THERE’S ALWAYS TWO SIDES TO THE STORY!

I’ve been a medical traveler for many years now and have had numerous occasions to review a large number of Travel Company web sites. Most of them contain some type of Q & A section that explains how they work and what they offer. I’ve found that the information given, while accurate, is very incomplete.

Most of what I’ve learned about the medical travel industry has been learned through the proverbial School of Hard Knocks. It occurred to me recently to write an article that expanded on the usual information given on medical travel websites, an article that presented (as Paul Harvey used to say) the “Rest of the Story.”

And so…here we go!

SALARY

Travel Company: On their web sites Travel Companies usually state a salary range that they offer depending on the type of position, your area of expertise and your experience.

Rest of the Story: What you are initially offered for a travel assignment is usually not the top dollar that is available for that assignment. Most travelers merely accept what they are offered believing the “deal is the deal” for that particular assignment. I used to do that too… but not any more!

You especially limit your chances of getting the best salary for your assignments if you choose to register with only one travel agency. When you do that, you give away all leverage to negotiate for better pay. I am always registered with multiple travel companies so I can compare several potential assignments at once and negotiate for the best over all packages.

There are numerous other “pitfalls” when it comes to getting the most compensation for your travel job. For example, it behooves you to clarify the stipulations for receiving certain types of bonuses and whether you must work solely for one company to earn those bonuses. Again, if you work for only one company, you may unknowingly forfeit higher compensation in other areas of your benefit package in order for the company to offer you those bonuses, in which case they can hardly be called a bonus.

Remember, you can always, “work your best deal,” (negotiate) with several companies while still remaining highly professional. In addition, knowing how to ask for more will telegraph to a recruiter that you know your business and will position you to receive the best offers.

HOUSING

Travel Company: Travel companies always state they will provide you with fully furnished housing while you are on your assignment.

Rest of the Story: You may be asked to share a two bedroom apartment with another traveler, even a stranger, who is working at your same location unless you know you can request a one bedroom separate apartment.

Some travelers have been “required” (because they merely accepted this arrangement) to live in an extended stay facility for the entire 13 weeks of an assignment. This is very cramped quarters and becomes extremely wearying after just a couple of weeks.

I have seen travelers deal with other conditions that were very undesirable such as having their housing located too far from the hospital. I had this experience on one assignment (before I learned to clear all that up in advance!). Each morning I had to make my way through 10 miles of early morning rush hour traffic to reach the hospital.

In addition, fully furnished means different things to different people. If you don’t know what to ask for in advance you can be stuck with things like a poorly furnished kitchen (only a few sad looking pots and pans for cooking) as well as sparse and unattractive furniture (an ugly green sofa and purple chair spring to mind).

Knowing what your options really are and how to ask for them is paramount to having a comfortable, safe, convenient and enjoyable living arrangement. Multiple considerations are there for the asking, but you definitely have to ask. By clarifying in advance what I need and expect, and by applying simple to learn negotiating techniques I’ve perfected over time, I now receive the very best housing accommodations on all my assignments.

GENERAL BENEFIT PACKAGES

Travel Company: All travel companies offer a variety of benefits besides housing and salary which can include per diem pay, travel expenses, bonuses, clothing and equipment reimbursement, insurance, continuing education, 401 K’s, etc.

Rest of the Story: Travel benefit packages are definitely not all equal! For instance, one travel company’s insurance coverage may not start until 30 days after you have begun your assignment versus a policy offered by another company that becomes effective the first day on the job. These and numerous other “small print” concerns can come back to bite you if you’re unprepared!

I’ve also talked to nurses who were never offered per diem pay (the average is $30.00 a day or $210.00 a week) but others were receiving it simply because they asked for it!
Some were told they could elect to have per diem pay but would receive fewer benefits in other areas if they chose that option. However, that was not the case for other travelers who refused that trade off. I know I continually receive per diem pay on ALL my assignments without sacrificing any reduction in other areas of compensation.

To make your travel experience the most lucrative and enjoyable, it pays (literally!) to know what is available as well as how to access those top of the line benefit packages.

TRAVEL PROVISIONS

Travel Company: Travel companies offer a variety of ways to cover your travel expenses. If you are required to fly to your assignment, your flight costs will be paid in advance and your travel itinerary arranged for you plus a rental car will be provided once you arrive at your destination. If you are desirous of driving your own car to your job site, you will receive mileage compensation and/or a flat fee amount for travel expenses.

Rest of the Story: Travel companies can save a lot of money by booking you on flights that leave or arrive at undesirable times of the day or night or that re-route you all over the place, necessitating you change planes frequently.

I had that experience early on in my travel career (oh what a novice I was then!), when after 3 stops, and long layovers, I finally landed at an airport at 1 am in the morning that was a full two hour drive away from my job site! Just to add to the misery, after that two hour drive in the middle of the night I arrived to find the hotel booked for me was the ultimate rat’s nest with a stuck heater system that turned my room into an unbearable steam bath.

I also have some rather interesting stories about the type of cars that were rented on my behalf (tin can anyone?). Fortunately I’ve learned how to avoid all those nightmares and now travel comfortably and at reasonable hours.

The point is that if you don’t know your way around the available travel options, plus know how to negotiate for the best travel considerations, you can have some pretty nasty travel experiences.

JOB LOCATIONS

Travel Company: Travel companies paint a somewhat glamorous picture of the places you can travel and the wonderful experiences you can have.

Rest of the Story: If you’re a traveling novice there is a very good chance you will end up in some out of the way place or hospital that is anything but glamorous. Travel companies are anxious to fill whatever positions that present (after all, that’s how they make their money!) and so they can offer less than desirable job locations to those who don’t know how to navigate the system. That certainly happened to me the first time I took a travel position. I landed in a miserable little town with a very boring job assignment. It made for a very long 13 weeks!

Just knowing you might get dealt the “low end of the deck” if you’re new to the game can help you avoid something really dower. However, even seasoned travelers are often not getting the best assignments that are available. Thankfully, over time I’ve learned what to ask for and what to avoid, and more importantly, how to spot a bad job location no matter how many bows are on the package.

THE BEST JOBS

Travel Company: Travel companies accurately state that a recruiter will contact you about a job opportunity and will give you a general overview of the job, its requirements, and what salary and other benefits are being offered. You will also have an opportunity to ask whatever questions you wish concerning the position.

Rest of the Story: Recruiters are going to provide the basics of the potential job assignment to you but they are not going to go into any great detail unless it is in direct response to your questions. You should also be prepared to ask pertinent questions of the hospital representative if you should decide to interview for a position presented to you by the recruiter.

I remain astounded at the number of even experienced travelers that either do not ask many questions concerning a potential job assignment or don’t know what to ask to find out the “nitty gritty” of what the job really entails. As a result, there are many travelers who are quite “surprised” (and not in a good way!) about the real facts once they reach their job destination. And of course, like it or not, they are bound by a legal contract to fulfill their assignment.

Just by asking the number of staff that will be working on your floor or in your department, the number of patients or tests you will be expected to oversee or perform, and the ratio of permanent and travel staff, you can begin to get a definite feel for what you will encounter. Recently while considering a position, I was able to ask those questions plus several others that revealed there had been a recent “uproar” in the department with people leaving in mass, leading me to decide not to jump into the fray.

I am always being treated to the latest horror story concerning jobs that were anything but what they were thought to be. That doesn’t have to be your story if you learn the right questions to ask in order to get the real picture.

IN CONCLUSION

As you can see, knowledge is power! Without it, you’re in for a very bumpy ride in the medical travel world. I’ve explained just a few Q & A areas where travel companies are only giving you the basics of the process. Unfortunately, relying on “just the basics” will have you collecting a few horror stories of your own!