A Travel Nurse Assignment From Start To Finish

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Note: Guest contributor Ashley Hazen, a recruiter, wrote this post. Learn more about Ashley and her role as a travel nurse recruiter at the bottom of this article.

The world of travel nursing can be overwhelming and confusing. There is SO MUCH information at your fingertips. Where do you even begin? And how do you decipher what’s legit or a gimmick while trying to land a contract with a travel nurse agency that has your best interests at heart?

I’ve been recruiting for more than eight years. Before my role in the travel nurse industry, I worked for Jack Daniels. So, let me tell you – I will shoot you straight one way or another. 

Understanding a Travel Nurse Assignment

Let’s start with the basics. A standard travel nurse contract is typically 36 hours per week for 13 weeks. Your agency pays you for the 36 hours you work at the hospital. If you travel far enough away from home to ‘duplicate your living expenses,’ you could also qualify for tax-free living stipends. These might cover housing, meals, and incidentals (i.e., paying for parking, new scrubs, laundry mat, etc.). Side note: There are many myths about what qualifies you for tax-free stipends. This would be a whole different blog post, but I always suggest checking out TravelTax.com for more info or consulting a tax professional.

How do agencies get these travel nurse assignments? Well, while recruiters are working with nurses to polish up resumes, build relationships, earn trust and explain the process, hospital account managers are doing essentially the same for healthcare facilities. Account managers work on getting job orders, bill rates, and details from the unit manager on what they want from a travel nurse. Your agency will use the information provided by the hospital, pair it with the agency’s benefits (like day-one insurance, sick pay, license reimbursements, etc.), create a pay package for the job, and post it.

In the meantime, your recruiter is constantly hunting for the newest and best-suited jobs for you. As new openings get released, your recruiter should be sending over the information on each position that fits. Some jobs have strict requirements, like requiring two years of experience in a specialty, previous traveler experience, or specific charting system knowledge. Your recruiter will weed out the jobs that don’t match up or build a case for you as to why your experience (although not exactly what the unit manager is looking for) would still work on the hospital’s behalf.

Submitting for a Travel Nurse Assignment

Now that you and your recruiter have found a few good contracts, what’s next? Your recruiter will help you begin the application submission process. When it comes to travel nurse assignments, I always say you don’t want to put all your eggs into one basket. If you find five jobs that work for you and excite you, then ask your recruiter to submit you to all five! Your recruiter will submit your profile to the open job approximately 3-4 weeks before the start of the assignment. Ask your recruiter for a list of your current submissions and to keep track of where your profile is pending. 

Big reminder: Any time off you need must be included in the submission upfront, so don’t forget to tell your recruiter what days you need. Pro tip: Profiles with no time off tend to get pushed to the front of the line.

What Happens After Submitting My Travel Nurse Profile?

It generally takes about 72 hours to hear back from hospitals on profile submissions. There are a few likely outcomes that may happen:

  1. Your profile goes to the manager who calls you for a phone interview. You guys mesh well, and you land a job offer (yay!). The manager sends the offer over to your agency, which will then call and present you with all the details. Pay attention here and make sure the offer includes everything you discussed with the nurse manager.
  2. Your profile is sent, you look perfect on paper, and the manager sends over an “auto offer,” meaning you don’t have any formal interview. The job offer is yours to accept if you want it. At that point, your recruiter can ask for additional information via email if you have any questions.
  3. Your profile is sent over, and the hospital uses a voice-automated interview system where you record yourself answering a few scenario-based questions. The manager listens to the interview and offers based on your responses or calls for an interview.
  4. Your profile was sent over, but the manager has already submitted offers to other nurses. We get a rejection due to “job closed” or “max files.” Your recruiter closes that job out and moves on to find new options for you
  5. Your profile was sent over, but your skills don’t match the manager’s needs. Your recruiter works with you to revamp your profile, or we look for better-suited positions.

Looking Over the Assignment Contract

So, let’s say every option above except numbers four and five plays out. You have your official job offer for a travel contract! Your recruiter calls you to go over the details. What are some things you should be aware of before accepting the offer with the hospital and your agency?

  1. Confirm the length of the assignment and the start date. Some hospitals do orientation every Monday, whereas others have specific start dates.
  2. Call off policy: How often can the hospital call you off, and what happens when they do? Do you get stipends if you’re sent home?
  3. What happens if you call out sick? How do stipends work if you don’t get your 36 hours per week due to illness?
  4. Who is in charge of compliance, and when is it due? Does your agency set up the clinic visit and pay for modules, or is that out of pocket?
  5. Is there housing help available if you need it?
  6. Will you be floated to different units? If so, how often and which ones?
  7. Is there clinical help available if you need to speak to someone about unit concerns?
  8. How is payroll done? Is there someone in the agency that does payroll for you, or is it your recruiter?

Accepting and Preparing for Your First Assignment

So all your questions are answered, and you’re feeling good. The hospital sounds good, housing seems easy enough, and the pay looks great. Now what? YOU ACCEPT YOUR TRAVEL CONTRACT! Your agency will inform the hospital of your acceptance and write up the official contract. Your recruiter will go over all the details (again) with you, and you’ll sign on the dotted line! 

There are still a few items you’ll want to take care of before your first day on assignment. Assuming the start date is approximately 3-4 weeks out, you’ll put in your two-week notice if you are working a staff job and dive headfirst into traveler compliance with your agency. Warning – compliance can be a lot! There are legal documents, modules, and clinic visits to get through, but the right agency will hold your hand through the entire process. You’ll also book housing (some travelers suggest getting an extended stay hotel until you know your area better, then looking for more permanent housing once acclimated). You’ll show up in your new city the weekend before you start the assignment and then head to the hospital first thing Monday morning for a new chapter in your life.

Fitting in on the Hospital Unit

You’re there on the unit – now what? Make friends. Make fast friends by bringing in a tray of cookies or some freshly baked goodies. Not kidding – it works. 

Remember, you’re the new person in town. You’re there to help, and the hospital desperately needs it, but the staff doesn’t know your history, skill set, or how well you work with others. It’s time to prove yourself as someone who can hit the ground running, provide excellent patient care, work as a teammate, teach new things, and learn new things. Find your unit manager and get their contact information (you’ll want it for a reference later). So, focus on making new friends, finding the other travelers, and diving headfirst into the unknown.

Getting Ready for Your Next Assignment

You’ll be surprised how quickly 13 weeks pass. By the time you find the supply closet, it’ll be time to move on to your next assignment! About halfway through your assignment, your recruiter will work with you to start exploring your options. Do you want to extend your current assignment and stay a few more weeks, or do you want to start the process over and find a new contract? The world is YOUR pizza party now, and it’s time you enjoy the slice.

About Ashley Hazen

Ashley has been recruiting travel nurses for eight years. She knows how to handle a full plate and thrives off seeing others live out their dreams.

Ashley lives in a small town in Iowa with her husband, two kids, two dogs, two cats, and two horses. She loves true crime podcasts, Tom Brady, 90s music, and making new friends. Say hi to her @travel_nurse_recruiter on Instagram.

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