Traveling X Ray Techs Can Make Good Money – But Can Be Lonely Work
Are you considering a career in radiography and heard about the big money traveling x ray techs make? Are you already a rad tech and looking to change things up by becoming a traveling tech? I reached out to Dale Hannegan, the Regional Director of Recruiting for RSG Health Services to find out :
“Just how much does a traveling x ray tech make?”
- Short answer: usually more than a traditional technologist.
Longer answer: it all depends on the “bill rate” or the rate the traveling company is contracted to charge the company who needs the tech. Sometimes it is the same rate the tech would get working a stationary job…often times it is more. However, as a traveling tech, you also get paid for other perks that you do NOT get at a stationary job. Things like traveling expenses, housing, and food are paid on top of base pay. There can be tax advantages to receiving a lower base wage in lieu of a higher per diem rate. Investigate the Meals & Incidental Expenses (M&IE) allowances through the General Service Administration website (www.gsa.org) to determine your allowances for the area you might be working in.
What are the benefits of being a traveling tech?
I have been fascinated with traveling techs ever since I was an x-ray student. I was working at Mesa General Hospital and a traveling echo tech (echosonographer) was hired to help us out. His name was Steve and in my student rad tech world, he had it all figured out. During our initial conversations, he let me know that he didn’t have to worry about staying in hotels for his travel assignments. Turns out, Steve had a really nice RV that he drove to every job site. Most hospitals, even today, have RV hookups on the property that allows RV owners to a plugin for electrical needs.
You see, there are a lot of occasions where family comes to visit patients in a hospital and they come by RV. The hospital accommodates them by allowing the free use of the electrical connectors while they are visiting. Steve was allowed to use these same connections and therefore had no electricity bill. There was also a water hookup and I’m not sure about a sewer dump. I didn’t know much about RVs at the time. What I did know what that Steve had a very nice RV and his traveling company paid for it. That’s right. Paid every bit
Steve shared with me that his contract stated that the company he worked for would pay him for the following:
- A per diem rate of pay for working a shift as an echo tech.
- A per diem rate for food allowance. He said it was $40 per day.
- A weekly or monthly stipend for housing, which he used to cover his RV payments.
- A per diem rate for incidentals. I know now from Dale that it was the M&IEs.
Steve not only got paid above average for his daily work as a traveling echo tech but he also got his big RV paid for by his company. He skimped on his meals and kept the cost low enough to make a little more money with the leftover food stipend. We never really talked about the incidentals. It just seemed like he really figured out how to make the best of the job. Pretty cool.
What are the details of being a traveling technologist?
Dale from RSG shared that there are several things to consider before taking an assignment for the very first time:
- Can you risk being unemployed for several weeks/months between assignments?
- Your health insurance might change with each assignment, and there might be waiting periods.
- Do you have pets?
- Are you (really) a team player?
- Can you handle adversity?
“There is an old saying about “the grass being greener” that many of us have heard. Well, moving from a stable, full-time job, to a contractor role has its advantages and disadvantages. As a radiology recruiter with almost 25 years of experience in the field, I’ve heard every story under the sun. However, some things rarely change,” Dale said. He continued to share his knowledge so I took notes to share with you.
Don’t put all your traveling eggs in one basket.
He continued that if you wish to become a travel technologist, first contact several travel companies that specialize in medical imaging and gain some clear insight. Don’t cut yourself short by only calling one company or taking advice from co-workers. Call at least three travel companies and compare notes. Depending on your modality, you might need to sign up with two or three companies to stay busy. When your contract is up with one company, they may not extend your contract or have another assignment readily available for you. Therefore, you might need to go with another travel company to avoid significant gaps in income.
Having health insurance is a must for most travelers. Some companies might have a waiting period to become eligible for health coverage through their facility. Keep this in mind when interviewing companies who will ultimately be your employer during the term of your contract. By the time you become eligible for benefits, your contract might be coming to an end shortly thereafter. Contracts can run from a few weeks to a year, in most cases.
Can traveling x ray techs have pets?
Those who will be traveling with pets might have limited housing options. Many small towns where travel techs are needed might have only a few places to choose from. The nicer housing options in the area can sometimes reject tenants who have pets. This issue might require you to board your pet or force you to live in a less desirable place during your assignment. Be prepared to have a pet-sitter on standby should you not be a big fan of boarding your furry friend.
What can I expect from a traveling tech assignment?
Some assignments are good and some are not. Keep in mind that you are usually there for a specific reason and sometimes this reason is due to poor management or high turnover. Being a team player and willing to do whatever it takes to help the facility is essential. Not all assignments are in resort areas with plenty of things to see and do while you are there. Make sure you are willing to fulfill your contract even if the situation is less than optimal. Leaving during your assignment is a surefire way to becoming blacklisted for future contacts.
New travelers should be aware that the amount of paperwork you have to do for each assignment can be redundant, especially if you are working through several contracting agencies. Keep in mind that each assignment is like starting a new job. Therefore, you’ll need to provide all of your immunization records, certifications, background check, drug test, etc. with each assignment. Keeping these documents accessible, organized and in electronic format is essential for securing a contract.
But the excellent pay for traveling techs make it worth it, right?
“Wages for travelers can be a little tricky, so be sure to break out your calculator,” Dale says. In many cases, contract companies may pay a lower base wage and provide travelers with a higher “per diem” rate that can provide tax advantages. Be sure to investigate the Meals & Incidental Expenses (M&IE) allowances through the General Service Administration website to determine your allowances for the area you will be working in. Whereas your base hourly wage is taxable, some M&IE is not, which might allow more take-home pay. Also, be sure to consult with your accountant about working in different states and how state income taxes might affect your personal tax liabilities.
“The most common thing people who are considering travel want to know is, “how much money does a traveler make”. Unfortunately, I cannot answer this question directly,” Dale says. Wages vary by specialty, years of experience in the field, the agency you work for, and the negotiated rate they have with the facility. Keep in mind that the agency you work for has a negotiated, or contracted rate with the facility you’ll be working at. This is called the “bill rate.” If that rate is fixed at $70.00 per hour, for example, that’s all they can bill the facility for your services.
If they are paying you $30.00 per hour, plus per diem/M&IE, temp housing, travel expenses, health insurance, liability insurance, payroll taxes, etc., then all of that might add up to $65.00 per hour actually being paid out. So, the travel company is grossing $5.00 per hour to employ you in this example. It’s never appropriate to ask the travel company what their client bill rate is, and if you do, they will likely not tell you and just move on to the next person.
The point is, this is a general idea of how it all works. If you feel you are not getting a good offer based upon what your friendly neighborhood travel buddy is telling you, there may be several factors for this. Knowing this information, checking the General Service Administration and asking your recruiter specific questions should help you with negotiations.
What expenses are travel techs responsible for?
Be sure to ask your recruiter about other variable expenses. For example, some companies will not offer to pay travel expenses to and from the city where you’ll be working. However, you should try to negotiate this upfront if possible. Other companies might cap your allowance to and from the city should you decide to drive there. This is usually reasonable. Your travel company should also pay for your background check and drug screen as part of the process. However, state licenses and other required certifications are sometimes your responsibility.
In other words, if a state license is required to work in Arizona, then it might be your responsibility to pay for this license. Keep in mind that the majority of states require a separate state license to work there. You will most likely need to obtain this license in advance to qualify for an assignment. Some states can issue licenses fairly quickly, but others can take months. I talked about the lengthy wait times from state agencies in my Jackrabbit Joe article.
Is there a demand for travel techs?
Dale shared, “From my perspective, the overall job market for travelers seems to be strong for some imaging modalities. I believe there is more demand for contract CT Technologists and Sonographers over X-Ray, Nuclear Medicine and Mammography for instance.
However, this changes like the wind and you should do your own due diligence before deciding to make a significant career move. Obviously, the more diverse your skill set, the better chance you have of staying busy.
While seeing new places, experiencing new work environments and making better than average wages can be rewarding, traveling takes planning and just doesn’t work for everyone. If you do not mind the ups and downs and starting over in a new environment every few weeks, then it can be a rewarding adventure.”
Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a healthy 13% increase in the need for rad techs for the current ten-year cycle. Along with this need for technologists is always a need to backfill. That’s where the travelers come in to help.
For more information on full-time wages and other incentives being offered to technologists, please see our 2019 Radiology Jobs and Compensation Review.
Dale Hannegan | Regional Director of Recruiting
RSG Health Services | (800) 804-2345 Ext. 250
If you are curious about the career of radiography, I have written some articles on various topics:
- How much does x-ray pay,
- 7 dangers of being a rad tech,
- Different ways to pay for radiography school,
- How to get accepted into a rad tech program,
- Can you work full-time while going to rad tech school and
- 5 reasons I chose a career in radiology.
I hope you find this helpful. You are welcome to email me with any questions. Thanks for stopping by TheRadiologicTechnologist.com.
Ron – [email protected]