Many nurses dream of the adventures associated with Travel Nursing. Experiencing the history and attractions of different cities and getting paid to travel is an envy of most individuals. However, I wish I knew about some of the issues related to travel nursing that I was unaware of being a staff nurse previously. Listed below are 10 things I wish I knew before starting travel nursing.
THING 1: HOW TO UNDERSTAND MY TRAVEL CONTRACT
Attempting to read and comprehend my first travel contract was undeniably difficult. There is so many “terms” of on-call pay, non-taxable vs taxable income, housing stipend, guaranteed hours, etc. It can become overwhelming if your recruiter is not helpful with new travel nurses and believe me I have had my share of lack luster recruiters. Luckily, after my first contract, I found an amazing recruiter who broke it down for me.
Prior to starting the journey, educate yourself on how travel nursing pay packages work and don’t concerned if the base pay is lower than what you get paid now. Tax incentives make the difference in pay packages. Speak with other travel nurses online or ask for another opinion from a different travel company if you are not getting the help you need.
THING 2: UNDERSTANDING HOUSING STIPENDS AND “TAX HOME”
I previously did a blog post regarding understanding the “tax home” concept. Read this post here.
During my first year of travel nursing, I found myself in a predicament with the IRS as I never declared an “appropriate” tax home the year before. This lead to a hefty amount of money owed to the government since I did not have any documentation of what receipts I need to keep declaring my tax home and expenses when tax time came around. It’s very important to consult an experienced travel nursing tax professional to discuss what documentation you need to prevent this situation from happening to you.
THING 3: FIND YOUR OWN HOUSING AND DON’T PACK EXCESSIVELY
Find your own housing instead of company approved housing. You will be able to pocket your extra stipends and have control over your needs for housing. If you research company approved housing, there are no end to horror stories and not so great experiences from seasoned travel nurses. Only you understand what your needs are as person and family. 9 times out of 10 you can find better housing that is cheaper than the company anyhow depending on the area you are traveling.
Packing and moving every 13 weeks is a major pain. We found packing light and only the necessities are really all that’s important. Keep materials to a minimum such as clothing, bed linens, and cookware is an important lesson to learn.
THING 4: IF IT FEELS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE IS PROBABLY IS
If a recruiter is offering you $2,000/week tax home with company paid for housing in a prime location in Florida, it is probably too good to be true. Trust me, I have been there! I was never offered $2,000/week; however, I was offered company paid for housing for my husband and our children (two puppies). When we arrived at our housing, it was cold, dark, dirty, and disgusting. The carpets had animal feces, the walls were yellow from heavy smoking residue, and I saw three cockroaches running across the floor. When I contacted my recruiter, I was told this was the best they could offer and they could find new housing that would come at a cost to me. Needless to say, I never used their services again. Always keep your eyes and ears open with a mindset to question everything. Tip: Listen to your gut! Always!
THING 5: BUDGET YOUR MONEY WISELY AND HAVE A SAFETY NET
There are chances that the facility can cancel your contract. Yes, even with a contract, a facility can cancel your contract at any given time. You need to be prepared for the “what ifs” that can happen along your journey. As travel nurses, it can be tempting to eat out every night, paint the town red on your days off, and explore the entire state using all the additional monies you are given as travel nurses. However, outside of cancellations, there are many other life events that can lead to financial crisis if you don’t budget your money wisely and have a safety net. For example, you could have a family emergency requiring you to take time off from working, your recruiter may not be able to find you job placement for some time after your contract ends, and you contract extension could possibly be cancelled based on the facility. Always prepare for the unexpected.
THING 6: BE READY FOR THE UNEXPECTED
“What do you mean the unexpected?” Well, it can be a number of things. As I said previously, family emergencies, travel nurse illnesses, contract cancellations, housing problems, car repairs, etc. The list could go on and on. However, being ready for the unexpected is not limited to personal circumstances.
Facilities can also throw monkey wrenches into your plans. For example, a facility may make promises they cannot keep during a phone interview (i.e. nurse/patient ratio, floating policies, guaranteed hours). I had one nurse manager state that if the unit became overwhelmed, they would come out and assist the staff. I met this nurse manager one time during orientation then I never saw them again on the unit. Be prepared for the unexpected to happen by being flexible and ready to handle anything.
THING 7: PATIENT CARE IS THE SAME NO MATTER THE LOCATION
Many travel nurses are concerned about the patient population and care provided at different facilities and states. You can feel inadequate for a period of time leading up to your assignment and the nervous anxiety can lead to nurses leaving the profession before they even start. If you understand that patient care is the same no matter the location then you will have one less worry when beginning your journey.
We all have felt the anxiety of starting on a new unit in a new hospital; however, the processes and patient care are ultimately the same no matter the location. Policies and procedures regarding paperwork may be different depending on where you go, but the care of the patient never changes. The worst part about travel nursing is figuring out where everything is located and who you need to contact for different parts of your position.
THING 8: BE PREPARED TO BE TREATED DIFFERENTLY THAN STAFF NURSES
I have worked in facilities that the nurses have the best relationships regardless of permanent or travel positions and others that absolutely hate travel nursing staff. There is always a chance that you will be segregated from other staff members and feel alone because sometimes you are alone. There is a chance some nurses will refuse to help you with patient care and even some doctors who can’t stand the idea of working with new people. I had one doctor say, “you ask too many questions” and “get away from me newbie.” I don’t say these things to scare you away from the profession, but to enlighten you to what you can expect if you happen to work at one of these facilities. I have never understood the reasoning behind these behaviors as we are all part of the same team and have the same purpose.
THING 9: HOLD YOUR LIP AND WATCH WHAT YOU SAY
Many of us became nurses because we wanted to make a difference and better the lives of our patients. However, some facilities don’t always welcome the advice or change in policies. One phrase you should never say is “we did it differently where I came from.” Why this statement may be true, it is something that facilities get tired of hearing and can lead to your ban if the phrase is used to often. It’s important to keep some ideas to yourself unless they are elicited from others. If others do elicit your advice then by all means speak away. However, you have a job to perform and just like any hospital there are certain policies and procedures in place to protect you and the hospital.
THING 10: MOMENT OF BOREDOM AND LONELINESS
Being a nurse in a new location by yourself can be scary at first. Many will want to quite their assignment and return home to find a staff position. As nurses, we are resilient in that we can overcome many obstacles handed to us. However, many of us, rely on family or friend support. It’s important to combat loneliness and to plan activities to pre-occupy your time. Buy a puzzle, plan a small trip once a week that doesn’t break the budget, enjoy a good Netflix movie, and make regular phone calls to your home and loved ones.