Travel Nursing

How to Choose the Best Travel Nurse Agency

How to Choose Agencies and Recruiters for Travel Nursing Jobs

I’ve been on the hunt for recruiters to work with and have been doing research on some of the top agencies in the country. If you have ever even glanced at an agency website, I am sure you have had at least one recruiter call and offer to work with you. I personally hate cold calls, followed by emails and texts and Facebook friend requests. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

When thinking about travel nursing agencies you don’t necessarily need to know where you want to go to decide which agencies and recruiters you want to work with. You can start comparing pros and cons of different travel nursing agencies with a simple internet search but will most likely have to talk to a travel nursing recruiter to get any sort of estimate for a pay package if you are on a specific travel nursing agency’s website.

Using Vivian to Browse Travel Nursing Agencies and Jobs

Since this blog is for Vivian, I would remiss if I didn’t mention using the app to search for jobs. You can get an idea of the pay grades in the area you want to travel to and can compare rates among different agencies that are listing the job. Browse travel nursing jobs and compare pay packages any time.

When I was discussing the possibility of working with Vivian, I told them I could not work for them if they sold or gave the personal contact information (emails, phone numbers) of the travel nurses to the recruiters without the nurse actually applying for a job. In other words, I wanted to make sure that just signing up and browsing didn’t result in 25 phone calls a day from recruiters trying to sell me something. I have signed up for similar services in the past and received no less than 32 cold calls in the following 24 hours. I unsubscribed the next day.

They assured me that was not the case, and I assured them that if I signed up and it was, then I couldn’t work for them. I don’t think it’s fair for travel nurses to be harassed by recruiters for just browsing jobs and gathering information.

Obviously, since you are reading this, I have signed up and I have been using the Vivian service. I really like being able to track pay and job openings in the areas where I am looking to travel. I am also getting a good idea of which agencies are offering higher pay packages in my locations. And I can say with 100% honesty that I haven’t received any cold calls or spam emails, nor have I had to speak with a recruiter to get the information I am looking for. I can continue my research on which agencies I think will be best for me, and then start interviewing recruiters.

Travel Nursing Agencies

There are a billion agencies for travel nursing. Some are huge and own multiple branches of sister agencies, and some are smaller locally travel nurse agencies operated in a specific region. They all offer different pros and cons, and it will come down to what is important to you in a travel nursing contract and experience.

Small vs. Large Travel Nursing Agencies

There are large nationwide travel nurse agencies with a ton of recruiters at your disposal. A benefit of using a larger travel nurse agency is that some may have negotiated contracts with larger hospitals. On the other side, you may feel like a small fish in a big sea and may receive less personal attention from some of the larger agencies. I have worked for several large travel nursing companies and I have had both pleasant and unpleasant experiences. This is why your relationship with your recruiter is so important.

Another possibility with a larger agency is that you may have multiple recruiters. Sometimes this is helpful because you essentially have more people working for you and access to all their knowledge. But, if you prefer to work one on one with someone, make sure you ask the recruiter if they will be your sole point of contact, or will they be sharing your profile with others.

On the contrary, if you work with a smaller agency you may find that recruiters’ workloads are smaller and that they are able to devote a bit more attention to you. The downside is that smaller agencies may only have local contracts or not have travel nursing contracts at the larger tertiary care hospitals. This is not always the case, often smaller agencies serve the whole country and are able to submit you for jobs at the larger hospitals, but it’s smart to ask before you sign up.

Jobs Available

You will have to ask the recruiter you speak with about the details of the jobs they have available. If you really have your heart set on a certain location, make sure that the agency serves hospitals it that area. If it’s important to you to be in a level I trauma center or teaching hospital, ask your recruiter for a list of the hospitals that they offer contracts with. Or, you can take control on Vivian and specifically choose agencies that you see with listings in the location or facilities where you want to obtain a travel nurse contract.

 5 Things to Ask About the Travel Nursing Agency

  1. How long has the agency been around?
  2. Are they owned by a larger agency or are they an independently operated travel nurse agency?
  3. Do they have any contracts with specific hospitals?
  4. Do they encompass all 50 states?
  5. Are they a locally operated travel nurse agency or a large corporate company?

Finding Travel Nurse Recruiters

I personally like to work with 3-4 recruiters each time I am looking for an assignment. Going forward, I try to use the same travel nurse recruiters each time I am looking in order to decrease the amount of paperwork I need to submit to agencies. The easiest way to find a recruiter is to start looking at what jobs are available in the region you want to travel nurse and pick an agency based on the above criteria. As soon as you apply with that agency you will be assigned a recruiter.

There are a few other ways to find travel nurse recruiters. If you know other travel nurses you can ask them to recommend one or give you their recruiter’s number. (You can also use them to advise you against which agencies to avoid!). There are a lot of groups on social media for travel nurses. You can always announce you are interviewing travel nurse recruiters. But, beware, this may result in an overwhelming amount of messages with sales pitches from the travel nurse recruiter industry. I appreciate their efforts, but it gets to be a bit much.

Me, some amazing travel nurse friends, and one of my favorite recruiters!

Choosing Travel Nurse Recruiters to Work for You

There are good and bad recruiters out there for travel nurses. How will you know when you nab a good one?

When interviewing travel nursing recruiters there are a few themes you should look for:

1. Do they want to get to know you as a person?

One sign of a ‘bad’ recruiter is having ‘scripts’. It will feel awkward to try to discuss anything besides contract details and you will feel like they are constantly trying to sell you something. You may find that you ask a specific question but don’t get a straight answer.  Ask again, and if you continue to get the run around- say buh-bye.

Are they friendly? Do your personalities click? Are you able to hold a conversation with them about something other than your travel nurse contract? Do they try to get to know you as a person versus just another contract? This is very important to me. You will have pretty frequent contact with this person throughout your assignment and you don’t want it to feel like a chore to have a phone call with them. You should have full confidence that your travel nurse recruiter has your best interests in mind, not the facility’s.

2. Are they experienced?

It’s a bit of a struggle to have a new recruiter. They may not understand how everything works just yet, or the most effective way of completing the process. You could be missing out on certain benefits or reimbursements if your travel nurse recruiter doesn’t know that they exist. When you are interviewing recruiters for your travel nurse job make sure to ask how long they have been working with the agency and if they worked anywhere else beforehand.

3. Are they organized and professional?

The travel nurse recruiter is organized and gets back to you in a timely manner when you contact them. Personally, I am a very impatient person. I don’t like being made to wait, especially if I have a burning question about my future job. I am also an efficient person. My recruiters have loved me because I send all my paperwork in one bundle and I am thorough in my documentation. Your travel nursing recruiter should do the same for you.

They shouldn’t be asking you for required documentation in fragments. There should be one concise email with all the mandatory paperwork listed and instructions on how to submit it. Numerous emails requesting credentials can be a sign of disorganization and inexperience. The recruiter has either forgotten you needed to submit something, or they didn’t know. Either way, it’s not a great way to begin a travel nursing journey.

Furthermore, if you are trying to contact a travel nurse recruiter and they can’t seem to get back to you in a timely manner, this could be a red flag. Even if you ask a difficult or seemingly complex question, a good recruiter will get back to you shortly with the answer or to let you know they are contacting a resource to find the solution for you. You should not have to email or call more than once.  A good travel nurse recruiter will do their best to be easily available to you the majority of their time. Of course, everyone needs personal time, so I do try to be respectful of that.

4. Are they selling you something or trying to work with you?

You should not feel pressured or like you are buying into something you are not fully confident in. Good recruiters will be transparent and let you take your time to sign a contract. I recommend taking 48 hours to read the contract and make sure it contains all of the proper negotiations. Trustworthy travel nurse recruiters will provide you promises in writing. Do not hire a salesperson to control your career. Travel nurse recruiters will advocate for you and understand your worth. You are doing the work.

5. Are they comfortable talking with you about the bill rate?

You can always try asking to what the bill rate is for the hospital. This means asking what the agency is receiving as an hourly rate from the facility. You can then compare it your hourly rate and calculate what percentage you are getting and if you think it’s fair. I have had recruiters share the bill rate with me (although, I suppose there was no true way to verify it), and I have had recruiters quote ‘agency policy’ and refuse. You can always try asking the nurse manager to see the paperwork when you are there. Some will show you it, and if you are extending you can ask for more money.

Questions to Ask a Travel Nurse Recruiter

Once you have decided that you trust someone with your very precious time, you need to make sure that their agency’s packages suit your travel nursing needs.  Ask yourself what your must-haves are and what are you willing to negotiate on? Is housing most important because you have a family? Is location most important because you want to explore? Or are you in it for that great travel nurse pay? Whatever your reason is, ask direct questions about the topic.

Examples of Questions to Ask Travel Nursing Recruiters

  1. What are the benefits like and what expenses are reimbursed or covered by the agency as part of the onboarding and transition process? Recruiters should be able to speak to licensure, travel, and medical reimbursement. A contract should compensate you for any prerequisites like physicals, drug screens, and fit testing.
  2. If you are thinking about taking agency provided housing, ask what is included. Utilities? Linens? Kitchenware?
  3. Does the agency have an OT or extra hours pay policy, or is it facility specific?
  4. What agency specific paperwork is required? Usually a resume, references, and skills checklists are the minimum requirements. Confirm there aren’t any extraordinary or unexpected conditions to sign a contract with the agency.
  5. Will you be working with one or multiple travel nurse recruiters? And how many other travel nurses is the travel nurse recruiter assisting?

All of this information may seem like overkill, but again, you are putting your career into someone else’s hands. And, this someone does make some money off of your travel nurse contract completion. So, you want to be sure that you and your travel nurse recruiter are on the same page. And don’t be afraid to let your travel nurse recruiters know that they may not be the only one! A recruiter should be working for your business, not the other way around.

What if I Choose the Wrong Travel Nurse Recruiter?

Don’t worry, if you don’t get it right the first time there are a few things you can do. You can call the manager at the travel nurse agency and ask to switch recruiters. If the agency seems to be the problem, make sure you change companies for your next travel nurse assignment.

I am almost done with all of my research and I am going to apply with a few recruiters soon. I have travel experience, so I may not have too much difficulty finding a job. If you are new to travel nursing, I will be including a post soon about how to mitigate your lack of travel nursing experience during the application process. I am compiling a list of interview questions I want to ask and how that will affect my decision to take a contract.

Feel free to leave comments or ask questions below.

Rachel Norton BSN, RN

Rachel Norton became an RN in 2007 and has been part of the Vivian team since 2019. She has always worked in critical care, and spent the first 12 years of her career working in a surgical neuroscience trauma ICU. She's also worked as a flight nurse, started travel nursing in 2010 and continued working in the ICU until joining Vivian full-time in 2022. As a user researcher, Rachel advocates for healthcare workers to help bridge the gap between employee and employer expectations.

Comments (2)

Thank you for this wonderful information. I have 30 years experience in Interventional Radiology, Radiology, Cardiac Cath lab – pre, intra & post procedural care all at the same hospital in Connecticut. I will be moving for the winter to the east coast of Florida and wanted to give Travel Nursing a try. I appreciate any other advise or info you are willing to share to help get me started.
Thank you so much!


Hello Kathy, and thanks for reaching out. We have some excellent information on our Community Hub that covers many aspects of travel nursing that many new travelers find especially helpful. Please consider reading the following blogs:

We hope these will help answer many of the questions you might have as you start your journey as a travel nurse. Your recruiter can also answer questions specific to assignments and contracts. Vivian currently has more than 4,400 travel nursing jobs posted throughout the State of Florida, found here: Should you have any questions or concerns about navigating our website, please feel free to use the “Contact Vivian” option under the Resources tab to reach our 24/7 help desk. We wish you the best of luck with your first travel nursing assignment and hope we can help you find the ideal position for your current and any future needs!


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