By August 12, 2009 4 Comments

Ask a Travel Nurse: How can I be an independent travel nurse?


A reader, unhappy with her agency, recently wrote to me asking about the possibility of either independently contracting or even starting her own travel nursing agency.

Who of us out there hasn’t dreamt of the possibility of being our own boss? This is especially true for those of us travel nurses who have an idea of just how much our agencies are charging the hospital for our services. So after a few years on the road, I imagine most travelers start to ask themselves, “Why can’t I just go it on my own?” If you know where to start, any traveler willing to spend the time and effort can gain more freedom through independent contracting.

Let me start off by saying that for most traveling nurses, this should only be a consideration after a few years of travel nursing. After all, if eliminating the middle man (the travel nursing company), was the best solution for everyone, then why wouldn’t we all be doing it? Travel companies do earn a living directly off the hours you work, but their function is not solely to be another entity that is digging into your pocket. Let’s take a quick look at why a travel company should be entitled to some of your pay.

First, your travel nursing company has already done the legwork of securing relationships with many hospital systems all over the country. This is why you can simply call them up, tell them where you want to go, and have your recruiter give you a list of all the assignments they have in that area. Their contacts open you up to hundreds of positions throughout the country. This alone is a very useful tool in finding a travel nurse position and one that can be very time consuming for those who independently contract.

Next, a travel nursing company will secure the items that enable you to work in all those different part of the country. This can include finding (and paying for) your housing, your health insurance, travel expenses, licensure, medical malpractice insurance, and even 401K plans with company contribution. Are all of these things something you can do on your own? Certainly, but how many phone calls will it take to accomplish all this compared to just one to your travel company to get the ball rolling.

So, travel nursing companies do provide a service, but obviously, they do so at a premium (a good portion of your pay). Travel companies are the way many travelers do business. But, for those who want to see more of their pay going into their pocket, there are some options when it comes to travel nursing. 

One of the first things you will need to do as an independent contractor is decide just how independent you want to be. If you want to do everything for yourself, obviously there will be more work involved. However, if you wanted to test the waters a bit, there are agencies out there that fall somewhere in between being a conventional “travel nurse agency” and letting the nurse be a totally independent entity. These agencies already have established relationships with hospital systems and can reduce the start-up workload, but they will also ultimately decrease the amount of your salary that you will keep for yourself.

If you have your mind set on being totally independent from any outside agency, then your research will need to cover much more than I could ever provide in this column. Furthermore, although I have dabbled a bit with independent contracting, there are those out there far more knowledgeable than I. Being a good advice columnist is not always about having the answers, but knowing where to find them.

Probably the best site I can recommend would be the Independent Nurses page on Delphi forums. The page is moderated by NedRN who has compiled an extensive FAQ section that can be found under the “useful link” part of the site. He has written many useful tips in getting started in the world of independent contracting. When I wrote to Ned about how the economy has affected independent contractors, he echoed what most travel nurse agencies are saying these days, “less work available and more competition for fewer assignments”. However, independent contracting still remains an option for those nurses wanting to take more control of their travel careers. 

Honestly, I am just way too fond of my free time to devote much of it to learning what needs to be done to be an independent contractor. However, for those of you with the initiative, it can be a very lucrative prospect. Start with the website I mentioned and read all the information and posts. Also, don’t be afraid to email other members asking for help or advice. If you are willing to put forth the time and effort, any travel nurse can be on their way to becoming an independent contractor.

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About the Author:

Hello everyone. I’m a travel nurse originally from Ohio who graduated in 1993 from Mount Carmel School of Nursing in Columbus. I completed a critical care fellowship at Riverside Methodist Hospital in 1994 and started traveling in that specialty a year later. My first travel assignment was in Maui and since that time I have completed close to 40 different contracts in various states with multiple travel companies. I am the author of Travel Nurse’s Bible (A Guide to Everything on Travel Nursing), in addition to my writings here and in the pages of Travel Nursing publications such as Healthcare Traveler Magazine and American Nurse Today. I am presently on assignment in Phoenix, AZ and travel anywhere from six to eleven months of the year.

4 Comments on "Ask a Travel Nurse: How can I be an independent travel nurse?"

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  1. Epstein says:

    There is also a full chapter on the subject of independent contracting in the book, “HIGHWAY HYPODERMICS: ON THE ROAD AGAIN,” which can be found at, or

  2. David says:

    Before purchasing a book with a single chapter on independent contracting, consider checking out the link mentioned above in Delphi forums. It has a TON of information and NedRN responded quickly when I had questions on the subject. You can also post questions for any situation that might not be covered in a book. Best of all, it’s FREE 🙂

  3. Kyle Schmidt says:

    In my opinion, it’s pretty well established that in the vast majority of cases Registered Nurses do not meet the criteria to legally be Independent Contractors. This is especially true in hospital settings. I understand that many people do it and there’s a lot of information on the internet about it, but that doesn’t make it legal. According to the IRS, “The general rule is that an individual is an independent contractor if the payer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not what will be done and how it will be done.” Registered Nurses are routinely directed by doctors, and others within the hospital setting. In fact, doctors often don’t meet the Independent Contractor criteria within the hospital setting. There may be some loophole I am unaware of whereby you can create your own healthcare staffing agency and act as an employee of the agency, but that’s not independent contracting.

  4. Steve Williams says:

    Thanks for your comment. I’m a bit late in responding! Four years I think.
    I am an RN and used to own TRAVMED USA Inc. we sold in 2008 and I am opening up again soon.
    It is true today as it was when you posted your opinion that it is difficult to be an independent travel nurse, but only in the eyes of the IRS. If you carry the required malpractice insurance and pay the same taxes, you can be independent. But why take the risk? Just call a hospital, tell them you want to work on staff for 13 weeks and see what they say. I know plenty of nurses that do it this way. Good luck and hope you have a great experience!

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