Travel Therapy Jobs: What you have to know about VMSs and MSPs

There are two ways to get submitted to travel therapy jobs. (Therapist in this blog means a travel physical therapist, occupational therapist, or speech-language pathologist.) The first way a travel therapist gets submitted to a job is through Vendor Management Services (VMS). This is becoming more and more common. At the last SIA Healthcare Staffing Summit, they shared that over half of all travel therapy contacts (and over 70% of travel nursing contracts) are submitted through a VMS. The VMS is a relatively new change to the healthcare staffing industry with many implications (good and bad!).

The second way a travel therapist can get submitted to a job is through a direct contract. Knowing how each of these works and how they impact our pay and ability to stand out when applying for a job is very important to us travel therapists.

Getting submitted to travel therapy jobs through a Vendor Management Service

The most popular way to be submitted to a job is through a VMS (Vendor Management Service). VMSs are software systems that are typically managed by an MSP (Master Service Provider). So you talk to your recruiter about a job but that recruiter’s agency may have no direct access to speak to the people at the job you want. If you have a question, they would have to talk to the MSP. The MSP is who has direct access to the healthcare facility. The MSP’s job is to streamline communication so that the facility doesn’t have to talk to dozens of different people to get a healthcare traveler working.

By using a Master Service Provider, the facility can receive candidates from any number of staffing agencies, but they only have to talk to the MSP to streamline the communication for them. The facility will also choose a VMS technology system to receive the candidate’s information. That is the way to standardize the data and for hiring managers to quickly receive applications. If it weren’t for VMSs, the staffing agencies would be submitting our information in many different ways, and it would become too unorganized and confusing to be efficient.

Understanding a Vendor Management Service as a healthcare worker

You can relate to VMSs this way: Different healthcare facilities use different documentation systems. All the documentation systems have the same goal. The goal is for the healthcare provider to enter information to get reimbursed from insurances and have a record of the treatment that happened that day. We learn the documentation system that the facility uses to reach this goal. Many travelers end up learning many types of documentation systems through the years. The VMS is the same! Different facilities use different technologies to receive information about travel therapists who want to work at their facility. This means that recruiters and healthcare staffing agencies have to learn how to use many different VMS requirements to submit candidates to travel therapy jobs.

Who picks the VMS system?

The facility picks the Vendor Management System they want to use, not the MSP. The Master Service Provider is a company that helps the facility manage the candidates, contracts, and communication. If the facility does not already have a VMS system in place, the MSP might recommend a VMS system. But at the end of the day, the facility will decide, and the MSP and staffing agencies work with many different vendor management systems.

How do Master Service Providers (MSPs) work?

A Master Service Provider works for the facility, and that is who their main priority is. In the eyes of the facility, they might think the MSP is the one doing all the credentialing, sourcing, hiring, onboarding, time-keeping, and they don’t even know who the staffing agency is. For the facility, they are talking with just the MSP to manage their supplemental staffing.

The MSP, however, is usually outsourcing and using several different staffing agencies to fulfill the needs of the facility. The staffing agencies pay the MSP to have access to that job, and the staffing agency is the one credentialing, onboarding, and finding the candidate.
For example, AMN has an MSP. The facility that uses them will only communicate and see the logo and brand of AMN on all documentation. You, as the traveler, might be working for Delta and not AMN, but Delta is using AMN as their MSP to get access to the travel therapy jobs. The facility will then have no relationship with Delta, and they might not even know that you are a traveler that came from Delta. All they see is AMN.

This leads to a lot of intermediaries and a lot of contracts.
#1: There’s a contract between you, as the travel therapist, and Delta.
#2: There’s a contract between Delta and AMN.
#3: There’s a contract between AMN and the facility.

That is why we often see contradictions between the different contracts and why certain terms or pay provisions can be very frustrating (or not even possible) to get included in our contract as healthcare travelers. There is very little room to negotiate contracts when an MSP is involved. For the most part, you pretty much take it or leave it if you want access to that job.

How do MSPs get paid?

MSPs get paid from the bill rate (just like all of the rest of us do). They can essentially tell the facility that they are a free service because the healthcare facilities are not paying more than they already were to get a traveler. They will still pay the same bill rate and get all the added benefits and organization that a good MSP will provide. Not all MSPs are good at their job, though. Sometimes facilities end up going back to direct communication with staffing agencies because they did not like the experience of having someone else manage their relationships!

Also, MSPs often negotiate standardized rates in favorable terms for the facility, like having unbillable orientation hours or a decreased overtime rate. So sometimes the facility is paying less money than they were before. The players impacted by this will ultimately be the travelers’ pay rate and the staffing agencies’ margins.
Many times the fee is called the MSP or VMS rate. The most common MSP/VMS rates will be 3% on the low-end and 6% on the higher end. They take this amount of money off the top of the bill rate, leaving less money for the staffing agency to work with.

If a bill rate was $70 an hour, and the MSP/VMS is charging 5%, you would take $3.50 off the bill rate, so it functionally becomes a $66.5 bill rate to run a staffing agency with and to make pay packages.

Two essential things to know about MSPs

1. MSPs are many times also large staffing agencies. And because of this, MSPs are not always vendor-neutral. What that means for the traveler is that if you work directly with the MSP staffing agency vs a different one, you could learn about the job days before other travelers. This gives you an advantage in getting hired. Non-vendor-neutral MSPs will provide themselves with time to market the travel position before opening them up to other healthcare staffing agencies.

2. MSPs do not have to pay themselves the MSP fee, and that means they have more bill rate to use. But this does not mean that they pay more money to healthcare professionals. Often it means they keep a higher margin for themselves to help pay for their overhead cost. Some are publicly traded, and they have a fiduciary responsibility to their stockholders to make considerable profits. It is a myth that working directly with the MSP means more money to us as the traveler. You often find the opposite is true! You can make more money if you do not work directly with MSP even after the VMS fee is taken out of the bill rate.

Are MSPs and VMSs good for travel therapy jobs?

MSPs and the VMSs have made very important changes in our travel industry. They have had many implications on pay and on the way healthcare professionals are submitted to jobs. These technologies are not new technologies and many other industries have used them for a very long time. And they are here to stay! So we get to learn how to work with them.

One thing VMSs do that is good for the industry is standardization and organization. While it means there’s not much flexibility in how the healthcare staffing company submits the traveler, it can take away biases. It is supposed to give more fairness for the hiring manager to pick the traveler by looking at the qualifications of the candidates, in the same way, no matter the agency.

Standardization is also good and how we get credentialed as healthcare travelers. One of the most imoprtant things a staffing agency does is credential travelers and make sure that we are who we say we are and that we have the skills that we say that we do. Facilities are counting on staffing companies to bring quality healthcare workers to their facility to help them out. However, suppose each staffing agency just decided for themselves how they credentialed us. In that case, there could be many bad travelers with failed background checks or reports against their licensure traveling around the country and seeing patients.

By bringing standardization to the industry, we increase the quality of our industry, the travelers, and the staffing agencies that work inside of it. It also gives a way to increase access to reputable facilities for travelers. This is all good because we want to continue to grow as a respected industry.

Are MSPs and VMSs bad for travel therapy jobs?

The downside of this system is how not-so-great the technology behind it is. It can hurt communication. The hospitals don’t always do a good job communicating what they need. Or the MSPs and VMSs don’t ask and require important details. That means the MSPs or staffing agencies do some educated guessing to fill in the blanks, which doesn’t always make for a great situation. Many little things (like dress code) can be surprisingly challenging to get answers to without direct communication with the facility. This can be very frustrating for travelers who, of course, think that it should be easy to get that information.

MSPs do bring healthy competition and help staffing agencies

Contrary to some people’s belief, the MSPs (even with their fees) are a very valuable resource for newer staffing agencies. It is very difficult to get a direct contract, especially if you’re new and don’t already have relationships inside the industry. But being able to work with an MSP and have access to their travel assignments is a huge win for a new company. They don’t have to hire a sales team and take the time to call facilities around the country to get a contract. Suddenly they have access to thousands of contracts without hiring a single salesperson. The MSPs are well worth their cost for these agencies!

There have been many new (tiny) staffing agencies starting in the travel healthcare industry. These new staffing agencies might not know what they’re doing yet. The MSPs don’t want to waste time with small staffing agencies that are not ready for scale. So lately, it’s getting hard to get approved to be an MSP partner and get access to their travel therapy jobs. Getting access to the MSP’s jobs could require many years of experience as a staffing agency, among other stipulations.

MSPs also don’t give every staffing agency access to every travel assignment they have. This is a big deal for us travelers! Even if two staffing agencies work with the same MSP, they could still have different jobs to offer the travel healthcare worker. The MSPs will open up their best jobs to trusted partners. But travelers do not know which staffing agencies have access to which jobs, which can be a challenge when trying to work in a specific location.

Travel therapy direct contracts

We still have access to many direct contracts in the travel therapy world (even more so than in the travel nurse world and travel allied health world). Travel nurses and allied health professionals typically work at hospitals. And most hospitals do work with VMSs and MSPs. However, for travel therapy, we can work in home health, outpatient, pediatric clinics, schools, and many more settings. These settings are more likely to be willing to have direct contracts with staffing agencies.

Direct contracts mean the healthcare staffing agency gets to talk directly to the facility and have their own contract with them. This also impacts how a traveler is submitted to a job because there will be less standardization. You could get submitted just via an email and not a tech system at all. These contracts are the ones where your résumé matters. With a VMS, your resume is copy and pasted into a standardized system. For direct contracts, many times, they will review your real résumé. Also, it is easier for the recruiter to get answers to some of your questions with these contracts because they can directly email the facility.

PS: See the travel therapy résumé checklist and 6 things to avoid here.

It is crucial for travel therapists to work with multiple staffing agencies

It is absolutely necessary for therapists to work with multiple staffing agencies. I cannot stress enough what a difference it makes in having access to opportunities. You cannot work with just one staffing agency if you want to make the best money and find the best travel positions in this industry. Working with several recruiters is no longer taboo, and if you’re with a recruiter that makes you feel funny about this, get a new recruiter. Your number one goal is to get a great travel therapy job!

Recruiter recommendations and matching is what Nomadicare is best at. We are recruiter matchmakers, and we have access to see which companies have travel therapy jobs in which locations. On top of that, we vet the recruiters to make sure they are honest, great communicators and pay well. It is the recruiter that will make or break an experience for the traveler!

For the perfect match, you have to be with a company with access to the opportunities you want. Then you have to be with a recruiter inside that company who is awesome. If either component is missing, you will not have an ideal experience, and you will likely miss out on the travel therapy jobs you want.

Cheers to learning and growing,
xo Laura

Next step: Always be working with 3 recruiters. Need help finding your perfect recruiters when there are hundreds of agencies to choose from? Get a free recruiter match based on your goals!

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Additional Reimbursements

Did your offer come with something extra that would cost the staffing agency money? This may include a CEU class, scrubs, or sign on bonuses. Don’t worry if this section is blank, most offers don’t have extra reimbursements.

Travel Reimbursements

This is tax-free money that is paid to you to help you pay for the expense of traveling to your assignment. Many staffing agencies pay for this per mile up to a certain amount. They will usually pay this on your first paycheck or split between your first paycheck and last. If you are traveling a short distance this could be a very small amount.

Also, it’s becoming more popular for an agency to not offer this at all. It’s really not a big deal though. If you don’t get travel reimbursement money you should make a bit more in your weekly pay so many times it all equals out.

Weekly Housing Stipends

If you have a tax home you can get money in two ways: Your taxable base pay per hour + tax-free stipends that help pay for your housing and meals in your new city. This is usually presented to travelers on a weekly or per shift basis.

The government tells the staffing agency the maximum they are allowed to pay travelers based on the cost of living in each zip code.

The staffing company does not usually get to pay us the full amount since they only have the amount the facility is willing to pay for us. That may end up being less than the government’s max, if so, no worries. This is okay as long as the total package is fair.

Weekly Meal Stipends

If you have a tax home you can get money in two ways: Your taxable base pay per hour + tax-free stipends that help pay for your housing and meals in your new city. This is usually presented to travelers on a weekly or per shift basis.

The government tells the staffing agency the maximum they are allowed to pay travelers based on the cost of living in each zip code. The staffing company does not usually get to pay us the full amount since they only have the amount the facility is willing to pay for us. That may end up being less than the government’s max, if so, no worries. This is okay as long as the total package is fair.

Weekly Insurance Costs

Medical insurance can impact your final paycheck a lot since it will deduct pay from your check each week. If you are taking the company health insurance, you are going to want to know up front about how much this will cost you per week.

The average is around $30 a week but some companies charge as much as $100 a week to their travelers and some offer some health insurance options for free. If you are not taking their insurance just set this to zero.

Hours per week

For this calculation, put the hours per week you are expecting to work. And then feel free to run it again with the hours you are guaranteed. Many times contracts have guaranteed hours that are lower than the expected hours.

Guaranteed hours means if the facility doesn’t need you to come in, you will still get paid as long as it was their choice and not yours to not work.

Also, find out if this contract has any “call off shifts” where the hospital can call you off without pay a certain number of times per contract. This is common and not a deal breaker but just good to know!

Length of assignment

In travel nurses and allied health the most common length of a travel assignment is 13 weeks. If you are looking for a contract shorter or longer just ask! Sometimes facilities or hospitals who hire you will be flexible.

Taxable rate per hour

If you have a tax home you can get money in two ways: Your taxable base pay per hour + tax-free stipends that help pay for your housing and meals in your new city.

If you do not have a tax home all of your pay will be taxed and put in this field.

Good to know: Your taxable base pay is the only part of your paycheck that is legally considered income. The average taxable base pay is $20 but you might get offers higher or lower than this. It’s the only part of your paycheck that is taxed

Nomadicare’s purpose is to empower. It’s the lifeblood that flows through every single thing we create. We are here to make sure every traveler has all the transparent knowledge they need to make empowered decisions. We want you to feel confident so you can live your dream!

Nomadicare is partnered with dozens of companies and each of those companies have access to different settings, locations, and exclusive contracts. We know their benefit options and who have jobs in each location. We will match you to the best recruiters for you and your goals. Every single recruiter has been vetted and comes with the Nomadicare guarantee.
You can browse the open jobs from many of our company partners on the Nomadicare’s anti bait and switch job board. When you see one that catches your eye, the goal is to apply asap. Jobs are closing faster than ever with all the craziness this year so speed is our best friend. When you request an interview, we’ll instantly match you with the vetted recruiter who posted that job.
Typically 0-3 months before you are ready to start your next assignment is best. A short quiz will give us a picture of who you are, and what you are looking for. After the quiz we’ll have everything we need to match you with the perfect recruirer for your travel goals
If you know where you want to go and you’re ready to travel, Instant Matching is perfect for you. You can browse the open jobs from many of our company partners on the Nomadicare’s anti bait-and-switch job board. When you see one that catches your eye, the goal is to apply asap. Jobs are closing faster than ever with all the craziness this year so speed is our best friend.
We highly recommended being ready! Having all of your documents and being super responsive are key. Speed is the biggest factor in getting the job you want. We recommend using a free service like Kamana, which you can share your online resume, credentials, and licenses with a single link to any of our vetted recruiters when requesting an interview.
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