5 Women On What You Should Know Before Becoming A Travel Nurse

If you're looking for a career that will let you travel the country, becoming a travel nurse is a viable option.

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A good friend of mine recently became a travel nurse, and since then she's been able to live in 4 different cities and meet new people - all while having a housing stipend and a pretty nice paycheck too.

If you're looking for a career that will let you travel the country (or even the world depending on the agency), becoming a travel nurse is a viable option.

However, just like any career, being a travel nurse isn't perfect. As this career field is becoming more popular, there have been more talk about the benefits of being a travel nurse, but not enough real talk around this profession. Recently, we were able to catch up with 5 travel nurses and they shared information about their work experience and the things that they wish they would've known before becoming a travel nurse.

*Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Breanna Mays

Courtesy of Breanna Mays

Number of Year(s) as a Travel Nurse: 1

Current Assignment: Albuquerque, New Mexico

Favorite Assignment: Washington, D.C.

The Hiring Process:

"After many Google searches, reading travel nurse blogs, and frequent postings on travel nurse FB groups I landed the best agency for my needs at the time. However, I quickly learned that having multiple agencies in my back pocket usually serves me better in the long run. This provides me the opportunity to negotiate contracts and ensures that I am getting optimum pay and accommodations during my stay."

What She Wished She Knew About Changing Locations & Switching Hospitals:

"When I finally made the decision to work contracts at different hospitals around the U.S., I quickly learned that every facility was not the same. Of course that sounds like a pretty obvious fact but realizing every hospital's policies and procedures varied from place to place was definitely an adjustment. Learning how to take care of patients with different levels of acuity was the easy part."

Lessons She's Learned:

"One of the most important things I've learned was oddly enough one of the things I was actually prefaced with before becoming a travel nurse. Sometimes loneliness settles in without warning or contrition. Moving to new places is great, but not knowing a single person within a 1200-mile radius can be quite an unsettling feeling. However, the time for self-discovery is truly limitless during these times. I have learned to embrace the quiet times but I have definitely learned when to speak up when I needed to see a familiar face."

Her Advice to Aspiring Travel Nurses:

"One piece of advice I would give anyone aspiring to work as a travel nurse is to remember that flexibility is a necessary attribute. Nothing is always set in stone. Contracts/shifts get cancelled, pay is not the same in every location, safe and affordable housing can be hard to find, and floating to other units in the hospitals can become routine. Before booking your contracts, remember that you are your best advocate. Do not settle for less than your worth when negotiating contracts and do not settle when recruiters don't seem to be working in your best interest."

Colea Owens

Courtesy of Colea Owens

Number of Years as a Travel Nurse: 3

Current Assignment: Dallas, Texas

Favorite Assignment: Dallas, Texas

The Hiring Process:

"When I started travel nursing, I was so excited to begin traveling that I took the first offer that was given to me. Travel nursing has extremely complicated packaging. You get a base rate which is taxed and paid by the company and a per diem food and travel stipend rate which is untaxed and paid by the government. I had let my recruiter convince me to take an extremely low base rate in order to have a higher per diem rate. For companies, they can pocket a higher overhead because they are taking less money to pay you since the majority of your income comes from the government stipend. It may not be illegal but it's definitely unethical. I had naively fallen into the trap, but thank God I learned early and never made that mistake again."

What She Wished She Knew About Changing Locations & Switching Hospitals:

"Switching new hospitals is fun and I enjoy meeting new people and exploring new locations. I wish I would have known that staff are sometimes very critical of travel nurses. You have to really work hard to prove yourself and be considered a part of their team, particularly because they may resent that you make more or have the flexibility in your lifestyle that they don't have. You also may get the harder patients and most difficult assignments. Be ready to jump right in, be a team player, and don't complain!"

Lessons She's Learned:

"People think travel nurses have it easy and make all this money. In reality, you may make more but you have a different set of challenges. You don't always know if you will have another assignment lined up and your current contract can get cut at any moment. You are also the first one to get floated or canceled for a shift, so you lose hours. You are also held to higher standards than the staff nurses or anyone else. When I was driving 17 hours to my assignment in Dallas, I had to pull over in Tennessee to do a mandatory stroke scale certification that they gave me less than 6 hours to complete or my contract would be cancelled! It was 9 at night and I was on the road looking for a place with internet so I could comply. Be ready for all challenges!"

Her Advice to Aspiring Travel Nurses:

"One piece of advice I would tell aspiring travel nurses: set a standard and negotiate your pay. After my first assignment, I didn't take less than $20/hr for a base rate (remember base isn't your take-home rate) which is a safe zone for auditing and other government items. I got a tax accountant to cover my numbers. I knew the tax laws in each state I traveled to. And I didn't submit information to a recruiter until they sent me a pay package I liked."

Reneisha Walker

Courtesy of Reneisha Walker

Number of Years as a Travel Nurse: 5

Current Assignment: Birmingham, Alabama

Favorite Assignment: Northern California

The Hiring Process:

"When I first began traveling, I traveled within my state of Alabama. I did not go through a travel company. Instead, I took an internal contract with the hospitals. I prefer to do it that way. I can stay in the comfort of my own state and make double the amount of money. You don't have a low hourly rate, like if you go through an agency, which I prefer because I like to work a lot of overtime. If the facility is close enough, I can stay in the comfort of my own home or with a friend. When I travel out of state, I use an agency. I have used several different agencies and most are pretty much the same. I just compare the jobs and pay packages available and choose the best one for me."

What She Wished She Knew About Changing Locations & Switching Hospitals:

"Research your cost of living. If you still have a home to maintain, is it going to be worth going to another state and having to find somewhere to live and rent a car if you don't get yours shipped? Travel companies give you the option of taking a tax-free stipend or letting them find housing for you. It's best to take the stipend and find your own housing. But before you take any assignment, look on sites like Airbnb, Craigslist, and travel nurse housing, and see how much it will cost you to move there. Do a budget of how much you will make there, subtract how much it cost to live there, then compare that to how much you already make. If I am leaving the comfort of my home, the magic number for me is always double what I'm currently making. Have a set number in mind when you talk to recruiters and don't take anything less than that."

Lessons She's Learned:

"A misconception that I hear all the time is that you can't travel with your family or if you have a family. Definitely not true. I have friends who bring their whole family with them on assignments and they get to enjoy a new city with their loved ones. I only travel out of state during the summer, so that my daughter can come with me or stay with her grandparents. If you have children and you want to travel, find other nurses with kids as well and split housing."

Her Advice to Aspiring Travel Nurses:

"Some of the staff at hospitals will not like you because you are coming in to do their job and make twice as much. They label travelers as incompetent very quickly if you don't go in on your p's and q's. They will even try to get your contract cancelled. It's best to stay to yourself and take great care of your patients."

Deanna Wallace

Courtesy of Deanna Wallace

Number of Years as a Travel Nurse: 4

Current Assignment: Houston, Texas

Favorite Assignment: Houston, Texas

The Hiring Process:

"The interview process as a travel nurse is always different with each location I apply to. I usually apply directly through a staffing agency. A recruiter calls me back to go over the details of what I am looking for, and the details of the jobs they have available. When the managers are available, they will call to interview you. During the hiring process, I feel like the hardest part is being available when the manager tries to call for the interview. Sometimes you are at work, and you can't answer the phone. Due to that, I sometimes lose out on that job because there are 10 other nurses that the manager is interviewing that same day. By the time I am able to get the manager back on the phone, they have already hired someone else. I would recommend setting a time and date on an off day so you can give the best answers possible for your interview. If you have to do your interview while you're at work, you should definitely do the interview on your lunch break to avoid distractions."

What She Wished She Knew About Changing Locations & Switching Hospitals:

"I wish someone had told me before I started travel nursing to pack lighter. Whenever it is time to move, I always regret having so many items to pack back up. Pack light but also remember to pack enough clothes for when the weather changes from hot to cold, outfits to explore the city, or a beach day to relax. Be ready to explore each new city to build memories because you may never visit that city again."

Lessons She's Learned:

"One misconception about travel nurses that I have found is the same at each hospital is that travel nurses are lazy, we never want to help staff nurses, and that we aren't as smart as the staff nurses. My advice to you is to just continue to be a great nurse as you have always been. Do not let anyone's opinion of travel nurses put you down when you know you're doing an awesome job. With travel nursing you will have to always prove that you are a good nurse through excellent patient care, helping out other staff nurses, and communicating well with the doctors."

Her Advice to Aspiring Travel Nurses:

"The best advice I can give to any nurse looking to start travel nursing is to make sure to pack light, make new friends with staff nurses and travel nurses to explore the city with, save money each time you get paid, and travel to one new country or city each time you take a break in between assignments. Trust me, you won't regret it."

Leia Osbourne

Courtesy of Leia Osbourne

Number of Years as a Travel Nurse: 4

Current Assignment: San Diego, California

Favorite Assignment: Both Los Angeles and San Diego, California

The Hiring Process:

"One challenge about the hiring process is keeping up with current assignments and getting references! Sometimes it is hard to get a reference from a charge nurse or manager that you have worked with temporarily, but you need one to move on to the next assignment."

What She Wished She Knew About Changing Locations & Switching Hospitals:

"Not every hospital is travel-friendly. You would think that if the hospital needs help with staffing needs, that employees would be grateful...but not always. You need tough skin, and need to know how to advocate for yourself and navigate the system if anything happens (such as a canceled contract/wrongful termination, unpaid wages, housing difficulties, etc.)."

Lessons She's Learned:

"A misconception about travel nurses is that we are rich because we travel! There are definitely ways to secure the bag as a travel nurse, but we have bills, families to take care of, and expenses just like everyone else."

Her Advice to Aspiring Travel Nurses:

"Be flexible, shop around for the best pay package (you don't have to accept the first offer), save and invest your money. And don't be afraid to say "no" to a recruiter, assignment, pay package, manager, or anything/anyone else that is not in your best interest."

If you're interested in becoming a Travel Nurse, be sure to take note of the tips above! If you're a Travel Nurse and would like to share your experience, tweet us at @xonecole.

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