Did you know most healthcare positions are also “travel” positions? Instead of staying in one state and city at the same facility for year after year, you can travel to multiple states and multiple facilities for about 3 months at a time! If you love to travel and love to work in dietetics, you should consider becoming a travel dietitian.
I have personally been a traveling dietitian for 1 solid year with 3 assignments pre-covid and for 6 months with 1 assignment post-covid. I designate the pre- and post-covid because I feel things dramatically changed post-covid, and I will focus most of my writing on the job in this timeframe.
Travel Job Expectations
I would highly recommend having 1-2 years of registered dietitian experience under your belt, although some jobs do accept new grads. I say this because you are not there to ask questions about how to operate as a Dietitian or to ask about advice on patients. This was what your internship should have prepared you for and what your first job experience can do. I emphasize previous job experience since it will help you shine as an RD and the facility will fully anticipate you jumping right in and getting to work without much hand-holding. Plus, some facilities will interview you before accepting you for the position, so you will need to use your previous job experience to answer questions and qualify for the job. For example, I wasn’t accepted for a job because I didn’t have long-term care experience at that time, and I was super bummed because I wanted to go work in Hawaii!
Each facilities requirements are different, so read the contract thoroughly. Some contracts have a non-compete for a specified amount of time, for instance. The contract will have the expected hours you will provide, which is typically 40 hours per week as full-time (though jobs can have a wide range of hours). The contract will state your hourly rate, housing stipend, and any other monies coming your way, whether taxable or non-taxable. Although the typical schedule for dietitians is 5×8 or 5 days at 8 hours each, some jobs are four 10s or 12 hour days. Make sure you know what you are expected to work and know that there is sometimes room for flexibility in the work schedule. You will also be told the job assignment length, which is typically 13 weeks. This can vary by the job, as I have seen jobs listed for as long as 6 months and as short as 1 week, but the typical length is just over 3 months.
If you are not well versed in a lot of EMR systems, get ready! I find that stuff fun and most have a lot of the same features and whatnot, just a different format. Not something to worry about, in my opinion. You have about a week to learn the EMR system and ask any questions. As a fast learner, I learned the facility’s system in a couple days, but it may take you longer so give yourself time and grace.
If you remember nothing else, remember this: you are filling a Dietitian position for a myriad of reasons – vacation leave, post-partum leave, job vacancy waiting to be filled, etc – and it is temporary. You will be the most-liked person, the hero of the story. Even more so if you do a great job, are flexible, and are willing to pitch in to help. I felt the most appreciated and had some of the highest job satisfaction while being a travel dietitian. Plus, I was able to reach my goal of 50 before 30: seeing all 50 states before I turned 30 years old, and I still to this day have great friends from my travel days.
Travel Job Pay
The pay is great! Much higher than a conventional registered dietitian nutritionist job. This is due to the location, what the travel company can negotiate or bid for the job, the need to fill the position, and probably other factors I don’t know about. I easily made $30 an hour when it was all said and done before covid, which was fine with me since I had made far less in my previous jobs. I’ve recently seen jobs posted on sites for up to $3,796 per week, which is crazy! That would be $95 per hour for 40 hours and $49,348 for the entire 13 week job without knowing the breakdown of pay rate for hours worked, housing stipend, etc.
The nice thing is that you can shop around for assignments and compare pay. And you can get a pretty penny if you’re willing to go anywhere and you have the experience to do the specific job. If you stick with one company for each assignment, which is advised, you can get added perks of benefits, continuing education credits for free, bonuses, cool swag, and more.
As I said, I was able to cross off all 50 states! My travel days helped me immensely. I could have stayed in one place and not taken nearly every weekend to explore my immediate surroundings and neighboring states, so the extracurricular travel is up to you.
My wanderlust is too strong, so I went to Dollywood with friends in Tennessee, picked apples on a quaint orchard in Wisconsin, went to Mount Rushmore for the monument and delicious ice cream in South Dakota (multiple times, haha!), grabbed a seat at a basketball game at the University of Michigan, basked in the epic Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, visited friends in Des Moines, Iowa and the list goes on and on.
I even ended up living in South Dakota long-term (never would I ever have thought!) after traveling because I fell in love with it while I worked there as a traveler, and then I met my husband there!
Travel Dietitian Jobs
Where can I found awesome dietitian travel jobs? How can you start an amazing adventure? From my days, the traveler jobs have become much more verbose, and the job security is still high. If you are able to go anywhere, then you will have no problem going from assignment to assignment.
My favorite travel company to work for is Dietitians On Demand. It is a company run by an RD and has some of the most variety I’ve seen. Since it is dietitian-run and many of the employees are RDs too, the overall vibe, care, and pay are excellent. They only employ dietitians, which is unusual as most other travel healthcare companies have jobs for all of healthcare positions – physical therapy, nurses, respiratory therapists, etc. Dietitians On Demand provides jobs all over the States for acute care, long-term care, management, pediatric, outpatient, and permanent positions, and their jobs are 1 week to 6 months in duration.
Another company I have worked for is FocusStaff. They were easy to work for and, I believe, are a smaller company, so I never felt like I was lost in the weeds. I loved my recruiter! The pay was very good, and they seem to always have around 17 dietitian jobs posted at a time. I’ve even seen them post a job for Alaska, which is a state I highly recommend for its sheer beauty alone. Their assignment lengths are most often 13 weeks and show the most variety in hours that I’ve seen, like working 12s.
My first travel job was with Aureus Medical and, even though my experience was positive, they would be my last pick. I have heard some not so good things since working there, but the main reason I would not recommend is the pay. I recently saw a job on their site and inquired about it; they quoted the pay as written on the website. However, when I asked about negotiating the pay, they said there was no negotiating, the pay was set. Well, I had found the same job on the FocusStaff site for double the pay! I went with FocusStaff, got the higher pay as promised, and didn’t look back.
Yet another travel company I have worked for in the past is Nutrition That Works. The recruiter had a very unique and almost annoying voice is what I remember most, ha! The other thing I remember is the reason I would shy away from them – they cut my assignment short almost out of nowhere, like I had been there maybe a month, and then they didn’t contact me about any other assignments as promised. The pay was fine, and the schedule was flexible.
Other staffing companies I have heard of over the years would be Aya Healthcare, Triage, TruStaff, Vivian Health, and Nutritious LIfestyles. I do not have experience with any of these. Rumor is that nursing staff companies pay RDs very well, though I have had good luck with several non-nursing companies. Most companies will take your email to be notified about new jobs, if that is of interest.
My housing was fairly easy to obtain pre-covid. My post-covid job was a bit stressful in the housing department. I ended up messaging an Airbnb renter and negotiating a month-to-month rent for the house. I’m glad I did that because the assignment was for 13 weeks but then I accepted an extention for another 13 weeks. I had the same rent rate for the entire time with the job.
Some facilities say they have housing available, but, in my experience, they did not provide any housing for a paid traveler. I found housing through the manager of one job, and I looked on renting websites like apartments.com and inquired about short-term leases for others. My most adventurous find was on Craigslist; not advised but it worked out, haha! Nowadays, the traveling company can provide lodging or at least ideas for you to explore for housing.
Being a traveler is not going to propel your career if you are wanting to be a manager, in my opinion. You would need to stay in one place to do that. However, you could potential land a management role as I have seen those posted. Being a travel dietitian can help you gain a lot of experience and confidence as an RD, though. It will also increase your circle of friends who are registered dietitians 🙂
Like any job, there is a downside. I found the work rewarding, the travel super fun, and the people I met so great. Though, here are a couple things to consider:
State Licensure: The travel company you work with will reimburse you for the state license you have to acquire, in my experience, but you have to do all the paperwork. Make sure the company fits the bill for every expense related to the license, though. When you have multiple licenses, the verification process for each one can add up, since each state has a different price for providing a board certified verification statement. Keep in mind that you will have to verify nearly every license you hold when applying for another one, which can be tedious, a total headache, and expensive. I would say this is the biggest downside to being a travel dietitian. For reference, I have now held 9 different state licenses for various lengths of time and for various jobs/reasons. The application process is definitely not fun when the 9th state wants a board verification from the other 8. Ugh.
Constant moving/change: If you don’t like change, moving around a lot, or the feeling of living out of your car, then being a travel dietitian is probably not going to be for you. After awhile, the moving every 3 months – after I had made friends and could navigate my way around town – started to wear on me. I decided to stop being a traveler after a year and take root in South Dakota. I have since moved around due to my husband’s job and have found “travel jobs” around the city I live in. As a bonus, I have stayed with those facilities for longer than 3 months.
To end on a positive note, I have heard of couples doing travel jobs together so that they have a companion. They have even made it easier for housing by living out of an RV or the like. I have tried to convince my husband to do this with me because I love the travel dietitian world so much. Still a no from him, but I will keep trying!
Let me know if you are a travel dietitian and where you’ve been or if you are thinking about joining the crazy, fun ride!