4 Tips to Pick a Travel Nurse Agency
Written By: Brittany N. Garcia, BSN, RN, CPN, CCRN
The first question you need to ask yourself is, “Why am I traveling?” Is it to explore the country, create a bomb resume, make money, just for the fun of it, or all of the above? Once you have answered that question, you can begin to zero in on what you want from an agency. For me in particular, my answer was all of these! Here are some of the criteria I used to find the agency that best aligned with my travel goals.
One question I always get is, “How do you support your family on a single income as a travel nurse?” For us that’s easy, BUDGET!!! My husband, Nick, and I sit down with each potential contract and calculate all of our expenses; rent, groceries, gas, phone bill, health insurance, student loan payments, car insurance, leisure…and the list goes on. Ultimately, we make a running total of all the expenses for the month, and leave a slight cushion for the unexpected, then calculate it on a weekly basis. When I first started reviewing prospective pay packages, I had that magic number in mind with the goal of exceeding it. This led to a discussion with my recruiter about my requirements for minimum weekly income. I emphasized that I would be supporting our family of 3, and asked that I only get sent packages that met or surpassed that number. You can think of pay packages like a pie. For the most part, each agency bills the hospital the same way, they all just pay differently based on what is included in your contract. Think of hourly pay, stipends, travel, and overtime as pieces of the pie, each can be arranged and tailored based on what you are looking for. Keep in mind that if you add to one, you are taking from another. Consider that pay will be affected by location, hospital census, and specialty. I would encourage you to find your magic number which can help narrow your agency search.
Perks & Benefits
It can be difficult to filter through the long list of travel nurse agencies. Another point of reference I use to compare agencies are their perks and benefits. What do I mean by this? Health insurance, guaranteed pay (i.e. pay even if a hospital cancels your shift), sick pay, reimbursement for licensure, travel and certifications. Some nurses aren’t interested in these things and choose an agency that may not offer a lot of perks. My view on this falls somewhere in the middle. We choose to carry our own private insurance because it allows me to take off more time in between contracts without losing coverage and is more affordable for our family. On the other hand, I like the tax-exempt reimbursement for travel, licensure and certifications required for my contract. As a working mom, I’m also partial to guaranteed and sick pay because we are on a single income. You never know when you may get a low-census day or your kid is sick with a stomach bug. Just remember this all ties back to my pie analogy, costs to cover your perks may mean you receive less in hourly pay or stipends.
Traveling as a Pediatric Intensive Care Nurse, one of my main goals was to work at some of the top ranked children’s hospitals across the country, many of which tend to be in big cities. I knew I needed to find an agency that worked with hospitals I was interested in. I made a list of about 10 hospitals I wanted to work at and compared it to job listings on travel agency websites. Hospitals sometimes have exclusive contracts with certain agencies, and will only offer jobs through that particular agency. If specific hospitals are important to you, then you can easily find out more by asking agencies who they contract with or searching one of the many travel nursing blogs available. In addition, your area of specialty has some impact on the destinations you are able to choose as a traveler. As previously mentioned, PICU positions tend to be in larger cities, whereas nurses who specialize in Med-Surg have far more options. No matter what motivates you to pick a certain location, there is an agency that can get you to where you want to go!
As a travel nurse your lifeline is your recruiter. I was EXTREMELY nervous to uproot my family, take them away from everything we knew, and support them with a career that has some degree of uncertainty. When I began speaking with agencies and recruiters, I looked at it like a first date:
- Do our personalities click?
- Are they listening or just interrupting?
- Do they sound confident?
- Are they pushy?
- Finally, what is my first impression?
I have to admit, this can be difficult because you rarely have the opportunity to meet face-to-face. Most communication is done over the phone, email or text. When I found a few recruiters at different agencies I was interested in, I asked them for references. It was important for me to speak with other nurses about their personal experiences. Surprisingly, only two recruiters were able to provide me with references. I thought it only fair that they provide me with some information regarding their job performance considering the responsibilities I would be entrusting them with. I need a recruiter that is prompt in communication, a good listener, and gets me what I’m looking for in a contract. I have to say, I got really lucky with the recruiter I found; she does all of this and more! We actually had the opportunity to meet her in person while I was on assignment in California. She took us out for coffee and brought our daughter a gift. I definitely don’t expect these things, but I genuinely feel like she considers my family’s best interest and works hard for us. Whether you choose to work with one recruiter or a few, remember the agency is only as good as the recruiter.
In addition to the tips above, another tool you can use in your search is Wanderly. They are a company that allows nurses to anonymously compare pay packages without the hassle of completing an application for each agency. I wish I would have known about them when I started traveling! Ultimately, finding the agency that best fits your needs is easy once you have established your travel nursing goals and list of must-haves. Travel nurse agencies are like the field of nursing, each one has something different to offer and there something out there for everyone. Be sure to follow our family travel adventures @goinggoinggonegarcias and reach out
if you have any questions. Happy travels!