of contract extensions, DO NOT extend unless you are 100% sure it’s what you want. The first few weeks may seem amazing and the other travelers make great coworkers, but have you experienced working on the unit when they are short staffed or having some sort of crisis? Does the manager and charge nurse offer help when the staff is drowning in work? You want to know how they handle inconvenient situations especially short staffing before you sign up for an extension. Last thing you want is to feel burnt out, it defeats the purpose of traveling. Please note, if your extending a contract because you met that special someone, be sure it’s what you want & you’re not just trying to make them happy.
4: Whatever you discuss in the interview with the manger, put it in your contract! In a perfect people hold on to their words. In reality people forget or things change by the time you start. If the manager promised something in the interview have your recruiter place that in the contract. It could be as simple as time off requests to something more specific like fair rotation. In Endoscopy, fair rotations looks like split time in preop, circulating and discharge! Or maybe they promised to provide OR scrubs. Whatever it is get it in writing (CYA).
5: Take time off in between contracts if you can, even if it’s just a week! If you are one of those people who can survive off of little sleep and you don’t get exhausted easily, this is not for you. If you’re like me and you need time to rest and recoup after major life events, take the time off. I consider constantly moving across the states/country every 3–4 months a major life event. While it is exciting to try something new, it is absolutely exhausting. With each contract in a new state comes: a housing search, driving/shipping your car, completing compliance (drug testing, hours of learning modules, last minute references) and packing your favorite items and weather appropriate wardrobe. Don’t underestimate your stress level and don’t over extend yourself for the sake of the “grind.” You can’t pour from an empty cup, take the time to give back to yourself.
6: Be open! If you are an extrovert this probably does not apply. When I told one of my friends I was going to be a travel nurse she said “be open!” Prior to this 3rd contract, I was just polite enough or just friendly enough to work with, but I wasnt making connections outside of work and I felt more alone. However my first 2 contracts had a lot of older nurses and not as many travelers so it was hard to form friendships. Now, I am less stand-off ish & a little less socially awkward in new situations. I try to engage and say yes to new experiences.
7: Don’t let recruiters pressure you. It’s okay to say no and bye if they aren’t offering what need. This is a business, it’s not personal! Ultimately you have to decide with type of conditions you’re willing to put up with.
8: Save! Yes travel nurses make good money, but we are missing out on other benefits. Depending on your company you may not have short term disability or maybe you declined coverage. The most important benefit we don’t have, paid time off. Yes you can take as many weeks or months off as you want, but you are not getting paid for it. If you’re able to and have the energy, pick up those extra shifts! Or if you’re like me and realized 40 hours at one job is enough for the week find a side hustle. I recently started as a food delivery driver on my days off, it doesn’t hurt to have a little extra spending money whether I’m working or not.
9: Health insurance – If you decide to take more than 30 days off or your next contract is with a different company, make sure you get all your health related appointments scheduled before your benefits expire.
10: Don’t over pack. A lesson I learned the hard way. I’m way too embarrassed to even tell you how much ish I bought with me. You do not need every pair or even every kind of shoe. Take the basics and create versatile looks.
11: Housing. If you have family or friends in that area, see if you can stay with and pay rent to them. If you are going to be moving in with a stranger, ask for references from recent roommates! It can be awkward moving into someone’s home. You want to know that they are welcoming and not over bearing/militant about every single thing. Also, something I like to do before I sign or even submit to a position is look up housing near the facility! I despise a long commute, I need to be at my job in under 30 minutes with traffic. If housing options are slim pickings or out of my price/mile range I will pass on the job! Lastly, use all the search tools available. I found housing on Airbnb my first 2 contracts, but the service fee gets pricey. My current renter I found through the gypsy nurse housing Facebook group!
*For my non-travel nurses or health care workers, these last round of topics can be applied to anyone in any setting. Where you see travel nursing insert your own career!
12: Be flexible, but don’t bend over backwards. As a traveler, yes you are there to fill a need, but that does not give the manager/charge nurse/coworkers to dump on you! Do not let anyone make you feel like you deserve more work because you make more money! Especially to my nurses working on the floors or in LTC facilities. If you feel assignments or admissions aren’t being rotated fairly or they are unsafe, SPEAK UP! Talk to the unit manager, but also talk with your recruiter. They are there to support you when things get rough at work and if need be, get you out of unsafe contracts!
13: Be comfortable with exploring cities by yourself. Most off days I just want to sleep, but every now and again I want to explore the city or take a road trip to a nearby city. Maybe you didn’t make friends at work yet or maybe you can’t get your off days to line up with your work bestie, regardless don’t wait for somebody else’s availability. Research, create an itinerary and just go do something you’ve never done before.
14: Unit drama is none of your concern. When Carol and Sue are whispering in the corner just mind the business that pays you. If you’re nosey like me, keep your ear to the “streets”, but act like you didn’t hear shit. Don’t be that traveler getting too comfortable and stirring the pot.
15: Always make sure your pay stub is correct! The people working pay roll are human and errors can occur. The more uncomfortable mention is that big companies will try to get away with minor details and skim off the top at your expense. Regardless, make sure the money adds up because “if it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense.”
16: Visit home as often as you want. You could be having the best time in your at your new job, but there’s no place like home. Take an extended weekend or week as often as you need to visit your loved ones.
17: Bonus tip, find a seemingly healthy way to decompress after work. It’s easy to rush home, get in the bed and scroll/watch tv. Maybe there is something else you can do to contribute to your overall mental or physical health. Recently I started journaling/stretching after work and it has helped tremendously. The weeks I slack off and replace my healthy habits with wine and TV, I am more tense and slightly hungover the next day (cheers to the late 20s club).
My blog post are usually not this long; cheers to you if you made it to the end. If you found this information was helpful please share and pass it along. Or if you have your own tips to surviving this travel nurse life leave a comment below.
Happy holidays & new year! See y’all in 2020 ❤️