Before you sign that contract, pack that bag, and wave good-bye to friends and colleagues, you need to ask a lot of questions. Recognizing this, representatives of several travel nursing agencies share their experiences, suggest questions you can use as a guide, and offer their advice.
Adrienne Hollingsworth, head of customer care at Cross Country TravCorps, previously worked as a recruiter for the agency. She recommends making two lists of questions to ask before accepting a travel assignment.
“I'd encourage travelers to make one list for the hospital or facility and one for the recruiting agency,” she ex-plained. “We send our travelers a list of interview guidelines, and we tell them to ask the interviewing manager anything that's important to them.” For example, she suggests that nurses ask about the following topics.
Pay, perks, and guarantees
- Is my assignment guaranteed by written contract?
- Are my hours and pay rate guaranteed?
- How much and how often will I be paid?
- Who pays me–-the facility or the agency?
- Will I be paid via direct deposit or with a paycheck? If a check, will it be drawn on a local bank?
- What will be deducted from my paycheck?
- Who will pay for my move?
- Who will pay for my housing? My utilities?
- Which benefits will come from the agency and which from the facility?
- Does the agency provide travel award points to its nurses? Are the points based on number of hours worked? Do the points last for at least 2 years? Can loyal nurses use points to qualify for a travel award program that provides all-inclusive trip or vacation incentives?
- Will I have parking privileges?
- Will I have insurance coverage (malpractice, life, medical, dental)?
- What are the cost and coverage for each type of insurance (maximum out-of-pocket expense, date of eligibility, premiums, deductibles)?
- When does coverage begin for each? Who's covered? What's covered? Are existing conditions covered? If not, when will they be covered?
- Will I have a choice of health care providers and hospitals?
- Can I use the insurance when I travel to other states or countries?
- Will I lose the coverage if I take a break between travel nursing contracts?
- Are there other benefits and bonuses? 401(k)? Loyalty program? Continuing-education or travel reimbursement? Sign-on bonus? Completion bonus? Larger bonus for longer stay or for hard-to-fill position? Bonus for referrals?
- Does the agency offer meal allowances? Travel awards? Vacations? Special payment arrangements for items or conveniences important to me?
- If the agency pays bonuses, when would I qualify for one? What conditions must I meet to qualify for it? When would my bonus be paid? Would it be taxed?
- If the agency offers a retirement plan, when would I become eligible to contribute to it? Does the agency match my contribution? If so, when would that begin and what would the contribution consist of? When would I become vested? Into what investments would my funds be placed? Would I have control of my investments? Is there a penalty for withdrawing my money if I stop traveling?
- Will I have typical mileage reimbursement when I travel for the agency or hospital? Will the reimbursement cover a portion for transportation to the assignment and then reimbursement for return to my home (or to my next assignment)?
- Can travel reimbursement be arranged to meet my individual needs?
- How long has the travel agency been in business?
- Does the agency provide support and assistance with license processing, licensing fees, and other credentialing needs?
- Have travelers worked at the facility or location before?
- Is there anything special I should know about the facility or the location?
- What is the nurse/patient ratio per shift?
- Will there be unlicensed staff or other ancillary staff in the unit?
- What type of scheduling is done? Who makes the schedule and how often?
- Will I work in shifts?
- What are the facility's orientation procedures?
- Are study guides provided and are tests given?
- Are there any licensure issues?
- What type of charting system is used?
- What is the float obligation?
- Do travelers float first and, if so, to what areas?
- What are the expectations regarding “taking call”?
- Is there an option for overtime?
- Will I be allowed to make up a missed shift?
- Whom do I contact (the facility, my recruiter, my employer, other) if I have a problem or an important issue to discuss?
- Is there an agency representative available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?
- What if my recruiter is unavailable?
- Whom do I talk with about time off, and what are the requirements for having it granted?
- What kind of housing is being offered, private or shared?
- What are their locations and availability?
- If shared, can I request a nonsmoking roommate or a roommate that works the same shift as I do?
- Can I get a housing stipend if I live at my own home, live out of town with friends or relatives, or rent a home on my own while on assignment?
- If the travel agency offers a stipend to pay for utilities, when is it paid and is it taxed?
- Does the assignment I'm considering offer free private housing? Can I take my spouse, significant other, children, pets? What charges are there if I do?
- Is the house or apartment furnished?
Some good advice…
“Nurses should thoroughly research the company and what it offers,” said Hollingsworth. She encourages travelers to ask to see the “fine print.” The list can be exhaustive, she admitted, “but it's in their best interest to gather all of the information.” Hollingsworth, who believes that “knowledge is power,” also reiterated the old adage, “What sounds too good to be true is.”
April Errazuriz, senior recruiter for PPR Travel, and Devon Pero, director of advertising for Sunbelt Staffing Solutions, Inc., have similar lists of questions that travel nurses should ask before taking an assignment. But first and foremost, they encourage travelers to ask, ask, ask about any areas that need clarification.
“Nurses should inquire about and confirm that their own contact information is available at the travel company,” said Pero. Some agencies give employees cell phones for convenient communication in emergencies or getting directions while on the road.
Karen Flaster, RN, chief operating officer for HRN Services, Inc., recommends that nurses “be certain” about an assignment before taking it. “Be sure that your hours are guaranteed,” she cautions, “and ask about what happens if the hospital cancels.”
Debby Ortiz, national vice-president of support services and recruiting for CMSI, adds several questions about guarantees for assignments, hours, and rate of pay. “Everything should be guaranteed in a written contract,” she said. “Otherwise, nurses may arrive at assignments and be told that the rate of pay or the hours weren't guaranteed.” If travelers don't ask questions about pay rate and benefits, said Ortiz, they may end up losing money on the assignment.
Todd McClure Cook, president of travel staffing operations at StarMed Staffing Group reflected on the issues nurses should ask about before accepting an assignment. “There are two key ways for a professional to leverage the opportunity for benefits,” he said. “First, ask for what you desire. Communicate your needs, wants, and desires to your recruiter or career agent. Second, be sure to go with an agency that has the flexibility and experience to deliver alternatives and specific needs as a natural course of business.
“We have on-staff clinicians available to support nurses who have clinical issues and questions, he added. And he believes that travel nurses should expect management staff to “be available 24/7/365” to support nurses and client health care organizations.”