Making the transition from staff nurse to travel nurse is an exciting time, with endless possibilities ahead. However, before you start planning your bucket list of activities for your days off in a new city, you need to take care of some travel nurse paperwork that will help get you there.
When you begin your first assignment, or even if you've been on multiple assignments, you may quickly find out that travel nurses speak a completely different language than you have heard before! As you prepare for your next assignment, use this guide to become familiar with some common terms that you will hear in your new professional network.
These travel nursing terms can be used in the following:
- Travel nurse contract
- Compensation & taxes
- Travel assignment
TRAVEL NURSE CONTRACT
The travel contract is possibly the most important term to know. This is a legally binding document between the travel nurse, agency, and medical facility. The contract covers an agreement for terms of work including compensation, reimbursements, and approved time off. Below are some terms included in the travel nurse contract that are helpful to become familiar with.
Approved time off: As a travel nurse, this is your guaranteed way of getting your requested days off. Before starting an assignment, you can make sure to have specific times off by writing your unavailable work times into the contract.
Missed hours penalty: Be aware of the facility and travel agency’s rules about calling in sick while on a travel assignment. Some hospitals are known to reschedule travel nurses for “make-up shifts,” and travel agencies often withhold cost-of-living compensation due to a missed shift. Talk to your representative at the travel agency to determine any missed shift penalties you may encounter.
Guaranteed hours: There may be language in the contract stating that a travel nurse is guaranteed to work a certain number of hours during the assignment. Be sure to read through your contract carefully for a guaranteed hours policy. This way, you won’t lose money when a hospital cancels your shift.
Exemption: A medical or religious exemption will be included in a contract, stating that a travel nurse is allowed to work in a facility despite a missing mandatory item like a vaccination. Policies vary by facility, so ask your travel agency to help clarify the requirements for your assignment.
COMPENSATION AND TAXES
Unlike your staff position, your living expenses are paid for as a travel nurse. Nice! Here are some terms around compensation and taxes that will help you navigate the lifestyle of officially becoming an RN (rich nurse).
Base rate: This is the hourly (taxed) rate you will be making for the facility. Check with your travel agency to find out if the facility offers weekend and shift differentials for travel nurses.
On-call rate: If you come into work after being on-call, this is the rate you will be making in addition to your base rate.
Housing stipend: This is a part of the pay package, which includes your monthly sum of money that will go toward housing expenses. This sum of money is also not taxed.
Per diem/ meals & incidentals: Think of this as your daily allowance for food and gas money. You have traveled away from home to work, so you will be compensated for daily expenses. These are also not taxed.
Travel reimbursement: Depending on the agency, you may be compensated for traveling to and from your assignment. If you travel by road trip, keep the receipts for gas in case you need to present them for mileage compensation. If you fly, you may be compensated up to a certain amount for the airline ticket.
Completion bonus: Some travel nursing agencies and healthcare facilities offer completion bonuses. A completion bonus is when you get paid for completing your assignment. This is a new compensation feature that many travel nursing agencies offer due to nursing shortages nationwide.
Tax Home: Your home base, or tax home, is where you spend the most time in between assignments. This is the address you will claim to verify that you are traveling far enough from home to receive travel benefits.
TRAVEL NURSE ASSIGNMENT TERMS
While a traditional travel nurse assignment is 13 weeks, it is possible to find shorter or longer assignments that match your availability for your dream job. Here are some terms you may see surrounding different types of travel positions that fall outside of the standard 13-week contract:
Per diem/ local travel: If you are looking to pick up shifts casually without traveling away from home, this may be a better option than taking a traditional assignment. Many travel agencies offer placement for per diem (as needed) shifts or short-term contracts near your home.
EMR conversion: When a hospital makes the transition into a new electronic medical record (EMR) system, managers hire travel nurses to help care for patients to give core staff members time to adjust to a new system.
Rapid response or critical need: These travel nurse jobs are urgent-need roles that fill quickly— often within days. For these assignments, be prepared to turn in required documents fast and start working ASAP for a higher payoff (often referred to as crisis rates).
Crisis rate or crisis pay: When there is a critical nursing staff shortage in a particular area, hospitals and travel nurse agencies will sometimes offer crisis pay. They offer this to entice travel nurses to take assignments based on increased compensation.
Nursing compact state: One of the quickest ways to get started as a travel nurse is to become licensed in a compact state. Compact nursing licenses permit travel nurses to care for patients in any state included in the compact.
Walk-through state: When applying for a rapid response role, you may hear a state referred to as a “walk-through state.” This means that an RN license can be obtained quickly to practice in the state.
List of Necessary Documents For Travel Nursing
There will be several required compliance documents before starting your next travel nursing job. It is important to have these in order before speaking to a travel nurse recruiter and especially if you plan to accept an assignment. Not having the required travel nursing documentation can potentially delay your start date or hinder a hospital from initially hiring you. Below is a list of necessary documents that you will need:
- Driver’s license
- Photo identification
- Valid Nursing License (state or compact)
- Travel nurse paperwork
- Basic Life Support (BLS) certification
- Physical exam
- Medical records
- Skills checklist
Let’s review some of these important documents in more detail below.
Some healthcare organizations require that you have a physical exam. Each healthcare facility provides specific forms to be completed for physical exams. Depending on the facility and requirements, this can be completed by your primary healthcare provider. However, some facilities prefer that you see an occupational health provider through a third-party vendor. Your agency will typically organize and schedule an occupational health appointment and drug screening on the same visit.
During your physical exam visit, expect the healthcare provider to ask about your health and social history, current medications, and any current or prior injuries. The healthcare provider will complete a thorough physical assessment, which also includes testing strength, range of motion, and tolerance to mild stress exercises. Remember, they are assessing your ability to complete the physical demands of the travel nursing job.
Healthcare facilities often request specific medical records as well. If you have a scheduled occupational health visit, make sure to bring these with you. Ask before your appointment about what you will need to bring, as you will not need to bring all of your medical records with you. The healthcare provider will often need to review and document specifics and dates.
There are select items from your medical record that will need review. These can include immunizations, tuberculin skin testing (PPD reading), and lab values or blood titers. If you have a history of a positive PPD reading, you will need documentation of a recent x-ray. This is usually required yearly to make sure you do not have active tuberculosis. Sometimes your primary care provider can order the x-ray before your appointment, so you have results. However, if you are unable to obtain this beforehand, the occupational health provider can order the x-ray. Results may take a few days to be returned and reviewed by the provider.
Almost every travel nursing agency asks for a skills checklist. A skills checklist provides your travel nurse recruiter, agency, and potential healthcare facility with a list of skills that you feel comfortable performing.
Typically, there is a general nursing skills checklist that reviews basic nursing skills. If you are in a specialty, you will have one to two additional checklists to complete that are unit or specialty specific. With most skills checklists, you will rate yourself on a competency and comfort scale. Be honest when rating yourself to make sure your recruiter and the healthcare facility can match your skillset to the unit-specific needs. For example, a hospital may have multiple intensive care units (ICUs), each specializing in different areas, such as surgical, medical, or cardiac. You wouldn’t want to overestimate your skill set and wind up in a cardiac unit if you have never worked with cardiac patients.
The Benefit of Digital Copies
It’s also beneficial to have digital copies of your necessary documents. Store these on a cloud or drive, where you can access them from anywhere with an internet connection. In addition, download the application to your phone for easy access. You never know when you may need to show travel nurse documentation at your new assignment.
Also, it’s a good idea to have copies or photos of your immunization records on your phone. While these may not need to be presented at your healthcare facility, many local stores and restaurants require proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter.