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Is this COVID-era travel money for real?? Sustainable??

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Specializes in ICU, Military. Has 18 years experience.

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I keep getting emails and ads popping up on social media that are offering crazy weekly pay rates for Travel RNs.  I am a former travel nurse (2006-2008), have 17 years of ICU experience and recently got my MSN and working full time as an FNP.  I hate my job as an NP and I am making way less than I could traveling.  I'm a single guy (no kids, etc) so moving around isn't an issue.  

Are these pay rates for real? (I've seen some offering like 6K per week), and is this pay projected to be around for a while?  I'm so far removed from when I last traveled that I don't even know which companies are reputable anymore and which offer the best benes.  As I inch towards my mid-40s I'm wondering if getting back into the travel industry vs staying an FNP would be worth my time or if these assignments are going to dry up soon.  It appears a substantial amount of money could be made.  Any insight??

So fundamentally, the situation is similar to when you last traveled. In that the devil is in the details. Will you be working 36 hours, 48 hours, 60 hours, or more to make the quoted amount? Does the quoted amount include the value of housing, per diems, and travel expenses, or is that supplied on top of hourly?

In terms of the current crisis situation, which shows no signs of abating and where vaccines have unknown lifespans and uncertain ability to tackle new variations - should be relatively lucrative for some time to come. Of course, there are risks. Covid. If you have received the vaccine or have been infected previously, well great.

Hate your job and want a change is one of the best reasons to travel. Money is not so don't get too greedy: consider everything. Also, travel is a lot harder than 2008. Lots more due diligence by agencies, and the rather annoying takeover of many facilities by vendor managers (basically hospital HR replacement, but all the money flows through them and agencies are their contractors) just makes it worse.

Also, the rise of computer charting can be the biggest burden of adapting to a new facility. Although here Epic is making big strides towards a monopoly position (big plus if you are familiar with it already), each hospital has a custom version.

As far as agencies go, just think no good agencies and you will do fine. Every year, agencies fail (worst case for travelers actually on an assignment) and new ones start. Small and even mid-sized brands get absorbed by the giant agencies (such as Cross Country and American Mobile - names you might remember from your prior travels). Still, every year has about 400 active agencies (I used to keep a spreadsheet current), with around 30-50 brands that market the most and thus get most of the business and name recognition.

Working for a big, medium, or small agency all has their points, but generally speaking, the brand doesn't matter. The recruiter does - make sure the ones you choose communicate on your wavelength. Or, with your experience, just go straight for the money. But consider worst case scenarios in picking safe versus risky assignments: contract terminated en route to assignment and several weeks before you can begin another assignment. Find say 5 recruiters you think you can do good business with and sign up fully with their agencies for best choice, flexibility, and escape options.

Might be worth mentioning rapid response or crisis agencies such as Fastaff. In normal times, their bill rates are way higher than normal agency rates, they don't use vendor managers but always have a separate contract with facilities. Lot of overlap between them and strike companies (take what I said about no good agencies one more step here). So if you can get to an assignment with all the documentation done in say half the time as ordinary assignments (10 days or so), the pay will be high these days. Hard for regular agencies (and vendor managers) to have such flexible rates when a facility needs someone tomorrow.

anchorRN, BSN, MSN, RN, APRN

Specializes in ICU, Military. Has 18 years experience.

@NedRN Thank you for the awesome detailed reply!  Honestly at this point in my career I'm only looking for 36 hr/wk. Those younger motivated nurses can have that OT LOL  And I definitely remember American Mobile and Cross Country.  I have a compact license, so I'd be mostly looking to go to one of those states.  Do you have any companies/recruiters you would recommend?  Feel free to send me a PM!

No recommendations other than calling lots of agencies and picking the best five recruiters to work further with. Arduous process for sure. While there are superstar recruiters who can communicate well with many personality types, no way to tell if any particular recruiter will work well with you (even if you can find a personal recommendation that is trustworthy and not just chasing a referral bonus) without a conversation.

You can try to skip that perhaps with your experience, but even I got burned a couple years ago - more by chasing a particular job I had committed to and having to switch agencies to do so. Horrible experience I'll remember forever - the agency could share some blame, but having a green recruiter made it way worse. I did do the assignment, but other than meeting my promise, wasn't worth it. Should have just bagged it. Took me 7 weeks I think and the dept. director was stunned when I actually showed.

anchorRN, BSN, MSN, RN, APRN

Specializes in ICU, Military. Has 18 years experience.

@NedRN What process do you recommend in selecting a good recruiter?  Don't most agencies just assign you one randomly? I don't recall being able to choose one, but it has been a while and I don't fully know the process these days.  Again thanks for your awesome responses!

So yes, it is random. But you cannot possibly burn through all the agencies before finding some darn good fits in recruiters. If you are lucky, 15 calls will net you five recruiters that sound good. Could be more. Plus you will find there is a lot of well, straight out lies you hear made up of whole cloth - and you will probably want to run them by another recruiter, perhaps one that impressed you on a previous call.

There is another route, and while I don't recommend it, I got lucky 25 years ago with my first agency. That involves really liking an agency brand (why exactly?) and not liking your random recruiter, call back on a line they won't send automatically to your recruiter, and ask to speak to department head. To that person, simply say your recruiter is not a good fit for you, no fault of hers (even if it is). Don't discuss issues, just describe the kind of person whose communication style fits yours. Could be less hype (even though you really mean BS), or less (or more) of a touchy feely personal approach, or whatever. If you had a green recruiter with very little experience (lots of churn in the industry), asking for a recruiter with more experience will almost certainly get you something better.

Now I don't really recommend that approach as it may get you labeled as a difficult traveler. Maybe I'm being too paranoid, but you should have a really excellent reason for trying this. Perhaps this agency has an exclusive (unlikely) with a hospital or location on your bucket list. Good health insurance or retirement might be an excellent reason.

Slightly off topic, it is fine to have a bucket list as long as you don't insist on crossing assignments off in order. And if you are a new traveler, you just want an easy assignment anywhere. Failing on your first assignment may scar you psychologically forever. You don't want that, nor do you want to chase big money on your first couple assignments if you are new.

OK, my success story. I had had quite a number of different jobs before becoming a nurse, including travel sort of jobs that came with provided housing and a per diem for meals. So I was already very familiar with the concept. In 1995, there was just one agency that did per diems and who takes the credit for inventing "Tax Advantage" (their phrase). Cross Country, then the largest agency in the country. It really was in fact a twist on how IRS rules and laws had been used up to that point. 

And it stayed pretty much exclusive with them for about three years until other agencies saw that the IRS didn't hassle them (even then, it took many years before the whole industry adopted it). And I wanted it bad. Also, I had popped into Miami Heart Institute on my own on vacation in Miami Beach and thought, "bucket list". Chatted with them and asked them what agencies they used. Cross Country! That settled it.

So mid 1995 I called them. Had several conversations that totally stressed me out with the random ding dong they assigned me. So much so that I reached out to TravCorp, their biggest competitor. But I really wanted Tax Advantage. So I did what I suggested above and got a great recruiter. Turned out to be head of her section (they had a lot of recruiters). Stuck with CC and that recruiter for almost 4 years. Mostly good.

So around July 1995, I decided I was ready to go. Had tested if my skills would translate by picking up some local agency shifts at other hospitals. Wasn't the season to go to South Florida (I didn't care, but they didn't need travelers until snowbird season) so I went to Duke on the way down. Not on my bucket list, but Duke looked good on my work history and they had my speciality, CVOR, that I had stayed in my first and only staff position for an extra year until I thought I had it down. Three years as staff! I knew I wanted to travel before starting so that took will power.

So yes, good story despite not recommending that you do it. But the financial advantage that only one agency provided in 1995 doesn't apply today. 99% of all agencies do it now.

Anyhoo, try it if you want. In my mind, easier to just call another agency.

2 hours ago, anchorRN said:

@NedRN What process do you recommend in selecting a good recruiter?  Don't most agencies just assign you one randomly? I don't recall being able to choose one, but it has been a while and I don't fully know the process these days.  Again thanks for your awesome responses!

Actually now that I see you are the OP with some travel experience, you can start a call with a new agency by saying just that, and you would like to be assigned an experienced recruiter who has been at that agency for at least a year. That will bump up the quality and you have a credible back story. Same technique, call an agency and immediately ask for head of recruitment. If they question why and give you hassle, move on to the next agency! Unless it is the one and only agency you want to work for of course. Then you will have to be charming and put up with some initial grief. I can tell you that persisting with an agency that causes immediate grief in my experience always ends up badly with endless grief. One place where corporate culture can ruin things before it starts. Of course, I'm not so charming and don't do well with idiots.

anchorRN, BSN, MSN, RN, APRN

Specializes in ICU, Military. Has 18 years experience.

@NedRN There needs to be more Travel RNs like you online giving advice haha.  I have searched online for some Travel RN forums and none are really active right now which I found odd.  Maybe folks have moved away from forums and use more social media now?  When I traveled before I found a wealth of information on travel nurse forums and reached out to several users and found a pretty decent recruiter who got me to the cities I wanted to go.  This time around I have looked around on Allnurses, Delphi, Ultimate Nurses, etc and none of these forums (including this one) seem to be very active.  I did request to join a "Gypsy Nurse Travel Nurse Network" facebook page that seems to be active.  

What's funny is when I started looking at the forums on Delphi the most recent answers came from none other than - NedRN!  haha  But unfortunately you seem to be one of the only ones offering advice on forums these days and I couldnt even create a profile on Delphi because the registration page keeps bugging out.  I prefer the anonymity of forums vs facebook but I suppose thats just the culture we live in nowadays.

I know I'm a strong candidate for wherever I choose, I've done bedside ICU for 17 years, have my CCRN, worked mostly in CVICU (including when I was a Navy nurse) but can work any ICU and run just about any device (although when I traveled before travelers got the less complex assignments and didn't really run the CVVHD, ECMO, etc).  Pay is not my single most motivating factor, although lets be honest - if I didn't care about pay I would just get a staff job locally.  In fact before I took my NP job I was making $43/hr +$4/hr nightshift diff with awesome benes, but the hospital was crazy understaffed and gave the employees no say over schedule/time off, you were basically at their mercy for everything which I did not care for.  I want to travel, I miss areas of the west coast (PNW specifically) that I lived in when I was in the Navy.  I have a home in Kentucky that I want to retire in, but don't want to live here full time now in my mid-40s.  I feel like I'm missing out on life and I want to get back out seeing the country!  

With that being said, I know that travel nursing isn't all rainbows and unicorns.  I distinctly remember having to take the less desirable assignments, being first admit, first to float (although I ensured I would only float to other ICUs or ER), first to be called off, etc.  And yes I did deal with a recruiter who was a bit difficult at times.  I was a baby nurse, barely had 2 years of experience at the time, so it was slim pickin's.  I think I might have a little more leverage now over the type of assignment I can get.  My biggest problem right now is finding the resources online to help guide me in my decision-making process when choosing a company.  Right now I am totally out of touch with which company offers the best pay, insurance, and 401K's.  I'm also out of touch with which company would be best to keep me working.  I'm also nervous that the bottom might fall out of travel nursing all together once COVID cools down (if it does..)  I have alot of research and decisions to make.  I'm really in no hurry, although that crisis pay looks pretty darn tempting right now LOL.  In the meantime I'll continue to scour the internet and hope to find someone who is willing to point me in the right direction as far as company/recruiter.  I realllllly don't want to just start randomly contacting companies/recruiters right now just to start receiving 100's of phone calls/voicemails daily.  So until then I'll take any and all advice anyone is willing to give regarding online resources for travel RNs right now 😄

5 hours ago, anchorRN said:

Maybe folks have moved away from forums and use more social media now? 

if I didn't care about pay I would just get a staff job locally. 

I'm also out of touch with which company would be best to keep me working.  I'm also nervous that the bottom might fall out of travel nursing all together once COVID cools down (if it does..) right now 😄

So yes, almost all forums were healthier before facebook. People just one to stay on it to discuss. I much prefer forums and still don't understand how you can have decent conversations on facebook. No threading of separate conversations, nor ability to search on a topic that already has a good answer posted.

I tend to post or lurk on a lot of forums. For example I bought a new car two years ago (a first year model), and three years ago I starting hanging on a couple forum for that model and a sister car with the same drivetrain. Ended up buying the second year model, but after a year of hanging out, I was well informed. I go through the same cycle with tech products, a motorcycle I own (which was also a new model). Most vehicle forums fade away after about 4 years after the model is no longer an unknown. Tech forums go on pretty much forever.

Allnurses is still thriving in general because nursing students benefit and swarm to it, and then tend to stay and visit at least infrequently. The travel forum did used to have much more traffic, but it paled in comparison to Delphi TNT. However some years before facebook really conquered the world, a new "owner" took over. Very Trumpian in hindsight. Smart cookie and a good nurse, but had to be the last word and banned many fine posters (I'll go ahead and say I fit that group). Hostile enough that many who didn't get banned just left. Traffic got so low that she considered not only closing the forum, but deleting it entirely, losing a ton of great info. Fortunately your neighbor KentuckyPhil was able to talk her into letting him become the new owner and one your visit, you may have noticed the "host" in the upper left has his name. He lets me do all the work though. Not a lot of point to it anymore other than sentiment. All the threads on what agency to choose and industry details are way out of date now.

It is easy for staff nurses to get into a rut. Just do things the easy way and skate through life. Hard to do as a traveler: lots of new stuff to keep the learning curve going. That is a huge professional benefit to travel entirely separate from whether pay is better or not (some very credible debate about which modality pays better in normal times).

In the 2008/9 recession, working travel nurses dropped by 50%. This was mostly voluntary as the fear of  unemployment drove 15,000 travelers to staff jobs (peak travel was 30,000 just nurses, not other health professionals). No issue for travelers who kept with it to keep working, like me. In fact, the highly trained ones did very well. 

That abrupt drop won't happen this time, even in the unlikely event we are out of the Covid shadow in 2022. Yes, when crisis pay drops, then nurses will have a nest egg presumably and reconsider the travel lifestyle, especially the ones who were just doing it for the money. I think we are talking about at least a two year slowdown when it happens, very manageable.

So as far as keeping working goes, I suggested signing up with 5 agencies so you always have a Plan B available. In reality, tough to keep 5 agencies up to date, but it is a good number to start with. Try to end up with 3, or at least 2 super good recruiters. But alternatively, you can try a mega agency and just stick with one. Best thing that ever happened to me was separating from Cross Country, but while things were good, they were good. Loyalty to just one agency can pay off as you prove yourself, you will get important jobs with facility clients they want to keep, or give them a good first impression with you. Pay with Cross Country was progressive for me.

Sorry about the long posts, seldom do I find such good starting questions here. I used to spend hours a week posting here and on TNT. But even then I tended to be thorough.

I did have another thought about an experienced traveler finding good recruiters. Not only do we have to have two years staff clinical experience (in normal times), but those with travel experience and proven adaptability are more valuable. Do we want less from recruiters?

Recruiters are sales professionals - which is why it is so important to find good ones that can balance their own need for commissions, meet their own obligations to ensure their agency profitability, with your best interests. The best recruiters (who are also usually the highest paid) do that very well.

So I think if you follow my suggestion and start with head of recruitment at each agency you call, tell them about your experience and say you want a recruiter with at least two years of experience (specifically in travel, not just HR), and at least one year working at that agency you called. The reason for that is that you do not want to "train" a recruiter (it takes a while) and have them leave the agency and you have to break in a new traveler.

So on any sales team, they are usually looking to get rid of poor performers and keep trying to find more good producers. So if you get someone green, chances are good they won't last the year as half of all sales people are close to getting canned. Just the nature of the business (I've done sales too). Thus you want a recruiter that has made it a full year at that agency and at least two years altogether in travel nurse recruitment. The more experienced ones have picked up on a lot of clinical details so they will also be better at filtering potential assignments with and for you because you two will communicate better.

First time travelers do not have the power you have, and also represent a large risk for both the agency and facility. Thus when they call an agency, often what they get is bottom of the line recruiter, the green ones. For sales training if nothing else (conversion rates on first call are very low), and because it is not worth the time of the experienced travelers to coddle a new traveler, most of whom are just exploring possibilities.

allstarnurse1, BSN, RN

Specializes in Telemetry, Med-Surg, Covid. Has 6 years experience.

What kind of negotiation is possible with these contracts? Are the rates the rates? With my first assignment, I managed to negotiate my shift time. The offer was for a rotating schedule of 7pm-7am and 3pm-3am (or something like that), which I didn't like. I wanted to work one consistent time. So I counteroffered to only work night shift and they accepted. But I wonder if I could also negotiate the pay rate. Any tips there?

Also, OP, yes these rates are real. I took a crisis response job for 48 hours/ wk. My first paycheck last week, for 50 hours, was for over $5000 (counting the $1000 stipend). Takehome pay was almost $4000 after taxes, for one week of work. Pretty nice. But we certainly earn it. I floated between tele, med-surg, and covid floors and had to call ahead for my assignment every night. 

anchorRN, BSN, MSN, RN, APRN

Specializes in ICU, Military. Has 18 years experience.

@NedRN Thanks again for the awesome detailed reply 😄 The process you described for finding more seasoned recruiters hits the nail on the head and that is exactly what I am going to do.  Makes complete sense!  Now to find a company that will let me take a month off and still keep my health insurance HAHA.  Any other advice you want to toss my way would be appreciated also!  😄

 

anchorRN, BSN, MSN, RN, APRN

Specializes in ICU, Military. Has 18 years experience.

@allstarnurse1 Wow thats amazing!  It does sound like you earned it though.  I'm absolutely NOT looking to work OT, I'm over that these days LOL.  So I would say my hopes of a crisis contract will go out the window due to that fact.  But it does seem there are some 36hr/wk contracts out there (I'm sure the pay is much less), but still worth looking into imo, especially if it is a good fit for me 😄 Do you recommend any companies to look into?  Or those I should avoid?  TYIA!

allstarnurse1, BSN, RN

Specializes in Telemetry, Med-Surg, Covid. Has 6 years experience.

36 minutes ago, anchorRN said:

@allstarnurse1 Wow thats amazing!  It does sound like you earned it though.  I'm absolutely NOT looking to work OT, I'm over that these days LOL.  So I would say my hopes of a crisis contract will go out the window due to that fact.  But it does seem there are some 36hr/wk contracts out there (I'm sure the pay is much less), but still worth looking into imo, especially if it is a good fit for me 😄 Do you recommend any companies to look into?  Or those I should avoid?  TYIA!

I think you're right about crisis contracts and overtime. All the crisis contracts I've seen at my agency are for a minimum of 48 hours. There's a lot on my plate right now because I'm also in school for my MSN-FNP. So, yeah, nothing like working 4 days in a row, and then using my 3 days off to write the first chapter of a master's thesis. Plus, you know, moving across the country, etc. There are some TNs at my hospital that are working 60-hour crisis contracts. (Like, how?) This was my big mistake: I saw the money and didn't really think through the impact that working overtime would have on my life. My next contract will absolutely be for 3 days a week. The money is nearly as good anyway, and I can pick up if I want to.

So, as my first TN contract, I'm not ready to recommend anyone yet. Not even my agency which was mostly smooth sailing so far, but there was one major red flag that I'm not yet ready to talk about because it's still not resolved to my satisfaction.

Also, I would say the biggest challenge is what @NedRN frequently writes about: 1-day orientations, new computer systems, new organizational cultures, etc. It was definitely stressful to have to learn about the computer system in one day when the computer system was down, and then working the next day! I was definitely thrown to the wolves! And then it shocked me the next day when the nurses rolled in at 7 am "on the dot," gossipped with their friends, and then maybe came around to get their reports at 7:15 or 7:30. Like, dude, I want to go home. But it is what it is. I adapted. 

anchorRN, BSN, MSN, RN, APRN

Specializes in ICU, Military. Has 18 years experience.

@allstarnurse1 Yeah 60hrs/week would be a no-go for me LOL.  I'm really just looking to get out and see the country some more.  I've traveled before, am familiar with the typical "thrown to the wolves" scenario, learning computer charting in 1 day, etc.  My main concern right now is finding the right company and recruiter.  My main needs are a company that offers decent health insurance (that will let me take time off between contracts and keep that coverage), and decent life insurance. 

Interesting that you should bring up MSN-FNP.  I finished my FNP program (Eastern Kentucky University) in May 2020 and I am currently working as an FNP and I HATE MY JOB.  LOL.  Seriously its awful.  I haven't been at it quite a year yet so maybe I haven't given it enough time, but seriously I'm ready to go back to bedside, hence why I am looking at traveling again.  

allstarnurse1, BSN, RN

Specializes in Telemetry, Med-Surg, Covid. Has 6 years experience.

27 minutes ago, anchorRN said:

@allstarnurse1 

Interesting that you should bring up MSN-FNP.  I finished my FNP program (Eastern Kentucky University) in May 2020 and I am currently working as an FNP and I HATE MY JOB.  LOL.  Seriously its awful.  I haven't been at it quite a year yet so maybe I haven't given it enough time, but seriously I'm ready to go back to bedside, hence why I am looking at traveling again.  

Really! That is interesting! What issues are you having? Is the stress comparable? 

anchorRN, BSN, MSN, RN, APRN

Specializes in ICU, Military. Has 18 years experience.

@allstarnurse1 The stress really isn't comparable.  It's hard to explain, but I'll be 100% honest here - keeping up with labs, diagnostics, etc while seeing 30+ patients a day is a bit overwhelming.  And then there are those patients that you see pop up on your schedule and think NOOOOOOO WHY ARE THEY HERE???!???  The ones that come in for every ache and pain, broken fingernail, stubbed toe, etc.  And then want you to look at a spot on their back.  Then want you to write them something controlled.  I just hate it. And I'm nearly done with it.  I'm starting my travel nurse research now because I'm giving this job another 6 months and after that I'm done-zo with primary care. 

3 hours ago, anchorRN said:

@NedRN Thanks again for the awesome detailed reply 😄 The process you described for finding more seasoned recruiters hits the nail on the head and that is exactly what I am going to do.  Makes complete sense!  Now to find a company that will let me take a month off and still keep my health insurance HAHA.  Any other advice you want to toss my way would be appreciated also!  😄

There is a lot to unpack here actually. Good health insurance costs at least $500 a month, and goes over $1,000 depending on annual deductible (usually the highest annual deductible is the best deal if your cash situation can deal with worst case scenario). That is the underlying cost of insurance, and one way or another, you are paying the full cost. I'd strongly suggest you get your own insurance, on your own state insurance exchange, or the national exchange if not (both are ObamaCare). 

Couple reasons for that: first it gives you more flexibility to easily hop agencies. Two is that most agencies have crappy insurance. Three, even if they tell you it is day one insurance, I can promise you an extended period of hassles if you go to the emergency room day two.

Excepting perhaps the large agencies, most agencies will not require you to take their insurance (loopholes in employer requirements to mandate insurance coverage). If you are still interested in opting in, ask them what the "COBRA" value of their insurance is. COBRA is a big law predating ObamaCare that protects those covered by employer's insurance and allows them to extend their current employer's insurance for 18 months. You do have to pay your employer for that coverage at actual cost (plus a 2% administration fee). That is how to find out how crappy an agency's insurance is without reading all the fine print (which is a really huge hassle to get the fine print before making a job decision). If that true cost is under $300, it is a total waste of your money. 

So you can also COBRA your staff job's insurance. Be prepared for sticker shock as it will not be high deductible. But it is you that is paying that amount in full, not your employer. If they didn't have to supply it, your other compensation would be higher.

If you find an agency with reasonably priced health insurance, and they are covered under COBRA (again, possibly not depending on how they define FTE (full time equivalence) for contract travelers), they would be required to extend that insurance after your assignment is over.