Ask a Travel Nurse: Have the rules of travel nursing changed?


a confused travel nurseIn speaking with a few new travelers and some of my recruiters, it seems the travel game has changed a bit.

As most of us who are travelers know, last year was a particularly hard year for the travel nursing industry. At one point, travel assignments were down almost 50% from the previous year and many seasoned travelers were having difficulty finding assignments.

This year we have rebounded, but the assignment selection still isn’t what it used to be and a few new developments have caused some major changes in the industry.

The first thing we are seeing is more short term assignments (4-8 week contracts). This is almost certainly a reaction to the economy and the attempts by the facilities to minimize their reliance on costly outside staffing. However, this often presents a problem with travelers, who might be traveling a great distance, only to work for 4 weeks, then have to pack up and go somewhere else. If you take as much crap with you on assignment as I do, packing up every 13 weeks can be a task, let alone every four.

Next, many facilities are now offering contracts with start dates only 3 weeks or less in advance. This brings into play the licensing boards since some states cannot process applications for endorsements within that time frame. This might restrict you from certain assignments if you are not already licensed in that particular state.

The third, and possibly most important change, is in the pay rate. Many travel companies now employ VMS (Vendor Management Services). To describe what these companies do would take more space than I have in this column. Suffice it to say, they are someone else who has their h and in the cookie jar. Unfortunately, their cost seems not to be absorbed entirely by your travel company, but also by you, the traveler. This of course leads to rates that are sometimes dramatically lower than we saw just 18 months ago.

For example, a traveler recently contacted me regarding a Florida travel position, working on a med-surg floor. The assignment was only for 4-weeks, paid $21/hr, and would require him to pay out of pocket for travel and licensure. Not a very attractive offer considering he would be traveling from Michigan.

While the rules of the game might have changed, the game itself has not. Nurses can still travel to wonderful destinations, have their housing paid for, have medical/dental plans available, and still earn a fair hourly wage. For me, travel was never about the money, it was always about the adventure. While travel might not be as lucrative as it once was, the wonderful opportunity to travel is still ever-present for those looking for a little adventure in their nursing career.

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.

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