Making the transition from staff nurse to travel nurse is an exciting time, with endless possibilities ahead. However, before you start planning your bucket list of activities for your days off in a new city, you need to take care of some paperwork that will help get you there.
When you begin your first assignment, or even if you've been on multiple assignments, you may quickly find out that travel nurses speak a completely different language than you have heard before! As you prepare for your next assignment, use this guide to become familiar with some common terms that you will hear in your new professional network.
These travel nursing terms can be used in the following:
- Travel nurse contract
- Compensation & taxes
- Travel assignment
Travel Nurse Contract
The travel contract is possibly the most important term to know. This is a legally binding document between the travel nurse, agency, and medical facility. The contract covers an agreement for terms of work including compensation, reimbursements, and approved time off. Below are some terms included in the travel nurse contract that are helpful to become familiar with.
Approved time off: As a travel nurse, this is your guaranteed way of getting your requested days off. Prior to starting a travel assignment, you can make sure to have specific times off by writing your unavailable work times into the contract.
Missed hours penalty: Be aware of the facility and travel agency’s rules about calling in sick while on a travel assignment. Some hospitals are known to reschedule travel nurses for “make-up shifts,” and travel agencies often withhold cost-of-living compensation due to a missed shift. Talk to your representative at the travel agency to determine any missed shift penalties you may encounter.
Guaranteed hours: There may be language in the contract stating that a travel nurse is guaranteed to work a certain number of hours during the assignment. Be sure to read through your contract carefully for a guaranteed hours policy. This way, you won’t lose money when a hospital cancels your shift.
Exemption: A medical or religious exemption will be included in a contract, stating that a travel nurse is allowed to work in a facility despite a missing mandatory item like a vaccination. Policies vary by facility, so ask your travel agency to help clarify the requirements for your travel assignment.
Compensation and Taxes
Unlike your staff position, your living expenses are paid for as a travel nurse. Nice! Here are some terms around compensation and taxes that will help you navigate the lifestyle of officially becoming an RN (rich nurse).
Base rate: This is the hourly (taxed) rate you will be making for the facility. Check with your travel agency to find out if the facility offers weekend and shift differentials for travel nurses.
On-call rate: If you come into work after being on-call, this is the rate you will be making in addition to your base rate.
Housing stipend: This is a part of the pay package, which includes your monthly sum of money that will go toward housing expenses. This sum of money is also not taxed.
Per diem/ meals & incidentals: Think of this as your daily allowance for food and gas money. You have traveled away from home to work, so you will be compensated for daily expenses. These are also not taxed.
Travel reimbursement: Depending on the agency, you may be compensated for traveling to and from your assignment. If you travel by road trip, keep the receipts for gas in case you need to present them for mileage compensation. If you fly, you may be compensated up to a certain amount for the airline ticket.
Tax Home: Your home base, or tax home, is where you spend the most time in between assignments. This is the address you will claim to verify that you are traveling far enough from home to receive travel benefits.
Travel Nurse Assignment Terms
While a traditional travel nurse assignment is 13 weeks, it is possible to find shorter or longer assignments that match your availability. Here are some terms you may see surrounding different types of travel positions that fall outside of the standard 13-week contract:
Per diem/ local travel: If you are looking to pick up shifts casually without traveling away from home, this may be a better option than taking a traditional assignment. Many travel agencies offer placement for per diem (as needed) shifts or short-term contracts near your home.
EMR conversion: When a hospital makes the transition into a new electronic medical record (EMR) system, managers hire travel nurses to help care for patients to give core staff members time to adjust to a new system.
Rapid response: These travel nurse jobs are urgent-need roles that fill quickly— often within days. For these assignments, be prepared to turn in required documents fast and start working ASAP for a higher payoff (often referred to as crisis rates).
Nursing compact state: One of the quickest ways to get started as a travel nurse is to become licensed in a compact state. A compact license gives a travel nurse the permission to care for patients in any state included in the compact.
Walk-through state: When applying for a rapid response role, you may hear a state referred to as a “walk-through state.” This means that a nursing license can be obtained quickly in order to practice in the state.
Becoming a travel nurse presents the opportunity to encounter so many amazing new places and people. The experiences from each city and healthcare facility will help you grow as a nurse— both professionally and personally. Now that you speak the travel nurse language, why not take the next step in becoming a travel nurse today?
Alexa Davidson, MSN, RN
Alexa is a freelance health writer and registered nurse with over a decade of experience in neonatal and pediatric cardiac intensive care. As a travel nurse, she worked her way from the Atlantic to the Pacific, taking care of some of the most inspiring kids in the country. When Alexa is not busy putting pen to paper, she can be found recreating dishes from her favorite restaurants at her home in Charleston, SC.