Travel Nursing Companies – How Many Should You Work With?

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I often see travel nurses and recruiters debate whether or not travel nurses should work with multiple agencies. The simple answer is Yes! You should work with several agencies. In my opinion, you should work with at least 3 agencies, more if you intend to travel the country far and wide. In fact, for best results, you should work with as many agencies as you can possibly handle.

Why Should Travel Nurses Work With Multiple Agencies?

There are 3 main reasons travel nurses should work with multiple agencies. First, different agencies work with different hospitals. Therefore, they have access to different jobs. As a result, working with more agencies maximizes your exposure to the job market.

Second, working with multiple agencies improves a travel nurse’s negotiating power. The more options you have, the more negotiating power you have. In negotiation speak, options are often referred to as your “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement”. You can discover more about this topic in our free eBook, “How to Negotiate the Best Travel Nursing Pay Packages“.

Third, working with multiple agencies provides you with a safety net should something go wrong with your current situation. Travel nursing contracts can get cancelled and agencies that seemed wonderful at first can end up crossing you in a way that’s just plain unacceptable. In such cases, it’s always important to have backup plans ready to go so you can hit the ground running.

Is getting submitted by multiple travel nursing agencies really a problem?

Of course, agencies and recruiters will tell you not to work with other agencies. It’s in the agency’s best interest for you to work with them only. They’ll offer seemingly convincing arguments in their defense. My favorite is the one about how hospitals “frown upon” candidates being submitted by multiple agencies.

It is EXTREMELY rare for this to be of any consequence whatsoever. I’m not saying that there are never any consequences, I’m just saying that it’s very rare. However, it is of consequence to the agency, which is ultimately what this is all about.

Landing an assignment can be highly competitive. Assignments are typically released to a multitude of agencies. The important thing to understand is that it’s not just competitive for the traveler it’s also competitive for the agency. The agency only makes money when their nurses work. As a result, nearly every agency makes an attempt to find out what the candidate wants in terms of compensation and location, and then submits the candidate’s profile immediately upon a matching assignment’s release, often without first notifying the candidate. They are desperate to stay ahead of the competition.

This leads to nurses being submitted by multiple agencies for the same job. It happens literally all the time. It happens so much that if it were indeed frowned upon as grounds for disqualification, there would be no travel nurses left to hire.

For example, one of the largest hospital corporations sent out a massive list of open assignments in January of 2012. The next day, the account manager responsible for handling these open jobs sent an email to all of the agencies on the mailing list. The email informed the agencies that, among other things, he had received just over 1,200 candidates for the open assignments, nearly 900 of which had been submitted by more than one agency. That’s 65%-75% of the candidates being submitted by multiple agencies. My experience leads me to believe that this is the standard.

It happens so much that most facilities and Vendor Management Services have a policy for dealing with it. Some will ask you which agency you prefer to work with during a the interview. This is the best case scenario for the nurse. However, some hospitals have a first come fist serve policy. This is why it’s important for you to heed previous advice to find out which hospitals an agency works with in a given area, and how much they pay so you can compare agency pay packages for the same hospital. Then, inform the agency you choose that they have your permission to submit you for openings, and inform the others that they do not have your permission. Otherwise, you may risk being required to go with the first agency that submitted your profile, which may not be your top choice.

Should travel nurses get submitted immediately for travel nursing jobs?

At the same time, it’s not wise to tell agencies that they cannot submit you without speaking to you first about every new job opening. Time is of the essence. You want to be submitted immediately. Otherwise, you may be out of the running entirely. This is why you should have in depth conversations with your recruiter that lay out specifically what you’re looking for in an assignment. Get the rates, compare the rates to other agencies at the same facilities, and choose the agency that will represent you for particular facilities. Let these agencies know that they have your permission to submit your profile if a job opens that matches your criteria.

Also, let them all know that if a job pops up that does not match what you are looking for, then they can call you and pitch it. If you agree, only then can they submit your profile. Your chances of landing a job in this scenario will be diminished as you are not going to be among the first to be submitted, but that’s okay. It’s not your ideal job anyway.

Your goal in all of this is to maximize your potential. By working with multiple agencies you’ll realize 2 major potential maximizing benefits. First, you’ll maximize your exposure to the job market. Remember, an agency can only work with the hospitals they have contracts with. It’s really rare for an agency to have contracts with every hospital in a given major metropolitan area, let alone every hospital in a given state. By working with multiple agencies you’ll gain access to more contracts. Yes, you will get some overlap. It’s common for agencies to have contracts with the same hospitals, but that’s ok. You just have to manage it to your advantage.

More agencies equals more demand for your services

This brings us to our second potential maximizing benefit of working with multiple agencies: competition results in higher pay. When agencies know that you’re working with other agencies, they’ll be compelled to offer you a better deal. In fact, it behooves you to find out everything about an agency’s pay package for a given hospital and then compare it to other agencies.

For example, let’s say you’re interested in going to Northern California for a travel nursing job. There are 3 major employers in that area, Kaiser, Dignity Health (formerly Catholic Healthcare West), and Sutter. You can ask each agency if they work with these organizations. You then ask the recruiters about the pay package they offer for these employers.

Let’s use Kaiser in Northern California as an example. If you’d like, you can select a particular city, Sacramento or San Francisco for example, and ask the recruiter what the pay package would be for those specific locations. Once the compensation is provided, you can compare the offers you’ve received and begin negotiating. You can let one company know that another has offered higher compensation in hopes that they may try to outdo one another.

Ultimately, you should select one of the companies to represent you for that specific hospital. For example, you would tell one agency that they can submit your profile for Kaiser openings, and tell the other agencies that they cannot submit your profile for Kaiser openings because you have selected to go with another agency for jobs at Kaiser Hospitals.

The bottom line is that an agency’s recommendation that you work exclusively with them is for the agency’s benefit, not yours. The vast majority of hospitals and Vendor Management Services have procedures in place for duplicate submissions. Those that don’t are the exception, not the rule. Additionally, those that don’t, and hold the candidate accountable, are misguided. It’s far more reasonable to suspect agencies as the culprit as opposed to candidates.

If you take an active role in managing multiple agencies as described above, you will benefit. BluePipes can help you manage this strategy more effectively and efficiently. With BluePipes, you can control your own submission profile. That way, when an agency contacts you with an ideal job, you can quickly and easily transmit your submission profile and be submitted for the opening. BluePipes also allows you to broadcast your availability for your next job. This way, you can let recruiters know exactly what you’re looking for in your next job and they can contact you with options that match your needs.

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10 replies
    • Kyle Schmidt says:

      Hey Tori,

      Thanks for the inquiry. Agencies only provide health insurance when you start an assignment with them. Technically, they can terminate the benefits when your assignment with them ends. Of course, you may sign on for another contract with the same agency, in which case your health benefits would continue on as normal.

      You may also have a break in between assignments with the same agency. Most agencies have a grace period where they’ll continue covering your health benefits even though you’re technically not working. You should always inquire about an agency’s policy for this and know that if the break in between assignments is longer than one month, then your benefits will most likely be terminated and started back up once your next assignment starts. Of course, you always have the option of using COBRA in such cases, which essentially means that you’re able to pay for the same insurance policy in order to maintain coverage.

      If you switch agencies, then you’ll most likely switch benefits. It’s just like switching jobs normally. Again, you’re eligible for COBRA coverage during any downtime. The problem is that switching health insurance can have some negative aspects. For example, your particular medication might not be covered under the new plan.

      If the problems associated with switching coverage are important to you, then there a re a couple of things to consider. First, many travel nurses secure their own health coverage in order to avoid this problem altogether. Many healthcare staffing companies will increase your pay if they don’t need to provide health insurance, so it’s often a wash in terms of cost.

      Second, the reasons for working with multiple companies may be worth dealing with the problems associated with switching health coverage. Working with multiple companies increases your access to the job market because different companies have contracts with different hospitals. This is really important because the most costly aspect of travel nursing is unanticipated downtime. Missing an extra week or two of work because the only agency your work with couldn’t land you a job costs several thousand dollars. Working with multiple companies can also increase your negotiating power. By having alternatives, you’ll be in a better position to negotiate.

      Finally, it’s important to point out that when people recommend “working with multiple agencies”, they really mean to enlist multiple agencies in helping you find jobs. You may actually end up working with only one agency because you keep signing contracts with the same agency. The other agencies simply ensure that you have your bases covered if something goes awry. The most common scenario is for a travel nurse to work a few assignments with one agency and then a few with another. The average time with each agency might be 8 months to 1 year.

      I hope this helps!

  1. Kathy says:

    Can you start at one hospital with one agency and 4 weeks later work at another hospital with another agency until the first contract end out(I will be working 6 days a week for 9weeks)? They are both good opportunities.

    • Kyle Schmidt says:

      Thanks for the inquiry, Kathy. Yes, it’s possible. However, it’s pretty rare to find two hospitals that are willing to provide the set schedules or flexible schedules required to pull it off. It never hurts to ask though!

  2. Tess says:

    So how do I handle a call for a job that I submitted for with two different agencies. Do you tell both recruiters that you are talking to the manager and whichever can get you the best rate?

    • Kyle Schmidt says:

      Thanks for the inquiry, Tess! As discussed in the article, how you approach this situation depends on several factors. First, it’s important to find out what the hospital’s policy is. They may have a first-come-first-serve policy, or they may let you decide which agency you want to work with, or they may have another policy. This is why it’s always safest to figure out the pay prior to being submitted and choose which company can submit you should a job open at the facility in question.

      That said, assuming that the hospital allows you to choose which agency you’ll work with, then you should certainly request a quote from both companies and compare those quotes. There is debate among negotiation experts as to whether or not it’s a good idea to pit one company against another in bidding war during compensation negotiations. So you’ll have to decide what works best for you on that issue. Here is a link to an article with negotiating tips that might help.

  3. Jill says:

    I have been told by recruiter X that the hospital says it looks bad on the Nurse if they are submitted to the same job opportunity by several agencies and it’s best if they just stick with one agency.

    • Kyle Schmidt says:

      Thanks for sharing this, Jill! Yes, recruiters say this all the time for several reasons. First, a very small percentage of hospitals do take this approach, but it’s nothing to really worry about. This is because duplicate submissions happen so often that hospitals would be excluding a decent percentage of candidates. Second, the recruiter may have been told this by someone they consider to be reputable and therefore they believe it’s true for all hospitals. Third, this is a common tactic used to scare travelers away from working with other agencies.

      The truth is that different hospitals have different rules for handling candidates being submitted by multiple agencies. Some hospitals simply ask the nurse which agency they want to work with. Some require the nurse to work through the first agency to submit the profile. And very few hospitals discard the profile. The latter two reasons make it very important from the nurse’s vantage point for the agency to get the nurse’s permission before submitting.

      The best way to handle this is to let the recruiter know that this is why they must receive your permission before ever submitting your profile for a job. Explain that if every recruiter you work with got your permission before submitting your profile, then this would never be a problem. You may even go so far as to let them know that submitting your profile for a job without first receiving your permission is a fireable-offense. Many experienced travelers take this approach because they realize how important it is for financial reasons.

      The only downside is that there may be a delay to get your profile submitted while your recruiter contacts you to get your approval. To handle this, you can ask to discuss potential pay packages for all the hospitals that the agency works with in the area you’re looking to travel. They should be able to discuss pay for some hospitals but for not for others because they’ll have the bill rates for some of them but not for others. Do this with each agency you work with and let the agencies know which one has the green-light to submit your profile when a position opens up and which ones don’t.

      I hope this helps!

    • Kyle Schmidt says:

      Thanks for the inquiry. BluePipes is an independent company. As a member, you can create your own resume, application and skills checklists and send them to any agency you’d like. We maintain a list of agencies that have contacted us to confirm they accept the documents. You can find it here.

      Members can also securely store copies of their licenses, certifications and clinical records on the site and send them to anyone at their convenience.

      We do not sell your personal contact information or access to your stored documents to third parties. Instead, agencies can only contact you through the site and they can only receive your documentation if you send it to them.

      I hope this answers your question, please let me know if not. Thanks, again!


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