Definitions

travel allowance

Travel nursing

Travel nursing and the Travel Nursing Industry developed in response to the nursing shortage in which nurses are relocated for short-term nursing positions. The current severe shortage of nurses in the United States has increased the need for this type of position and hospitals and recruitment agencies are offering incentives ranging from relocation assistance and furnished housing to stipends and bonuses to qualified registered nurses and LPN/LVNs as well as an assortment of allied health professionals.

Most nurses enjoy travel nursing for 3 reasons:

  • Visiting many different locations
  • Free benefits
  • Higher salary with bonuses

Applying with one of over 340 U.S. travel nurse companies only occurs once although many travelers float among multiple companies. Nurses do not need to fill out all of their information for each position within one company. This enables nurses to apply for many positions concurrently. In addition, travel nurses can continue to live at their current residence while being provided a taxed subsidy for their mortgage/rent if they do not want to move, although many hospitals do not allow permanent residents within a certain radius to work as a Traveler.

Clinical requirements

The usual requirements for becoming a travel nurse are a minimum of one year of clinical experience in one's specialty and licensure in the state of employment, usually granted by reciprocity with the homestate's board of nursing. While only a minimum of one year of experience is required, it is highly advisable to have two or more years of experience prior to becoming a travel nurse. A travel nurse may receive a minimal orientation to the assignment hospital, most often only one or two days, and may receive no orientation, at all so this is a subject that needs to be clarified in the interview and written into the contract. Travel nurses are expected to be very experienced and knowledgable in their specialty by their assignment hospital.

If the nurse's home state has joined the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLCA), the nurse can work in any compact state using their home state license. The nurse must have a license (RN or LPN) in good standing in their resident Compact state. There are currently 23 states participating in NLCA with no states pending implementation.

Travel nursing assignment

Travelers typically work under a short-term contract (usually ranging from 4 to 13 weeks). Contract Outside of the USA can be 1-2 yrs long. Frequently, an extension or a permanent position is offered by the hospital at the end of the contract.

Assignment housing

Travel companies generally provide a one bedroom furnished apartment although other options can be arranged. Utilities (electric, water, trash) are often covered within limits. Telephone, cable TV and sometimes Internet service can be included. Housing usually includes basic furnishings and may include a washer and dryer, dishwasher and a microwave. Many companies also provide housewares, which include pots, dishes, utensils and linens.

The housing is typically arranged by the travel nursing agency in the company name. Some companies allow the travel nurse to participate in the search and selection process. Some parts of the country are much harder to secure reasonable housing than others.

Nearly all agencies will offer a housing stipend if the nurse decides to secure housing independently of the agency. Some companies require the traveler to take the housing stipend and set up housing in their name rather than in the name of the company stating that they will make more money, which depends on the housing costs being less than the stipend. The housing stipend or provided housing will be taxed as part of the pay if the traveler does not have a "permanent tax home".

Assignment reimbursements

A travel allowance is generally paid by the travel agency which may or may not cover all Travel costs.

Some agencies offer healthcare insurance or reimbursement for insurance held elsewhere, the ability to contribute to 401(k)accounts (sometimes with matching funds), licensure reimbursment, referral bonuses for referring other travelers and loyalty reward type programs. Some companies are even starting to add vacation and sick days, stock investment options and continuing education reimbursements.

Salary and benefits

Salary averages are widely variable. Salary may change based on the location, the need of the hospital or nursing unit, the perceived staffing needs by the unit manager and the ability of the traveler to negotiate. Great differences are seen in various locations of the country. Generally, areas in the southern United States pay less than areas in the north or west. Areas where housing costs are high can impact salary ranges, as well.

There may be tax benefits, commonly called "Tax Advantage" or "Per Diem" pay, if the traveler maintains a "permanent tax home" while working and living away from that home. The tax-free reimbursement covers meal and incidentals as well as lodging. Some companies only offer the tax free lodging component, while others provide both. A "permanent tax home" is a dwelling that you live in, maintain and return to between assignments.

Tax-free money is a complicated subject and many travel companies have little understanding of the tax implications for the traveler, often encouraging travelers who do not qualify to take it, leaving them at risk in an IRS audit. It is highly advisable to consult a travel tax expert prior to accepting tax free money.

Considerations

There are additional costs of being a traveler, which include additional licensing costs, traveling costs. These costs are reimbursed to varying degrees depending on what company you use, your recruiter and your own negotiating skills.

Often nurses will dream of traveling as a way of getting financially ahead and seeing the world. That dream can turn into a nightmare though if a traveler is not prepared and educated. Being a successful traveler requires using good financial planning, a flexible outlook, knowing what companies and recruiters to deal with, what questions to ask, and how to negotiate.

The Professional Association of Nurse Travelers is the non-profit national organization representing nurse travelers in the US. The best inside advice covering pitfalls and workarounds comes from traveler-produced websites, blogs and forums on the web.

Statistics

There are an estimated 25,500 Registered Nurse Travelers working in the U.S. The number of LVN/LPN Nurse or Allied Healthcare Travelers is not known.

Presently there are over 480 and Travel Nurse Companies, US & International, also staffing Allied Healthcare Professionals.

References

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