HOW TO BECOME A TRAVEL NURSE
Updated: Dec 7, 2021
TRAVEL NURSING is on the rise during this never ending pandemic.
If you don't know us from YouTube, we are Kristen and Sam. We have been travel nursing for over 2 years and were playing the game before everyone knew what a travel nurse was.
Blogs like this really helped us when we first got started, so here is what we think you should know before you start.
It is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED by most hospitals that you gain 2 years of experience as a staff nurse in the specialty that you want to travel in. You cannot switch specialties in the middle of your travel nursing journey, so I recommend that you really enjoy your specialty before you get started.
Some people say that once you feel confident in your specialty and you are not asking expert nurses for help, then you are ready to travel. You do need to keep in mind that once you start traveling, YOU ARE the expert nurse.
I (Kristen) am a Mother Baby nurse and I felt ready to travel before I hit 2 years in my career, but every hospital that I applied to as a travel nurse required 2 years of experience (and I had 1 yr and 11 months). YES, hospitals are that picky.
Sam on the other hand is a Med Surg nurse and was able to land a travel contract at 1 and a half years of experience.
I think that this has to do with Mother Baby being a specialization and Med Surg not, as well as the certain hospitals that were available to us at the time.
FIND AN AGENCY
There are thousands of travel nursing agencies out there, and it can get very overwhelming when first getting started.
I recommend that you list your priorities before you even start looking. For example, do you want to make the most money? Do you want PTO? Do you want an agency with a wide range of jobs? What about benefits?
There are several things that travel nursing agencies differ from one another. It is very important to know what you want out of this career and stick to that.
When we first got started, our main priority was finding an agency with a wide range of jobs available for both of our specialties (Mother Baby is more difficult to find). After that, we prioritized agencies that had a good reputation and had been around for a while.
We did a lot of research and joined the Facebook group called "Travel Nurse Network - The Gypsy Nurse" where thousands of travel nurses are members of. Here, you can find a bunch of resources and reviews of agencies. Another helpful facebook group is called "Travel Nursing Newbies."
Once you narrow down your agencies (some people work with multiple agencies when finding jobs), I recommend that you talk to a recruiter. The recruiter will be able to tell you all about the agency and answer your questions.
If you like the agency (or multiple) then you should definitely apply and go through their hiring process.
KEEP IN MIND that agencies only have access to certain jobs, so it is smart to not put all of your cards in one agency, as another agency may have other jobs available.
Finding out where you will be going is the most exciting process. Your recruiter will ask you on your preferred location or preferred pay and narrow down the jobs that they have available. Once the jobs are narrowed a bit, your recruiter will go over the details with you.
If you like a certain job, the recruiter will submit your profile to the hospital (or hospitals) for hopefully an interview with the manager. It is very smart to apply to multiple hospitals at the same time because travel contracts go very fast! You can always interview with multiple hospitals and then decide where to go after the interview (once selected).
GREAT NEWS! Travel nursing interviews are nothing like any other interview.
Once your recruiter submits you to hospitals, you could get an interview call at ANY TIME. Yes, I said at ANY TIME and it is normally not scheduled. We once had a phone call interview at EPCOT in Disney World and once at the veterinarian clinic. We ended up accepting contracts at these hospitals too.
Interviews with the nursing manager (usually via phone call) are very nonchalant and really not a big deal. Most of the time, the manager explains the unit and hospital and then asks if you have any questions. The interview is manly just to talk to each other and see if the unit and contract is the right fit for you.
We have had contracts where it was an "immediate hire" where you do not talk to the manager and you are chosen just based on your travel agency profile.
I would caution you that these contracts can be hard because they just need the help THAT BAD that they will hire anyone that has the skills to do the job and don't care if it is a right fit for you.
Also, this leaves you with so many questions that you will be struggling to find the answer for until a couple of days before you start (and even after your start date).
Also, we have had one contract that the interview was on a website that you type and voice record your answers to their questions. That one was very strange.
We usually have a set of questions that we ask every nursing manager that we interview with.
Color scrubs (remember this because you typically don't get the information until a couple of days before your 1st day on the job)
Requested days off (you need to tell the manager this before the contract is in place)
Nurse to patient ratios
Number of shifts per week required (you should have gotten this info before the interview, but it is great to verify with the manager)
You will eventually find your own questions that you like to ask, but these are the basics that we stick to.
Once the interview is done, you should get a yes or no from your agency on if you were hired for the hospital. The time line for this can be the very same day or up to a week. If you do not hear anything back after a week (most of the time), it is safe to say that you did not land the contract.
PREPERATION TO START
This is the most TEDIOUS process out of them all!!!!
Once you land your first contract, hooray!! Your travel nursing agency will send you a list of things you need to complete before your first day. This can be anything from drug tests, sending in immunizations, tests, modules, background checks, and everything in between.
This differs per hospital and it usually takes us days on end to complete everything.
You will also be sent the contract to review and sign. It is very important to double check dates and pay. It is also important to read through the entire contract, as some agencies and hospitals like to sneak in certain things that were not discussed previously.
If you need anything changed, let your recruiter know before you sign the contract because once it is signed, you are LOCKED IN!!
Step 5 and 6 really should be done at the SAME TIME and some travel nurses start looking for housing before they even interview with the manager. Housing can be very difficult, so it is a good idea to browse housing options before you are submitted for the interview. This is just to make sure that you will not be struggling last minute on where to live.
When we first started travel nursing, we opted to find housing through apartments.com and filter out 3 month lease options. We would then call the apartment office and verify that they offer a 3 month or a month to month lease. This became very tedious in the end not only because you have to call the complex and apply (credit score runs and background checks) but because at the end of the day, you are paying for extra fees with a lease just to stay there for only 3 months (pet fees, deposits and everything in between).
You also have to keep in mind that even under contract, you can be cancelled by the hospital at ANY TIME. Sadly, contracts really mean nothing in the travel nursing world.
Say you get cancelled after only a month of working and you are under a 3 month apartment lease, this leaves you in a sticky situation. Thankfully, we got lucky and were never cancelled when we used this housing option.
Long story short, we quickly learned that finding housing using short term rental platforms or hotels is the best way to go.
There is a website called "Furnished Finder" that is only for traveling professionals. This is a very popular website in the travel nursing world. We have successfully found housing using this website before and would recommend always looking here along with AirBnB and VRBO.
A PRO TIP when looking on AirBnb or VRBO, you can direct message the landlord and see if they will offer a monthly discount that is not listed on the platform. Explain your situation as a travel nurse, and you will be surprised at how many people respond with a YES! We always mention that we will be there for 3 months (if that is the case) and more times than not, we have had success.
This is very valuable when looking for housing in cities that are very pricey and unrealistic.
No matter what platform you find your housing on, it is VERY IMPORTANT to have something in the housing contract (lease) stating what happens if your contract is cancelled by the hospital. You can usually negotiate this with the landlord, and if they will not negotiate this then you need to find somewhere else to stay.
We have negotiated things like "If cancelled by the hospital, the renter must notify the landlord immediately and must give a 2 weeks notice before vacating."
Some landlords are understanding of the travel nursing world and will let you leave immediately once cancelled if you choose to.
ANOTHER option is to let the travel nursing agency find your housing for you. Most travel nurses DO NOT do this because you end up losing more money in the end. Agencies tend to place you in the cheapest apartments or hotels no matter how dumpy and unsafe that they are. Not only that, they also take ALL of the money that you would get if you were finding housing yourself (even if the apartment that they find for you is less costly than what they would have given you to find it yourself).
In most cases, you will pocket more money if you find housing on your own.
In very rare cases (like costly cities or cities with hard to find housing) will you benefit from having the agency find your housing for you.
The most costly option is staying at a hotel. You can look into extended stays (which are popular among travel nurses), but we have never had to resort to this option. Some travel nurses stay at an extended stay for a week or two at the beginning of their contract in order to keep looking for other housing options.
A lot of travel nurses stay in an RV. We have contemplated this option, but don't really want to pay upfront to own the RV (or go into debt), and we do not know how we would like living in such a small space.
The general RULE that we love to follow is to find housing with a monthly cost similar to 1 week of work. For example, if you make 2K a week as a travel nurse then you should find housing that is equal or less than 2K per month. This seems to work out perfectly for us.
When we first started, we over packed. This is pretty typical for a new travel nurse. We literally brought EVERYTHING THAT WE OWNED and jammed it into 2 cars. We also sold a lot of our belongings before we left.
Now (2 years later), we are at an assignment in Hawaii and only packed 1 suitcase each (a small checked luggage) and our scuba diving duffle bag. I even sold my car as we don't need 2 cars anymore. Travel nursing really teaches you that material things are not as important as you once thought.
You will definitely learn what you need and what you don't need very quickly.
Here are some examples of what we pack now:
Seasonal clothing (It doesn't hurt to bring a couple of clothing items from the next season just in case you extend your contract or the weather changes). If your contract is mainly in the winter months, pack winter clothes but SOME spring clothing.
Travel sized toiletries (you can buy full sized later)
Important documents (you never know when you need that social security card or random immunization, etc). We have a document box that we carry with us everywhere (minus this Hawaii assignment)
YOUR PET! We typically travel with our dog, but had to leave him with his grandparents for this assignment in Hawaii. Your pet is your emotional support and companion when you are away from friends and family.
Items that remind you of home (especially important as a new traveler)
Work items (scrubs, stethoscope, etc)
Honestly, that is all you need to pack
TRAVEL TO YOUR DESTINATION
It is the most cost effective to drive to all of your destinations (even cross country). Although, it takes the longest. You will see most travel nurses use this option over flying. Driving allows you to see a lot of the country on the way to your designated state! This is the perfect way to see the country that most other people don't see.
We recently have been scheduling more travel days in order to stop and tour certain cities that are on the way to our assignment. (See video below)
We have driven to all of our assignments (minus Hawaii of course).
Not only do you get to see the country, but it allows you to have your car with you and you can even pack it full with items to take with you.
If you do choose to fly, you can always pay to ship your car to your destination. Car shipping is very expensive though.
Now that you are on assignment, enjoy every minute of it! If it is bad, don't worry as you are only there for a short period of time. Just count down the days until the end.
Travel nursing has changed our lives in so many ways, and we are so thankful to have this opportunity to travel together.
Keep in mind though that travel nursing isn't for everyone, but it doesn't hurt to try it out!