Tips for Transitioning From Staff RN to Travel Nurse
If you’ve got the travel bug and just so happen to be a nurse, there is an adventure waiting out there for you: travel nursing. While it may seem strange to transition from a hospital or practice in which you’ve been working for months or even years — all with the same colleagues and same procedures — becoming a travel nurse may just be the change of pace you need.
But going from a staff RN to a travel nurse may include a little bit of career culture shock or feature some surprise stumbling blocks that can easily be avoided.
- Pick the right travel nurse company.
The first step to becoming a travel nurse is to find the right travel nurse staffing agency. A travel nurse company will help you find a job, get your licenses and certifications in order, ensure you are paid and help you find housing. But beware: not all agencies offer the same benefits. Make sure that the travel nurse company (or companies — many travel nurses will recommend that you use more than one) you select has been reviewed by other nurses and has the benefits that you find the most desirable. For example, if the housing stipend is high but there is flimsy insurance, you may want to reconsider if the latter is more important to you.
- Pick your top five locations.
It may be exciting to just think, “I’ll go where the wind takes me!” — but in reality, it’s a lot easier to get your documents together and prepare for a move if you have an idea of where you may end up. Furthermore, since you’ll need to get your license in the state in order to work — unless you have a compact nursing license, which is valid in 25 states — it will be easier for you to do so if you know which states you’ll need it in.
You should find out how long it takes to get a nursing license in your desired location as well, as some states may take months to issue a license — and you may only get a few weeks’ notice for an assignment. The most popular states for travel nursing (and the ones with the most jobs!) are Florida, Texas and California; note that only Texas is part of the Nurse Licensure Compact. For other states, you’ll need to get a license.
- Review the pay and get your taxes in order.
Travel nursing pay is a lot different than a staff nurse’s salary — and it’s usually very attractive. However, even though it sometimes may look like a lot more than staff nurse’s pay, it’s actually fairly comparable if you calculate in the housing pay you receive, travel pay and meals. Ask your recruiter to help you compare the hourly pay (not the hourly equivalent, which includes the aforementioned benefits such as housing) to see what you’ll truly be earning. A travel nurse’s salary is comfortable, of course, but you shouldn’t expect to become a millionaire after a few assignments.
In addition, because you won’t be settling down in a single state and your pay included nontaxable allowances such as housing and meal pay, if you don’t get your taxes in order at the start, you may be looking at a big payment at the end of the year. Many travel nurse companies will offer assistance in tax compliance, but not all — so make sure you have an accountant you trust to help you.
- Prepare to dive in headfirst.
Travel nurses are there to cover shortages, so be prepared to be thrown in to the thick of things on your third day — and sometimes even your first. You may get an orientation period, but you’ll be expected to hop in and take charge even when not asked (and even when you’re not sure of the protocols). Don’t be afraid to ask what to do, how to do it and where — it’s better to be safe than sorry when working as a travel nurse.
In addition to that, you’ll have to balance getting to know your new (temporary) colleagues and try to fit in as best you can without stepping on any toes. Your first assignment can be a tiring, emotionally draining time, but once you get the hang of it, you may never want to be a staff nurse again.