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4 Questions Travel Nurses Should Ask Before Their Next Job Assignment

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Health Carousel Travel Nursing
June 16, 2022
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Choosing a new destination for a travel nursing assignment can be an exciting task. Before accepting the assignment, the facility will hold an interview via phone call to determine if you are a good fit. It’s also particularly important to ask some of these common travel nursing questions to gather adequate information before making their decision.

What Is Travel Nursing?

A travel nurse is a registered nurse who travels to different parts of the country. They are responsible for performing the same job duties and responsibilities as staff registered nurses, depending on their specialty. However, instead of being permanent staff members at a healthcare facility, they are contracted out. Meaning that they are employed by a travel nursing staffing agency and have travel nursing assignment contracts for an agreed-upon timeframe.

How Do Nurse Staffing Agencies Work?

Healthcare staffing agencies specialize in the placement of all types of healthcare professionals, but mostly travel nurses. They work with large healthcare organizations and facilities to meet staffing demands. The travel nursing agency then hires travel nurses for a contracted period of time to fill the need. The travel nursing agency acts as a liaison between the travel nurse looking for work and the healthcare facility.

For example, a hospital is short-staffed and needs 10 ICU nurses over the winter months due to an influx of influenza patients. The hospital contacts the travel nursing agency and the agency searches for qualified ICU nurses to temporarily fill the need. The travel nurse’s contract will most likely be over the winter months and ends right after. The travel nursing agency usually offers the ICU travel nurse higher salaries and better pay packages than what a staff nurse would make, as they are considered temporary employees.

What are some Travel Nursing Trends for 2022?

In late 2021, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared nursing shortages as a national crisis. The demand for travel nurses continues to grow, and is expected to grow as high as 40% over the next several years. And with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the world of travel nursing continues to grow.

Many nurses are either leaving the bedside due to burnout, looking for remote work, or transitioning to non-bedside nursing jobs. On the other hand, nurses are leaving their current permanent roles and pursuing travel nursing, where they earn higher pay and have the opportunity to travel.

Questions to Ask and Expectations

Now that we’ve reviewed some key aspects of travel nursing, let’s discuss expectations to consider and questions you need to ask before signing your travel nursing contract.

Expectations

At the beginning of any professional relationship, it’s critical to discuss expectations. For instance, what is the nurse-to-patient ratio for the unit? What type of patient populations are present there? For example, you may be working in an orthopedic nursing floor, but that unit could admit overflow surgical post-operative patients in addition to orthopedic patients.

Other important factors include the unit’s floating policy, whether nurses will be expected to float to other units, and if that’s the case, which nurses will be chosen to float.

Another critical aspect is the number of travelers currently working on the unit, as this can have an impact on the decision. For instance, perhaps the unit consists of mostly travelers. This could mean that they have a difficult time maintaining permanent staff members, but it could also mean the unit is more welcoming due to all of the travelers on the unit.

Additionally, is an extension possible after completion of the first contract? Knowing this information is important because it measures the potential of staying longer if the facility turns out to be a good fit. A facility may know in advance that help is only needed for 13 weeks, as opposed to a longer timeframe. You’ll want to insure the validity of your license in whatever state you accept a new post in.

Parking Situation

Every facility has different parking protocols. Rural hospitals may have on-site parking located close to the hospital. However, a downtown urban hospital may have a more complicated parking situation.

It’s important to know what the parking situation is in advance, as off-site parking can add more time to a daily commute. Proximity to the hospital can also impact how close or far a nurse may live near a facility. Some facilities charge fees to park in employee lots, while others offer shuttles to and from parking lots that are further away from the hospital.

The parking situation may be an incentive or a deterrent to accepting a travel assignment. If a facility does require a fee for parking, it’s beneficial to ask your travel company if they provide reimbursement.

Scheduling Details

Choosing a work schedule is an especially crucial detail regarding the acceptance of a new travel assignment. Many facilities will advertise a specific shift in their posting, but may be open to alternative shifts during the interview process.

Other questions include:

  • How often is the schedule made? Is it made every six or eight weeks?
  • Will you have a set schedule, where you work the same days each week? (ex. 12 hour days every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday).
  • Are nurses required to take calls or work mandatory overtime?
  • Is working holidays a mandatory requirement for completing this contract? If there are specific holidays that a traveler does not want to work, it’s important to make this decision in advance and request them off during the contract. Some contracts require working multiple weekends during a set period of time. In these cases, it’s important to determine how many weekend days are required during the contract period.

The answers to these questions are critical to determining whether an assignment at a new facility is a good fit.

Orientation Process

Travel nurses are not oriented in the same way as a new hire employee. As experienced nurses, they are expected to learn the unit quickly and begin taking care of patients with little assistance.

Ask the interviewer what the orientation process is like. Will it be one week, including hospital orientation? Will it be two weeks long, with hospital-specific orientation? Some units may offer minimal training and expect travelers to hit the ground running. This could be easy for experienced travelers, but more difficult for those with limited experience.

Is the orientation held with multiple preceptors or only one? Will hospital orientation be traveler-specific or on par with new hire employees? As a longer hospital orientation can take time away from unit-specific training, it’s a good idea to understand the expectations in advance for working independently on the unit.

There are so many exciting possibilities when accepting a new travel assignment. Before starting at a new facility, it’s important to ask specific questions and have a good idea of what to expect. As every facility is different with varying needs, knowing a few key details can be the difference between loving an assignment and canceling a contract because the facility is not a good fit.

FAQs

How do I prepare for a traveling nurse job?

Make sure to get your key questions answered before signing your contract and starting your next assignment. Sometimes the hospital, travel nursing agency, and you might have different expectations. So it’s important to communicate your wants, needs, and expectations with your recruiter. This way they can communicate these to the healthcare facility. This is especially important with holidays and paid time off (PTO) days.

What should a travel nurse recruiter say?

When you initially speak to your recruiter, they will ask you typical travel nurse interview questions. These can include location, desired compensation, nursing skills, specialties, and vacation requests.

After speaking with your recruiter, they will send you job options that may fit your qualifications and expectations. They then submit your application and will contact you when a healthcare facility is interested in interviewing you. Next, a great recruiter will prepare you for your travel nurse interview with the unit nurse manager. 

After you receive an offer, your travel nurse recruiter will review your pay package details with you. This can include items like when your healthcare coverage begins, guaranteed hours, overtime hours, or completion bonus.

What a travel nurse should not do?

Travel nurses should not compare themselves to other travelers and their contracts. Each agency differs in benefits, pay, completion bonuses, stipends, etc., depending on their contract with healthcare facilities. 

Also, don’t get fixated on the hourly pay rate. Look at your pay package as a whole. Compare the cost of benefits, PTO, sick leave, and retirement matching. Also, if the travel nursing agency offers company-provided housing, this can be huge cost savings.

When you begin onboarding with an agency, ask for reimbursement of licensing fees. Don’t lag on completing compliance documents, as these can delay your start date by a few weeks. 

Don’t forget to keep up with your continuing education requirements for every state nursing license. These requirements differ by state and each one has its own unique requirements.

How can a traveling nurse stand out?

There are several ways you can stand out as a travel nurse amongst other travelers. First, when interviewing with the unit nurse manager, come prepared with questions to ask. This will most likely impress them, and show you are prepared and have done some research.

Also, companies like to see that you have a commitment to the nursing field. A way to show your commitment is to complete continuing education courses or certifications that are relevant to your specialty.

References

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/covid-travel-nurses/2021/12/05/550b15fc-4c71-11ec-a1b9-9f12bd39487a_story.html

https://www.nursingworld.org/news/news-releases/2021/ana-urges-us-department-of-health-and-human-services-to-declare-nurse-staffing-shortage-a-national-crisis/

Article by Blyss Splane BSN RN CNOR

Blyss is a certified operating room nurse living outside the Atlanta area. She is currently working as a travel nurse and loves meeting new people and pursuing a healthy lifestyle.

Health Carousel Travel Nursing

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