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Five surprising things about travel healthcare

When thinking about traveling, you can hear the good, bad, and the ugly from other travelers. Each person can tell you something different, but most have these five things in common. Read about five things that most travelers are surprised to learn about traveling.

1) The orientation isn’t as long as you thought it would be.
The amount of orientation you receive at each hospital will be different and could be determined on how quickly you catch on to things. Some hospitals have you come in for one day of orientation while others might have you come in for three days. Typically first day orientation covers hospital policies and procedures. You also might have to take a couple tests over the policies and procedures you learned or it could cover the hospitals charting system. Most orientations consist of a tour of the hospital itself and obtaining a photo ID badge. You will also receive your schedule for the rest of that week on your first day. The next day of orientation you may shadow another person on the floor to get a rundown of how things work and where equipment and other items are located. Again, some hospitals will have one day of orientation where others will have three days. No matter what, you always want to ask questions and the staff will be there to help you.

2) The perm staff at the hospital is very friendly.
Being the new kid on the block can be hard and/or nerve racking. You never know what to expect when starting on a new unit at a new hospital. For the most part the staff you meet at the hospital, including doctors, will be really helpful and friendly. You have to understand that they hired you there for 13 weeks because they have a need. The staff knows you are there to help them out to keep patient ratios low. A lot of travelers have said the staff welcomes them with open arms and even throw going away parties at the end of their assignment. The staff will be there to assist you. During the holidays I have even had travelers tell me they have been invited by staff to family Christmas celebrations, Thanksgiving dinners, or Fourth of July gatherings. Each and every hospital experience will be different but the majority of feedback I have received has been positive in regards to the perm staff.

3) There will be times where you have to float to other units.
The hospitals you are hired at hire you because they have an open need and are short staffed. For the most part you will work on the unit you were hired to work on but there will be times you are expected to float to other units. Now with that being said if you are strictly a Med-Surg nurse with no experience in psych, you will not be floated to psych. If you are for some reason, you just need to let that charge nurse or supervisor know that floating to psych is out of your scope of practice. That will usually be the end of it. But, if for some reason they insist you have to float to a unit out of your scope of practice, you need to call your agency right away and alert them. You never want to work on a unit or with patient types you are not familiar with. You put not only yourself and the agency you are working for at risk but also that patient you are taking care of and the hospital they are staying at. Make sure that if you float, for example, from a Medical ICU to a Trauma ICU, you are familiar with those Trauma ICU patient types and ask questions if needed. Make sure you are given an orientation on a unit where you float so that you can understand the expectations they have because each unit is different in that regard.

4) Tax-free per diems being offered are different from agency to agency.
One of the biggest reasons people decide to travel is for the amazing compensation being offered. You receive a great hourly wage and also tax-free money which is awesome. The only thing you need to keep in mind and be aware of is the dangers of taking too much tax-free money. Some agencies will stick within the IRS guidelines paying a fair hourly wage and meals stipend. If you choose to provide your own housing then you will also receive what is called the housing stipend. If you have an agency that pitches you a flat hourly rate (i.e. $60 an hour), make sure to ask them how that is broken down with hourly wage and tax-free per diems. You never want to accept a lower hourly wage, for example $14.00 an hour, then $1,000 a week in tax free per diems. You leave yourself at risk of being audited by the IRS. It will raise red flags if you are receiving $1,000 a week for meals and housing when you can live in that area of the country for half that. With a low hourly wage you have to think you will also receive less in overtime wages, lower unemployment benefits, and it will be harder for you to qualify for any loan. Remember with loans they approve that loan based on your “taxable” wage, not the tax-free per diems you are receiving. Do your research, check out traveltax.com, or speak with a tax professional so you don’t find yourself in this sort of predicament.

5) You can receive multiple benefits outside of just Medical and Dental.         
A few agencies out there will not only offer Medical and Dental benefits but will also offer 401K, paid time off, and tuition reimbursement to name a few. Each and every one has different parameters and qualifications you have to meet to be eligible. Some agencies may offer benefits such as professional liability insurance free of charge and you might not even be aware of this. Do your research before you start a travel assignment so that you know all of the benefits you are eligible for and when.

Jonny Stebbins is an Account Manager for the Nursing division of Aureus Medical Group.


  1. By Diane Pinchot

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