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Do’s and Don’ts for Choosing a Travel Company

You’ve decided to go out on the road and become a healthcare traveler. Your first task is to find a travel company. It’s the travel company, after all, that will be your employer during your travel assignments. Many seasoned travelers will tell you that the travel company you choose can make or break your experience. Here are some key do’s and don’ts from those in the industry and others on the road: Do shop around. There are a lot of travel companies. Nurses should take their time to research different companies and find one that has the best package for them. While many companies may seem similar, they are different in what they offer, says Julie Birnbaum, RN, recruiter, Cross Country TravCorps. Birnbaum traveled for about three years before joining Cross Country. “It’s important that nurses do their research. It’s hard bouncing around, so it’s good to find a company that you can stay with for the duration,” she says. Do find a company that has experienced nurse advisors, recruiters. Kevin Clark, founder and CEO of Onward Healthcare, a nationwide provider of interim staffing services to healthcare facilities, says that company recruiters who know what they’re doing and understand the industry can place travelers in those jobs best suited for them. He tells the story of meeting a 45-year-old male nurse who on his first travel assignment was placed in a hospital in the US Virgin Islands. “He should have never gone. It was a tough assignment in a place where 60% of the nurses are travelers,” says Clark. “He worked at a hospital where travelers are asked to work charge. So can you imagine a new, temporary employee who goes to work at a hospital and gets put in charge of a floor without having the understanding of the hospital, the unit, the culture and more?” An experienced recruiter would have made a better placement especially considering that this was the traveler’s first assignment. The point? Look for a company that has experienced nurse advisors who will listen to who you are, your needs, and where you want to go with your career. Don’t sign a contract without fully understanding it. Geoff Pridham, manager of nursing administrative services, Stanford Hospital and Clinics, Stanford, CA, encourages nurses to look for potential trouble spots in travel company contracts. Think twice about signing a contract that says you have to work a guaranteed number of hours, says Pridham. “If you were to call in sick during the assignment or for some reason you had to leave for an emergency, you might owe some of your housing allotment back. [Or if the hospital takes you off its schedule because of a low census,] you might be required to make up that time at the end of the contract,” he says. Make sure you realize the potential pitfalls if you sign a contract that prohibits you from moving from agency to agency, or one that doesn’t allow you to return to a hospital for a certain period after completing your assignment, says Pridham. Do ask questions about floating. Don’t think you don’t have a say. Clark, an industry veteran, who previously cofounded Cross Country TravCorps, says that travelers who don’t ask questions might find themselves floating to units in which they don’t want to be. While many hospitals want travelers to float, Clark recommends talking with travel company recruiters and hospital staff about whether you’ll be required to float and where. Tell them early on about those areas in which you will not work. “There is so much stress out there and risk of error, if a nurse makes a wrong decision and loses her license, it can be a career issue. So, the stakes are high,” he says. Do choose a firm that walks you through the process. Choose a company that is willing to help you along with the travel process. Traveling is a whole new ballgame, says Birnbaum. “Your recruiter should be willing to educate you on the process the good, the bad, and the ugly. I feel it’s my job to educate nurses to have realistic expectations,” says Birnbaum. Do choose a company that works with you on housing. Housing is right up with pay when it comes to important issues for travelers. Clark says travelers should know their housing options beforehand. Some questions to ask: Will my housing be a studio apartment? A one-bedroom apartment? Shared housing? If there is a roommate, you might first want to get acquainted with that person, he says. Then ask questions about proximity to the hospital and transportation options if you don’t have a car. Parking is an issue in some cities. Travelers should be sure to ask about the costs of parking. Pridham recommends that travelers check on the housing or to make sure that the amount of money that the travel companies offer for housing is adequate for the area. Find out if the housing is in a good or bad area and ask questions about those qualities that are important to you for example, if the apartment is higher than the first floor or if it’s near railroad tracks (which could be a drawback if you’re working the night shift). Don’t think you’re a bother. Travel companies are there for you. Travelers shouldn’t feel lost in the shuffle. The recruiter and other members of the travel company staff are only a phone call away. A firm that doesn’t return your calls promptly isn’t one you want to go with in the long term. Kathleen Capone, RN, who travels regularly with Preferred Healthcare Staffing, a subsidiary of AMN Healthcare, and has traveled for nine years, says it’s important to have a recruiter that you feel you can keep in touch with and one that is “on the same page” as you are. Do look for a travel company with clinicians on staff. Some travel companies make it a point to have nurses and other clinicians on staff. It’s reassuring to know, Clark says, that there is a registered nurse reviewing a registered nurse candidate’s credentials and skills before assigning that nurse for a travel experience. “Important information can be missed if someone who doesn’t know nursing who presents the information to a hospital,” he says. Do check the credibility of the companies you consider. Pridham says that it’s important to see how long a travel company has been in business and how many travelers it has placed on average. “If these are questions they don’t want to answer, I would move along,” he says. Clark says travelers should ask to speak with a member of the travel company’s management team to get a sense of the company; then, ask to talk to other travelers. Do try to settle with one company to gain financial benefits. It’s a good idea to develop a relationship with a travel company because many offer long-term incentives for staying on. Don’t rely solely on the travel company. Be prepared for your assignment by doing your own homework. Do your own homework even if you have total confidence in the company you choose. Capone says that preparation is the key to a good assignment. She also talks to the nurse manager at the hospital to which she will be assigned before taking the assignment just to get a feel for the person and the demands of the job. “If I even have a instinct that it might not work, I don’t take the assignment,” says Capone. She also calls the apartment complex that she is expected to live in for the next 13 weeks and asks to speak with some of the people who live there.

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