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Considering Travel Nursing? 7 Things You’ll Need to Decide

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By Melissa Hagstrom, contributor

You’ve already picked out some dream locations, so what else do you need to decide in order to start working as a travel nurse?

Although Benjamin Franklin was probably not referring to travel nursing in his famous line, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” his advice is extremely applicable to nurses considering this career path. Transitioning to a travel nursing is easier when you do your homework, so consider this your quick study guide or “cheat sheet” for the most important things to research and decide on before you hit the road:

1. Staffing company

The journey to travel nursing begins with deciding on a staffing agency to represent you and help you succeed in your new career. Important factors to consider include: the company's overall reputation; experience in the travel staffing industry; whether they are Joint Commission-certified; roster of available assignments (including the locations, facility types and specialties of interest to you); exclusive agreements with facilities; plus pay rates and benefits, to name just a few.

Jennifer Raczka, recruitment manager with American Mobile Healthcare, an AMN Healthcare company, said nurses should first identify what they are looking to get out of traveling, and then use that as a guideline to select a company that fits their needs. "I tell nurses to start by telling me what is important to them in a company. Are you wanting more options?  A certain amount of pay? Small or large hospitals?" Armed with a list of your priorities, you can ask about the things that are most important to you.

2. Recruiter  

Seasoned travel veterans will tell you that finding a great recruiter to work with is the most important slice of the travel nursing pie, and Raczka agreed. "This is the most important piece--having someone who has your back and understands your needs," she explained. "Knowing you have someone who understands you and the business is crucial."

When considering a recruiter, be sure to ask plenty of questions up front to help determine if your personalities and communication styles are a fit.  Then, once you decide to work together, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open to ensure a successful recruiter/traveler partnership.

3. Readiness/experience

Do you have enough experience to travel and obtain your dream job? Although it varies greatly depending on facility, region and specialty, most facilities require travel nurses to have at least 18 months of experience in a given specialty. Your own flexibility and readiness will also need to be considered. Raczka explained that prospective travel nurses should discuss experience requirements directly with their recruiter. "Once you have a recruiter you trust, listen to their advice," she said. "Some areas are very competitive and it may help to get one assignment under your belt so you have prior travel experience."

4. Contract terms

Are you committing to a traditional 13-week assignment or something shorter? Will you have guaranteed hours?  What is included in your housing benefit? These and other issues should be spelled out in your contract.

Every travel nurse assignment is outlined by a contract that details everything from pay rates and assignment length to special conditions. It is essential that you review it carefully and address any questions you may have before signing. Raczka said that travel contracts are different than what you may have had as a regular staff member. "It is important to understand that travel nursing contracts look different than permanent staff contracts, as travel nursing offers tax-free benefits that permanent staff are not eligible for," she said. "Make sure you have a recruiter who can really explain it to you."

5. Licensing/paperwork

Are you planning to work in another state? Check out TravelNursing.com’s complete list of the state boards of nursing so you can learn about licensure requirements early in the decision process.  Licensing regulations for various states can be complicated, but our staffing partners are committed to making licensure and other requirements a simple process--for instance, they host many of the important forms you’ll need online and have licensing specialists to guide you through the process.

If your home state is part of the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), you’ll find the licensing process much easier when assignments are in another Compact state.  For more information, visit the NLC site or ask your recruiter.

6. Housing  

Once you've secured your assignment, it will be time to consider the housing options that are available. Most travel nursing companies offer free, private housing, and will often give you a few options to consider depending on the location. Or, if you prefer to arrange and pay for your own housing, most will provide you with a monthly housing subsidy.  Your housing options may also differ depending on who you plan to bring with you, including people and pets.

7. Packing

What should you take with you? When it comes to packing for your new, temporary home, keeping things simple is the key to success. Furniture and other essentials are often provided in company housing, so talk to your recruiter as a first step; he or she may also be able to provide packing guidelines or lists to help first-time travelers. Other travelers can also provide some first-hand insight on packing essentials.

Still deciding whether a travel career is right for you? Check out “Why Nurses Travel” for more information on the benefits, perks and adventures that could be yours with a travel nursing career.

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