There is no official handbook that outlines how to do this whole “travel” thing. A lot of the knowledge my husband Frank and I have came from lessons often learned the hard way. For him, the beginning of his Travel-Xray-Tech career began with the belief that being a traveler meant being the workhorse for whichever medical facility hired him. Specifically he thought he was there to pick up the tasks the permanent staff didn’t want to do, whether or not those often menial tasks were why he was hired. Long before ever considering being a traveler himself, while on staff at his first permanent job, he saw the way the travel nurses were treated. He witnessed them having little to no say in the shifts they were asked to work and saw them being treated as the “lowest man on the totem pole”, despite how many years of experience they may have had. These things he saw, and at first experienced as a traveler himself, were not necessarily right. Over time he has realized he can advocate for fair treatment through the negotiation of his contract at each assignment.
After Frank’s 8+ assignments, as well as several extensions, its become clear to us that the first draft of a contract is a starting point for those negotiations. He’s learned he can advocate for certain things to which any person should reasonably feel entitled. The truth is that as a traveler, you ARE expected to pull a little more weight than everyone else. The hospitals are investing in you after all. But that doesn’t mean that you are left without room for reasonable requests. Just be OK with “no” for an answer, especially if it means losing an assignment or contract. (Some hospitals can be quite temperamental, so tread lightly.) Whenever Frank asks me my opinion on requesting something particular, my answer is always this: “What’s the worst that could happen? They’ll say no. Just be OK with that.”
This is in NO WAY ADVICE, and you should use these tips by your own choice. These are just things that have worked for us.
1) Guaranteed Hours
You get paid for the hours you work, right? Well, sort of. You also only get paid your housing stipend and Per Diem monies pro-rated by how many hours you work. What does this mean? Well, if the hospital is slow and has fewer cases, or hires someone for permanent employment for the position you are contracted to fill, they could start sending you home early to try to save money.
If you take care of your own housing, you are still responsible for your full rent, but you won’t be getting the full amount of housing stipend in your contract. That is why its important to negotiate “guaranteed 40 hours” in your contract. They may come back and say that they’ll guarantee 36, or 38, or however many. Again, think of the bigger financial picture and plan for the worst. Negotiate and meet in the middle if you have to. They may tell you they are super busy and have no plans to send you home early, so to take thier work for it. But a lot of things can change in the course of 13 weeks.
Typically, if your travel company is providing you housing (as opposed to you taking the stipend and finding your own housing) and you don’t work your 40 hours, they eat the cost. That can be an advantage if a hospital won’t give you guaranteed hours but you really want the assignment whether its because of the location or you really want to work at that particular hospital. Its just something to consider.
2) What shifts you'll be working?
Be specific in your contracts as to whether your shifts will be weekdays or will include weekends/nights. Will you be working an “occasional” graveyard or late shift? Be specific! How many times a week will you be working those night shifts? Is there a pay differential for them?
If you don’t plan on working weekends make sure it says that your shifts are weekdays only. Don’t assume it’s a given. It may seem that way between you and your recruiter, but as I mentioned before many hospitals view you as a work horse. They’ll need, want, and sometimes expect you to fill in whatever shifts they need filled even if those are at different time or in different departments. Which brings me to the next item.
3) Specify in which department(s) you'll be working.
Again, you may assume that because your interviewer says you are being hired as a “Cath Lab” tech, you’ll be in the Cath lab 100% of your assignment. The truth is that many times if there is a need in IR or EP that’s where you could end up.
If you are OK with being moved around, then don’t specify. That’s just fine. My point is to go into each assignment fully aware of where you may or may not be working.For example, if you are expecting to continue your EP experience, but could end up in IR the whole time, better to know that ahead of time than be caught off guard and stuck for 13 weeks. When it comes to gaining experience, my next tip may be of use to you.
3) Wanna learn a new modality?
If there is a modality in which you don’t have much experience ask about the possibility of cross training during your interview with the hospital/department manager. If they indicate that there is in fact a possibility try to get it written in your contract, but never at the expense of losing that contract. Don’t push too hard. Remember that cross training would be a favor to you and not why they are hiring you. If their answer is no, keep that request in your back pocket for when/if they ask you to extend. At that point, the chances are higher that they will accommodate your request because they don’t want to have to find a new traveler. Its almost always easier for them to accommodate your request than it is to search for, interview, and train/orient a new traveler from scratch when you are already there. But again, don’t push so hard that you lose the assignment.
4) Take care of yourself!
Just because you don’t get paid sick time doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to go to a doctor’s appointment. Although, know that you won’t get paid for the time you take off to go see that Doc. But don’t feel guilty. You have the same need as everyone else, to get a check up etc. However, NEVER leave without explicit permission from both your recruiter and your hospital supervisor. Make sure everyone is OK with it or you’ll be in breach of contract. Even better, follow the next tip!
5) Try to get 4-10's or 3 -12's, rather than 5-8's.
With these shifts you get a day or two to do what you need, such as go to doctor appointments, the bank or post office etc. You may think that if you work 5-8’s you’ll get everything done just fine because you are off work at 3 or 4pm. But as my husband learned the hard way, 5-8’s with call and overtime can quickly turn to 5-12’s or more. Plus, depending on where you live, you’ll be spending quite a bit of time figuring out public transportation or how to get around. But that’s part of the fun!
6) Vacation days/time off
Try your best to negotiate ahead of time if you need to take a few days to go “back home”, or even just on a vacation. Again, know that it will be unpaid and you will still be responsible to pay your housing, but we all need a break from time to time. But, be considerate! If you need a week off in a 13 week assignment, extend the dates to cover 14 weeks so that the hospital isn’t getting shorted. Its good to work around the hospital’s schedule in order to preserve good will and relationships. If something comes up unexpectedly after you’re contract is signed or you’ve already started working, sometimes vacation/time off can be negotiated afterward with an addendum. But, as I’ve said before its always better for everyone to go into the contract with all needs on the table, so ahead of time is best. It just creates a clear-aired work relationship.
7) BEWARE of large sign on and/or completion bonuses!
$2,000 Bonus to move to a hospital in Sunny Los Angeles?!!! Sign me up! Right? Well, maybe… and maybe not. Think about why a hospital is willing to dole out that kind of cash. Often its because they can’t get any travelers to sign on without it. Or worse, they can’t get any of their current travelers to extend. Is it because it is not the LA most people imagine, but rather somewhere 3 hours inland from Santa Monica or Hollywood? (LA is a big city, as are other areas like “San Francisco Bay Area”, etc.)
Is there a huge bonus because the hours are nuts? Are you OK with any or all of that? If the answer is yes, then by all means go for it! If you are Travel-Nursing/Tech-ing solely to bank as much money as you can before settling down, then there is nothing wrong with accepting that kind of assignment. But if you are like us and traveling for the life experience or to advance your career, ask lots of questions as to why that money is on the table. Is it because its Winter in Alaska? Or because its summer in Death Valley? How long have they been attempting to fill the position? How many permanent staffers are there currently? The more answers you have, the better choice you can make for yourself. But be careful not to offend the manager or anyone at the facility. You can be much more candid in your questioning with your recruiter, but be diplomatic when speaking to anyone at the hospital.
8) Don't allow your travel company to max out the tax-free money.
Sure, nobody likes being taxed, but its much worse being audited by the IRS! Always keep your meals and incidentals (aka per Diem) and your housing stipend under the federal GSA guidelines for the area of the hospital.
Here can look up the max allowable tax free monies: “Per Diem Rates”. Just enter the zip code for the facility where you will be working.
If you are audited you’ll need to prove that you spent what you were given or else you’ll have to retro-actively pay taxes on it anyway. If you stay UNDER the allowable amount, say by $100 or more for housing, and $50 or more a week for per Diem, you are far less likely to be flagged by the IRS (knock on wood). The travel companies are going to want to max it out because it increases their profit margin. They’ll tell you not to worry that it’ll be fine maxing out. But they won’t be anywhere to be found when the IRS is knocking on your proverbial door. THIS IS IN NO WAY TAX ADVICE. This is just what has worked for us.
Find yourself a good CPA that has experience with travel nurses and techs. Interview several, TRUST ME! They are worth their weight in gold if in fact they do know what they are doing. Some will say they can figure it out, but they’ll spend hours going through tax books and you are the one who will foot the bill if they mess up.
All of these tips are suggestions based on our experiences negotiating with several different companies. A lot of what you will get will depend on some abstract formula which combines your amount of experience and skill level, with the desperation of the hospital and back up support from your recruiter. Just because you get something with one assignment doesn’t mean you’ll get it with the next. The flip of that is also true. But no matter what, you’ll go into each assignment fully informed. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me any time on my social media accounts or below: