Travel Nursing, Where to Start
Updated: Apr 2, 2020
So you're interested in travel nursing and you're wondering how to get started. Let's jump into it.
Have the experience
Know exactly what your skill set and specialties are because you will be expected day one to step onto your new unit and provide care with little to no hiccups. Most good hospitals that agencies work with require 2 years minimum. But, this can vary given the time of the year (i.e. flu season or COVID-19). It really depends on how bad a unit's needs are. Unless you're highly proficient early on, get your 2 years experience and then start travel nursing. Orientation can range from anywhere between a week or zero days. Typically, provided you sign with a good agency, your orientation will be factored into your contract, usually 2 days, and then you're on your own.
Do you need an agency?
No, you don't need an agency. Say you really like a specific area of the country and the agency you have been eyeing does not have any contracts available in that city, you can look up the local hospitals in the area, view their job openings and look for travel nurse openings that way. Still having trouble? Call the recruiting specialist for that hospital and ask if they are hiring travel nurses for your expertise. If they don't hire directly to individual travelers, ask what agencies they go through and work with them.
What does an agency provide?
There are various agencies you can go through. Some agencies will offer you greater benefits such as health insurance, 401k, travel reimbursement, licensure reimbursement, low census protections, PTO, and so on. But usually, the more benefits, the lower the weekly pay. What makes an agency desirable to a traveler, especially a new traveler, is that the agency will do your bidding for you. They reach out to the hospitals in need on your behalf, they forward your resume and credentials to the prospective unit managers/hiring specialists, and they organize compliance needs for your assignment such as modules, drug screens, physicals, lab work, and any other requirements that are needed for those 13 weeks or longer. By using an agency, you will have a team of individuals that are well versed in the industry, working for you to lock down a contract that is safe and aligned with the current market wages in the area of your choosing.
How do I choose the right agency?
Scan google and other leading healthcare/nursing websites for information on the top ranked travel nurse agencies of the most recent calendar year. I utilized Bluepipes.com ranking system for travel nurse agencies and created a short list of 3 agencies that fit my personal criteria for what I wanted in an agency. I do suggest limiting your selection of agencies to 3 max, because once you reach out to them, expect to become bombarded with phone calls, texts, and emails. It is just part of the industry. They want travelers brought on board, and let's face it, you are a source of revenue for them and they want more than anything to sign you. Limit your exposure, do your research on their "About" pages, look at their benefits, and look at personal reviews. Ultimately, a call to these recruiters will give you a feel for what they're all about. They take inquiry calls all day long and are more than willing to answer any questions you may have. I haven't had a conversation with a recruiter that I didn't enjoy. Once you've chosen an agency, you will be required to fill out a skills questionnaire of sorts to determine your competency for the jobs your recruiter will be submitting you to. Your future manager will want to make sure you're a good fit for the unit and you also want to be honest with yourself when filling these out. Remember, as much as you want to start working as a travel nurse, you need to consider that your license is always on the line wherever you go and you do not want to end up in an unsafe situation.