Let's Talk Money: Travel Nursing Money Lingo You Need to Know

Rick Martinez

Just when you think you've learned all the particular words, phrases, and terminology as a nurse, here comes the world of travel nursing with its own set of nuances.

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

It may feel even more overwhelming in the early stages as we nurses navigate a new career option. The new buzzwords and lingo make it feel as much.

There are several phrases that most people haven't heard of since they don't typically relate to a non-traveling profession. I'll explain some of the travel nurse jargon you'll encounter throughout your career below.

I hope that this will help you better embrace the wonderful world of travel nursing and not let the new jargon scare you away.

Show me the money!

Let's talk money lingo and all the little things surrounding arguably the most critical topic.

What does "per diem" mean? 

A daily per diem rate is offered by a variety of businesses to include travel nurse companies and staffing agencies. It might be referred to as "M/I" pay, which stands for Meals and Incidentals. This payment, or reimbursement, is usually paid out every day of the contract, seven days a week, and is tax-free.

It will most likely be included in your weekly or bi-weekly pay, but some travel nurse companies may give you a prepaid Visa card to load each week.

Kinda cool and convenient if you ask me!

Tell me what a stipend is now

If you select to look for your own housing rather than accepting their offered accommodation, your stipend will be the amount of money you receive each month to pay for it. It will be stated every month, or you may request a daily/weekly breakdown rate. In each check, a prorated amount will be paid. It's also a non-taxable amount, but as always, check with a tax professional for specifics.

Many travel nurses choose the stipend because more and more are opting to live in travel campers, RV's, or even Air BnB on their terms.

Do I get reimbursed for travel?

While every travel company may have its own policy around this, this one is relatively easy to grasp.

Your agency will pay a maximum amount in travel reimbursements, so be sure to know this upfront. Generally, the reimbursement is designed to cover U-haul rentals, moving costs, and any other associated costs to get to and from a travel contract.

Please note that like the per-diem, travel reimbursements are tax-free.

How will holidays be paid?

Here's the thing about holiday pay and how it's paid.

Every company will be different, so be sure to get it spelled out in your contract upfront. There will be NO special holiday rates for some travel nurse firms, and others will pay time and a half, or even double time. Even though it may sound like a pretty straightforward concept, every agent may have a different take on it.

A case in point is my current contract. As I write this, I'm on a 90-day rapid response, and part of my contract is NO special holiday pay. In other words, if I work on Christmas Day, then it's regular pay unless it happens to be a day where I'm already over 40-hours for that week. Make sense?

As a traveler, holiday pay is not always a part of your contract or deal.

What about the night shift diff?

Refer to the paragraph above, if I'm honest.

In the world of staff nursing, we nurses might always ex[ecyt a shift differential. The same does not hold true for travel n nursing or even some crisis response nursing.

This policy will vary from agency to agency and contract to contract. And frankly speaking, for some travel contracts, it's non-existent. A case in point is me and my current contract. I get no shift diff for nights. My pay rate is the same regardless of what time of day or even if it's weekends.

I'm confused by the combined/blended rate

Wanna know a secret?

I was too.

So let me break it down and tell you what I do to help me navigate this growing complexity.

If we nurses look at all the recruiting emails, texts, posts, and messages we receive, it always has an array of numbers, figures, data, etc., that ends up with one big, fat weekly amount we're supposed to make.

Am I right?

Then we call the recruiter, and they toss around terms like combined rates or a blended pay rate, and it's even more dizzying. This could be due to several reasons. It could be related to OT rates in certain states. It could be that this is a crisis contract, and the stipends are different. Or it might be that a recruiter is simply trying to dazzle you with big numbers and pies in the sky dollar signs.

Either way, one of the simple things I ask just to give myself some clarity is, "what is the base rate?" That's it, point blank, no fluff.

Once I am quoted a base hourly rate, I do my own math and add in any per diem, stipends, bonuses, etc., AFTER I know the base rate is.

One agency finally cleared all the smoke, and when it was all said and done, the RN's base hourly rate was less than $30 per hour.

Be smart, it's your contract, and you should go into it with your eyes wide open.

What happens if I call off or am canceled?

This happens, so let's be real.

Sometimes we get sick and need to call in and miss a shift, so be aware of what your deal says. For instance, will you need to repay or receive pay deductions as a result? The truth is that an agency also takes a risk on you, and in return, they expect that you will work the hours contracted.

It's only fair.

On the flip side is when the hospital cancels a shift.

So be sure to note in your deal if your hours are guaranteed. This could mean the difference between being able to pay your bills or not.

The final word

It can be hard to understand the lingo of travel nursing, but it's more than just numbers and figures.

  1. What does your contract say about holiday pay?
  2. How much is a shift differential for nurses?
  3. When you call off or are canceled from work, what happens with payment deductions and guarantees?

These questions might seem daunting at first glance, but they're worth asking to get clarity on how your money and contract will be handled.

If you need help understanding these terms or want someone you trust to help do the math, then be sure to find not only the right travel nurse agency but the right recruiter as well.

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I'm a freelance writer and a nurse, exploring the world one beer, donut, and experience at a time. Writing about the travel nurse industry and healthcare, with the occasional emphasis on donuts. #NomNom

San Antonio, TX
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