Travel Nurse: Checklist (Salary and Benefits)

Several years ago I decided to quit my job as a charge nurse at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital and travel the United States as a travel nurse. The thought of being paid to visit the beaches of Hawaii and California or participate in the culture of New York City had become just too appealing. Looking back, there are several things I wish I had known prior to signing up with my first travel nurse agency. The following includes a checklist of some of the things I wish I had known from the beginning:

Being a travel nurse is very different from being employed by a hospital. First, travel nurses are paid considerably more hourly than regular hospital staff nurses. Although you may not view it this way, hospitals reward travel nurses with higher hourly pay because of the “sacrifice” the nurse is required to make in uprooting herself or himself from home and family. I didn’t necessarily view basking in the Huntington Beach, California sun on my off days as a sacrifice, but that is the way hospitals look at travel nursing.

Make sure your travel nurse agency is willing to negotiate the highest rate of pay for you before you sign a contract to take a travel nursing assignment. Don’t just take the first offer that comes along; you may be able to do better. Remember, travel nurse agencies get paid to fill hospital nursing vacancies. If one agency cannot fill the vacancy, another will. As a result, you need to make sure your agency is working to get you the highest possible hourly rate of pay and not just trying to beat the next agency to fill a vacancy. One suggestion I would make is to check with several different agencies and see which one offers you the highest pay rate. You may even be able to create a bidding war between the agencies for your services.

Second, most hospitals will pay for (or at least assist in paying for) your move to their city. This too is an issue you will need your travel nurse agency to negotiate for you. Third, most hospitals will also pay you a monthly housing stipend. In many cases, the stipend will only be paid if you are renting, but not if you buy a home in your new assigment location. The stipend is often tax free.

You may also want to ask these questions to your travel nurse agency:
(1) Does the agency guarantee my assignment in writing?;
(2) Are my hours guaranteed?;
(3) Do I get paid weekly, bi-weekly or monthly?;
(4) Does the travel nurse agency pay me or does the hospital?;
(5) Will the hospital pay for my move; as is often the case?; and
(6) Will the hospital pay a stipend for my housing; as is often the case?